1931: Dust Bowl years
- Budget deficit: $462 million (0.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $16.8 billion (21.7% of GDP)
A massive drought set off a series of events that lasted throughout the 1930s in the Midwest and Great Plains of the United States. In 1931, over-plowed farmlands began to blow away, creating dust storms. Four years after the drought began, more than 35 million acres of land was left unfarmable.
1932: Hoover tax hike
- Budget deficit: $2.7 billion (4.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $19.5 billion (32.7% of GDP)
In an attempt to balance the budget, President Herbert Hoover introduced the Revenue Act of 1932. Taxes got a massive hike, which did not help the budget, and also decreased consumer spending.
1933: FDR’s New Deal
- Budget deficit: $2.6 billion (4.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $22.5 billion (39.4% of GDP)
While aiming to help with economic recovery, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal included the Works Plan Administration (WPA), which hired unemployed citizens to work on government buildings, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), to construct power plants and dams in depressed areas. The same year, prohibition ended.
1934: Alcatraz opens
- Budget deficit: $3.6 billion (5.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $27.1 billion (40.5% of GDP)
Situated offshore from San Francisco, Alcatraz prison was built on an island, and designed to hold the country’s most dangerous criminals. The prison closed in 1963 due to operational costs compared to other facilities, and is now a popular National Park Service site.
1935: Social Security begins
- Budget deficit: $2.8 billion (3.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $28.7 billion (38.7% of GDP)
After years of suffering from the Great Depression, many U.S. citizens wanted help from the government. President Roosevelt asked Congress for “social security” legislation. Eventually, the bill passed and was signed into law in August. The same year, the Hoover Dam was completed, helping to distribute water to future metropolitan cities.
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1936: Spanish Civil War
- Budget deficit: $4.3 billion (5.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $33.8 billion (39.8% of GDP)
Beginning in 1936, and lasting for three years, the Spanish Civil War was a revolt against the Republican government of Spain. The rebels, or Nationalists, were aided by Italy and Germany, while the Republicans gained support from the Soviet Union and American and European volunteers.
1937: First commercial flight
- Budget deficit: $2.2 billion (2.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $36.4 billion (39.2% of GDP)
Pan Am airlines took its first commercial flight across the Pacific Ocean in April. The same year, the German airship Hindenburg caught fire over New Jersey, killing 35 onboard, and ending the reign of the zeppelins.
1938: March of Dimes established
- Budget deficit: $89 million (0.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $37.2 billion (42.5% of GDP)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the March of Dimes, an organization to help fight infant polio, in January. The Treaty of Munich was signed in September, forcing Czechoslovakia to give territory to Germany.
1939: World War II begins
- Budget deficit: $2.8 billion (3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $40.4 billion (43.3% of GDP)
Germany invaded Poland in September, starting World War II. The United States joined the war in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
1940: FDR gets third term
- Budget deficit: $2.9 billion (2.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $43 billion (41.8% of GDP)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt snags a third term as president. In the same year, a peacetime military draft was signed by FDR.
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