- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2002

If you think times are tough now, it's a good thing you weren't around 70 years ago in 1932 when the nation struggled through the worst year of the Great Depression.
Before the Christmas holiday that year, New York City had already had experienced its highest suicide rate in 25 years, and as the year came to an end, numerous businessmen closed up shop as evidenced by 31,822 commercial and industrial failures.
Most Americans continued to cut out "unnecessary" things, such as the telephone and coffee, even though prices were falling. Zenith cut the price of one of its popular radio models from $135 in 1931 to $78.75 a year later, while the Pullman Company offered a 20 percent discount on upper berths.
Additionally, mail-order businesses struggled to sell inexpensive items designed to defeat or relieve Depression blues. Manufacturers of men's clothing, noting the declining sales of traditional styles, hoped to cut costs by eliminating nonessentials, such as garters, vests and men's bathing-suit tops. But sales stayed down.
In sum, the Depression, which had begun in 1929, deepened, and by Christmastime in 1932, there was little reason for good cheer. More than 11 million Americans, a quarter of the labor force, were unemployed.
A new president had been elected a month earlier, but Franklin D. Roosevelt wouldn't be inaugurated until March.
Major cities were on the verge of bankruptcy, and banks were becoming as scarce as hen's teeth. Boise, Idaho, for example, was down to one.
Philadelphia had $20 million in debt, with some of its bills more than a year old. New York state's legislature convened in special session to extend financial relief to the nation's largest city. But it did so by cutting the salaries of city government workers.
Christmas Seal sales nationally were the lowest ever, and the number of individuals earning $1 million and over had been cut in half. Wall Street drifted, waiting for good news that never came, except at 23 Wall Street, where J. P. Morgan and Co. received 7,800 pounds of tea, just in time for Mr. Morgan's yuletide bestowal on friends.
Americans who had hoped for a glass of legal beer by Christmas were frustrated by an enormous lobby of women equipped with such paraphernalia as a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, a baby doll and baby shoes. All these, they argued, would be sacrificed if the country returned to booze in any form.
Although the House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing 3.2 percent alcohol beer on Dec. 21, the Senate adjourned for the holiday without taking any action.
And then there was the weather: Los Angeles recorded new lows in mid-December (42 degrees), as did San Francisco (27 degrees). It was 51 degrees below zero in Deeth, Nev., and minus 40 in Coalville, Utah.
During the same period, the District recorded its heaviest snowfall in 10 years, and New York City's high on Dec. 17 was 21 degrees. The cold spell eased by Christmas Day, but the number of homeless didn't.
New York City distributed 185 tons of food to the needy on Christmas Eve. Some in the long lines fainted from exhaustion. On the same day, President Hoover began his last Christmas vacation as the nation's chief executive. He went fishing off the Georgia-Florida coast. And in keeping with the hard times, he got no fish.
In fact, he didn't even get a nibble.

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