Depression and the
The stock market crash of 1929 and the depression which followed had a staggering impact on the American West. Reduced farm prices were nation-wide, but a large portion of the West experienced dust bowl conditions, which added to the distress of regional agriculture. Many of the intermountain areas had skimmed off mineral wealth earlier and failed to develop alternative enterprises. Personal income levels in western states generally fell below the national average in the 1930s. The industrial gains of World War I had not resulted in permanent jobs, and even San Francisco, Tacoma-Seattle, and Los Angeles had a low percentage of population involved in manufacturing. 1 Traditionally, western prosperity had depended on population growth. Despite all the attention given to migration to California during the 1930s, the figures fell well below those in the 1920s.
If the West had always been Uncle Sam's stepchild, the region became a full-fledged member of the family after 1933. The pace of federal efforts speeded up as unprecedented spending on the regional infrastructure completed projects that normally would have required decades to accomplish. The New Deal programs included construction of major dams and irrigation systems, road building, improvement and expansion of national parks, and prevention of wind and water erosion and other conservation efforts. Moreover, rational planning by an endless variety of national, regional, and state bodies studied problems and considered programs. Although some westerners disliked the "federal presence," most recognized that only the national government possessed the ability to meet the economic and natural disasters that decimated the region. In a span of some seven years, New Deal programs transformed the region from a preindustrial stage to a level where a "take off" could take place during World War II. 2
Despite its numerous successes, the New Deal in the West also experienced serious failures. Perhaps the worst was Secretary of Interior Harold L. Ickes's inability to regulate the oil industry. The same oilmen who pleaded for federal controls in 1933 became adamant foes of regulation once their industry revived. Similarly, the small but effective western "silver bloc" managed to se