Second World War Ended the Great Depression

Iowan discusses how the Second World War put paid to the Great Depression, and unified the country.

Content Tools

Once again, the sound of marching feet could be heard throughout the world. The Second World War, when folks had thought the first was enough to be done with. 

In 1939 the United States was still trying to free itself from the effects of the Great Depression. Although things were better, close to 10 million people remained unemployed. The country had for a decade turned inward as government and private citizens alike struggled with economic problems. The trend was isolationistic.

By this time radio commentators, such as H.Y. Kaltenborn, were reporting such things as Japan was on the march, and Hitler would never be satisfied until he controlled all of Europe. Ordinary Americans reacted to Hitler's conquest of Europe with apprehension that at times approached panic. The feeling was that if Great Britain fell, Germans might invade America.

It was the Japanese, however, who plunged the country into the second world war. On that Sunday, December 7, 1941, as people were eating dinner and the radio was playing "Swing and Sway" with Sammy Kaye the announcer broke in with the news report. "Today, Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from the air - a second attack has been reported on Army and Navy bases in Manila." The attack on Pearl Harbor, in which more than 2,400 Americans died and half the Pacific Fleet was wiped out, canceled all isolationistic feelings and unified the United States more than any war it ever fought.

The War solved most Depression-related problems, giving employment to seven million people who were out of work. Nearly eight million more women, teenagers and older people found work, many for the first time in their lives. Women took on tough, dirty, boring jobs: riveting airplanes, tanks and ships; shoveling coal; making bullets and war-time products. Automobile makers turned out planes and tanks. For three years no new cars came out.

Farmers, the group hardest hit through the Great Depression, saw their incomes triple. People spent more money in nightclubs and restaurants. Trains were jammed with soldiers and people rushing to meet servicemen on leave. Businessmen hurried to Washington and Chicago to help the nation gear up for war.

Troop trains went through our small Midwest Iowa town. It was sad but exciting to see all those uniformed men leaning out of the windows and waving as they passed by. I always shed a few tears afterward, and I felt such pride for all those young men, who were all about my age.

Esther Carolus
Clarion, 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.