The Depression began early in rural America. World War I had created an enormous demand for agricultural products. Farmers and farm workers were conscripted for military service. Fertilizer factories were converted for munitions production. This and the the destruction of War substantially reduced agricultural production throughout Europe. The Central Powers could not import from Russia, the European breadbasket or from overseas because of the Allied naval embargo. The Allies, especially Britain did import and in large quantity. American farmers thus played an important role even bedore America declared war on Germany (1917). After the War, the United States fed a prostrate Europe, averting widespread starvartion. Herbert Hoover and U.S. Food Administration played a major role in that effort. American food not only saved defeated Germans but also millions in the new soviet Union. As European agricultural production revovered, the market for American farm products declined. Thus as urban Americans reveled in the Roaring Twenties, American farmers experienced an economic decline which reached depression levels. The reluctance of power companies to run lines into rural areas impeded needed efforts to midernize farm life and operations. And the situtation was made even worse by the terrible dust storms which began at theend of the decade--turning the Midwest into the Dust Bowl. President Roosevelt's New Deal would give great attention to the issues of rural Americ.
For most countries developments on farms had little impact on other countries. Not so America. America is an exceptional country which the Europeans already knew. Thus is why millions of Europeans came to America. What the Europeans did not know at the beginning of the decade waa that American farmers would save millions of lives throughout the continent. American farmers saved millions of people in Europe during the decade, both during and after World war I. No other people in world history had ever attempted such a humanitarian effort on basically altruistic motives and on such a massibe scle. And it was all possible because of the American farmer. Major developments occured in rural America during the 1910s. Farm credit was a major issue. About a third of the more than 90 million Americans lived in rural areas (1910). Russia in the early-20th century was the European breadbasket, exporting large quantities of grain. The industrialized countries of Western Europe (espcially Britain, Germany and the Lowlands) had to important food to feed their workers. France with its especially abundant land was in a little better shape. World War I created an enormous demand for agricultural products. Farmers and farm workers were conscripted throughout Europe for military service. Fertilizer factories were converted for munitions production. This and the the destruction of War substantially reduced agricultural production. The Central Powers could not import from Russia, the European breadbasket or from overseas because of the Allied naval embargo. Farm production in Europe fell along with the devestation and shifting of priorities to war production. Shortages in Russia, Germny, and Austria-Hungary undermined the imperial regimes. The Allies, especially Britain did import and in large quantity. American farmers thus played an important role even before America declared war on Germany. And the increased demand affects American farming. The markets created and the resulting price increases meant boom years for American farmers and a rush to expand plantings. Great Planes farmers expand dryland farming. Farm workers appear from Mexico, both as a result ofthe Mexican Revolution andthe need for workers as production increased. New Government prigrams are untriduced such as the Stock Raising Homestead Act (1916). Imprioved mechanized equipment appears such as large opengeared gas tractors (1910), closed gear tractors (1915), and small prarie combines (1918). The Northern Plains states (North Dakota, Kansas, and Minnesota) become the principal wheat producing states. As a result of experiments with different wheat strains, durum wheats becomes an important commercial crop. The effort to increase production meant that grain farmers were moving into the most arid area of the Great Plains. Marquis wheat was introduced (1912) Kansas red wheat was introduced (1917). Henry Fors's Model-T and country road building significantly increased the mobility of farmers and the access to small farm equipment like tractors. The Rural Post Roads Act begins regular Federal subsidies to road building (1916). The American railroad network peaked at 254,000 miles (1916) providing the farmer unparalleded market access. The Government once America entered the War (1917), encouraged American farmers to increase production and they responded with major increases in planting and land utilization. Thus during the War, the Allies did not face the same problems with food that Austria-Hungary and Germany faced. After the War, the United States fed a prostrate Europe, averting widespread starvartion. Herbert Hoover and U.S. Food Administration played a major role in that effort.
American farmers continued to feed Europe in the early-1920s. American food not only saved defeated Germans from starving, but people in most other European countris. This included the new Soviet Union. As Europe recovered from the Great War, agricultural production throughout the Continent gradually recovered and returned to more normal levels. In fact because of the World War I food crisis, many Governments wanted to promote added agricultural output in case of any future emergency. This left American farmers who had so significantly expanded production without the markets needed for their significantly expanded output. Farm prices thus declined percipitously. The U.S. Government which incouraged farmers to expand production did not plan how to help farmers adjust to a more normal demand structure. There was simply no need for the huge harvests that American farmers were now producing. Thus the American farmer came on hard times almost a decade before before the Wall street crash (1929). As urban Americans reveled in the Roaring Twenties, an unprecedented econonomic expansion occurred creating unrivale prosperity. American farmers experienced, however, an economic decline which reached depression levels. The reluctance of power companies to run lines into rural areas impeded needed efforts to modernize farm life and operations. The abundance of land gave many American farners that they could practice destructive farm practices and just move on. The impact of plowing up the Great Planes was given little thought. The 1920s was an era of abu=ndant rainfall. At the end of the decade, as drought descended on on the Great Plains, the environmental impact of poor farming practices would result in an enviromental nightmare. American farms even before Henry Ford's Model-T Tin Lizzy were the most mechanized farms in the world. The intenal combustion engine would only expand that mechanization. The Model-T helped helped connect farms to the the urban society. And soon tractors would begin to increase farm productivity. Tractors appeared in the 19th century with steam engines, but they made no real impact until the perfection of the intenal comustion engine. Companies begqn making tractors powered by the internal combustion engine after the turn of the century, but for a time the horse was more practical. This began to change in the 1910s as various companies began making tractors. John Deere had created the first steel plow (1837) and was a leder in farm equipment. They produced the first combine (1927). The first General Purpose Tractor was introduced (1928).
The Depression changed the lives of people who lived throughout rural America. The Depression in rural America actually began a decade before the Great Depression. The United States experienced after World War I experienced recession (1918-19) followed by a severe depression (1920-21). Urban America quickly recovered and enjoyed a decade of economic expansion and growth. Rural America never recovered. And this was made even worse when the farmers on the Great Plains had to contend with a severe drought. Unappreciated by the pioneers that settled on the Great Planes after the Civil War, they were settling down on a fragile environmental system. The term eco-system had not yet entered the vocabulary. This was suddenly brought home by the dust storms and the new term Dust Bowl. The New Deal was particularly concerned about rural America. A majority of Americans now lived in cities, but there was still a very substantial farm population, much larger than is the case today. The New Seal included several programs to both assist rural Americans survive during the Depression as well as to try to correct the endemic farm problem. While the drought and resulting dust storms were the most visible problem, farmers experienced other problems, including insects, summer heat and winter cold. Mos farmers still did not have heat, light or indoor bathrooms as were now standard in the cities. Farm families raised most of their own food – eggs and chickens, milk, meat from their own pigs and cows, and vegetables from carefully tended gardens. This put them at an advantage from many city families when th fathers lost their jobs--as long as they didn't lose their land. Tragically many farm families did, this include both farm owners and share croppers. Many farm families moved away. The best known are the Oakies hard hit by the the Dust storms, many of ho headed West. Many blacks share croppers headed north, part of the Great Migration which began after World War I. Some young men found government jobs building roads and bridges. Others found work with the CCC or WPA. One of the earliest New Deal efforts was the Agriculture Adjustment Act (1933) which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) combined a range of disparate programs to assist farmers. Many of the AAA and FSA programs are controversial with economists still debating the impact. Some attempted to reform the free market. Other embraced collectivist approaches. Efforts to boost farm prices are especially controversial. One program which undeniably improved farm life and productivity was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). This made farm life not only easier and safer, but American farmers vastly more productive. And efforts to improve farming methods also had an important impact. Ultimately it was the weather and Adolf Hitler who revived the fortunes of rural America. Normal rainfall patterns resumed allowing farmers who managed to keep their land to resume normal operations (1940). And Adolf Hitler by launching World War II created a vast demand for farm products with European and Asian agricultural production disrupted by the War.
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