Living During the Great Depression?

How did they do things (living) during the depression? This time in history is very interesting to me.

By Zoe from Staunton, VA


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December 28, 20100 found this helpful : go to American Experience section of website, they have lots of episodes about life during the depression; I would also suggest you go to your local library and check out some period cookbooks and household management books. The reference librarian should be able to point you in a good direction.

December 29, 20101 found this helpful

City folks had it very hard during the depression,soup kitchens and bread lines were the norm.
Poor rural general did not even realize there was a depression,life was a daily struggle,but at least they usually had a garden and some chickens or maybe a hog.One thing you may find interesting was the use of 'woodgas' to power cars trucks and tractors. this happened more in Europe than here and became very widespread during WWII. the 'gasifier' was mounted on the vehicle, filled with wood, and the engine ran off the gasses that were in the 'smoke' this consisted of H and CO so they were the first hydrogen powered vehicles.


this technology is being revisited now all over the world to run engines to produce electricity from generators. I am in the process of building one to use biomass as fuel to produce electricity and heat for home and greenhouse. While this may not be the 'great depression', if you have been out of work long enough you have to do many of the same things they did to survive.


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December 29, 20101 found this helpful

Senior citizens in their eighties lived through the depression. Many of them still have sharp minds and good memories. Call your local nursing homes and ask for the activity directors and tell them you are interested in this era.


Take a tape recorder and interview the ones who are willing to tell their stories.

December 29, 20100 found this helpful

My Mother made it through the depression very well, compared to a lot of people, with 3 small children and a husband that had been crippled by polio at the beginning of the depression, They lived on a farm and survived almost exclusively on the barter system. Cook a couple of old hens that had quit laying, make big thick chicken salad sandwiches, load up the model A with produce from the garden and home canned food and head to town.

People in towns were literally hungry so they traded her food for anything she could use. A bushel of of peas might get you a kerosene lamp, or another bushel a gallon of kerosene. Dozens of eggs to the local grocery store got you 25 lb of flour. A jar of thick rich home canned chicken/veggie soup mix would get you a dozen canning jars or a few sandwiches could get you a pair of pillow cases. Gallons of fresh milk would get you enough gas to go in the car. when butchering, even things like big meaty "soup bones" and a few vegetables were traded to people desperate for fresh food and meat.


They got food for their families and mother got things that she could not produce herself. Cooking pots, buckets, printed flour sacks to be used for making clothes and quilts were all acquired without any money changing hands.

Unlike now things were used and patched and reused. If your boiler or dishpan sprung a leak there were washers designed to be screwed over the hole to patch it. If you had a crop to get in there were always men desperate for food and willing to spend the day working for a ham or big cut of beef and some vegetables to feed their families. They canned and preserved every scrap they could possibly lay their hands on. Bruised tomatoes had the bad spots cut out and made into stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce Corn fed the animals, was ground into corn meal for the family and made into huge pots of hominey to can for the family. Sour milk became butter and cheese. Chicken feathers became mattress' and pillows. Wild blackberries and plums became the winters juice and cobblers.

December 29, 20100 found this helpful

As a child during the great depression, I don't remember much. I do have a habit of buying things when they are on clearance, still cooking with economy cuts of meat when I can actually afford more. When I was working some of the women complained about mothers-in-law who would put every bit of leftovers in the refrigerator.


Their mothers are my age. I explained that some things were used to the last drop and that's what their relatives were doing. I continue to be frugal, even when it isn't necessary. So I have lasting patterns of behavior even though I don't have actual memories.

January 2, 20110 found this helpful

If shoes were wearing out, they would do their best to repair them, cardboard insoles, for example.
Patches on clothes, hand-me downs, gunny sacks made into clothing. Salt sandwiches (yup, just salt on bread). Sugar and milk on bread. Lots of bread, oatmeal or pasta used as fillers in hot dishes and hamburgers or soups. Meatless meals. My Dad's family often had shortbread with strawberries and milk on top as a meal.


People walked a lot more then, too, than us grand-kids do.

They took in renters, too, to rent a room from them (just as I am now doing with my basement. Hey, it's well worth the $500 a month to lose my basement and have to be a little quieter). They also went fishing a lot and dug up their own bait. My dear Mom had to wear her three older sisters' hand-me-downs. One day in school, she stood up and nearly died of embarrassment when her old hand-me-down panties fell down as the elastic waist had lost it's elasticity!

December 29, 20171 found this helpful

Flour sacks were very popular during the great depression and well into the 40's for making dresses with. The flour sacks had patterns on them. When companies realized how the flour sacks we used they designed the sacks so that they had prettier patterns and had precut patterns to make stuffed toys from. They had patterns and other toy patterns u could cut sew and stuff.


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April 26, 20190 found this helpful

This is so good. I doubt if companies would do that now!
Marg from England.

June 13, 20120 found this helpful

My paternal grandparents and maternal grandparents both lived thru the Great Depression. One was a farmer where they lived off the farm. Sewing, crocheting, knitting, and hand-me downs were the norm for my six aunts and uncles. My dad was the seven in the bunch, but not the youngest.

My maternal grandparents lived in the woods at the beginning of their marriage in a one room hand-built cabin with no electricity or plumbing. The whole family pitched in sewing all they needed to survive, gardening, hunting, fishing, and trapping. They were poor, but happy. They all lived frugally with home cooked meals from scratch. Their fun combined was story nights instead of game nights. Potatoes, chicken, and mush was mainstay food. Eggs were sold to make money to live off of with fur pelts for selling too.

I learned my frugal ways from them, and my mom when we were as poor as my maternal grandparents when I was a baby from a 16 year old mom, whom my maternal grandparents forced marriage, and my dad did marry my mom, but no one helped us, just like my great grandparents never helped my grandfather and grandmother. My great great grandparents helped us like my grandmother great grandparents helped them.

Thank goodness my mom and dad and I had help otherwise I would be lost in our current Great Depression on what and how to live. My family is generational frugal, and so am I with my family. The tradition lives on as we pass our knowledge down to our children and hopefully they will continue it.


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