Family Resourcefulness During the Depression Era

Iowan recalls the resourcefulness shown by his father and mother in surviving the depression era.

Depression Era Kitchen

Sometimes you don't need a lot to have enough.

Fabio Roncaglia/Fotolia

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I was about nine years old when the economic collapse of the depression era caused my Dad to lose his job as a moulder in the local grey iron foundry in our hometown of Auburn, Indiana.

Dad was too staunch a Republican to apply for a job with the New Deal's Public Works Administration. He felt it was too much like welfare and it was a Democratic ploy to buy votes! So he relied on his own resourcefulness in attempting to find work. His background as a farmer had given him many skills. I recall he picked up a couple of carpentry jobs. At one time he worked on a new dance hall being built north of town. Another job consisted of helping build a hip-roofed barn south of town. For a time he and a friend cut wood on the shares of some wooded acres owned by a farmer-relative.

Mom took in washing for several families who could afford such services. She also did housework for some of those families. In addition to the constant search for work we maintained not only a sizable garden on our property, but also planted vegetables in a large vacant lot just west of our home.

My mother's youngest brother was a traveling salesman. Somehow he managed to continue selling through those tough years, although he was forced to change products several times from his original position with Firestone. In his travels he came into possession of an electrical doughnut molding machine. Fashioned like a waffle maker, it contained six triangular molds into which cake doughnut dough could be poured. He gave the equipment to my parents, who were very willing to have a go at entrepreneurship.

Dad didn't take a fancy to selling. So he became the baker and Mom and I the sales force. I.had a bit of experience selling magazines earlier such as the Delineator, Ladies' Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post. Being in junior high I would go selling every evening after school and on Saturdays.

With the money I earned I was able to make installment payments to buy our family's first radio, a little Philco table model with a sort of cathedral shape to it. What a thrill! I no longer had to visit other friends' homes to listen to "Jack Armstrong the All American Boy," or "Little Orphan Annie" and all those other wonderful serial dramas.

Eventually Dad was called back to the foundry and his work as a moulder. However, the regular paychecks came too late to prevent the foreclosure by the bank on our house which my parents had started buying the year before my birth.

Marvin E. Hanson
Boone, Iowa


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.