New York and the Great Depression

The Great Depression began in New York City, so the city felt the impact of it in very strange ways. This was not the first time that New York had weathered an economic downturn. In fact, the city went through something very similar during the American Civil War, when Southern business fueled Northern finance. The Emancipation Proclamation dealt a critical blow to the slave economy, which hurt Southern business and infrastructure after the Civil War.

The Depression was fueled largely by boundless optimism. The stock market had been on an almost continual incline throughout most of the 20s, and those with money kept on accumulating more as industry soared.

When the market crashed in 1929, New York became the epicenter of that struggle. Central Park became a refugee camp, with so called “Hoovervilles” spread across the Great Lawn. These shanty towns became the primary representation of the struggles poor people faced during the Great Depression, a symbol that still endures today.

Yet all throughout this period, New York also built itself up. Skyscraper production continued as the race for the tallest building continued. Both the Chrysler Building and the Empire State were completed in 1931, two years after the market crash.

Ultimately, it was World War II that pulled New York (and much of the country) from the throes of depression. The War jumpstarted the defense economy, and New York was home to thousands of workers who participated in building munitions. This job growth fueled an expansion of suburban New York, which created a need for transportation that would be met eventually by future generations.