Unforeseen and unexpected, inexplicable and inexorable, the Great Depression was a traumatic experience for many of the men and women of the 1930s and exercised a profound influence on the generation that lived through it. In its duration and magnitude, it was infinitely more severe than any other episode of “hard times” in American national life and was unquestionably the dominant force molding the nation’s history during the long decade reaching from mid-1929 through 1940. The depression brought great hardship and suffering to millions of Americans. It also created a political and social atmosphere fertile for major changes across the entire range of economic, political, and social institutions and policies. The depression made a strong impact on people’s everyday lives because so many suffered from economic hardship and insecurity. The majority of Americans escaped actual unemployment or loss of farm or home, but all felt their lives shaped by the depression to some degree because they lived in fear that it might directly engulf them too.
The most important and evident change the depression introduced was the New Deal, the series of new departures in the federal government’s economic and social policies brought about through the leadership of the period’s key figure, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the Democratic president first elected in 1932 in the depths of the depression. By the decade’s close many New Deal partisans asserted that, out of the crisis of the depression, the Democratic Party under Roosevelt’s leadership had wrought a virtual “revolution” in American life. Under FDR the government, they claimed, had instituted measures to bring about recovery and