The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)

Aviation cadets at Maxwell Field, Alabama


In the Great Depression of the 1930s, Americans endured the greatest economic crisis in the nation's history--at its worst, more than a quarter of the work force was unemployed. Like the American Revolution and the Civil War, the Great Depression was one of the defining experiences of the nation. In a way that the Progressive movement was never able to achieve, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs to put Americans back to work began to reshape the public's attitudes toward government. It expanded the regulatory power of the federal government and the government's role in the economy. And it focused new attention on the plight of workers, women, racial minorities, children, and other groups.

However, only the mobilization that followed America's entry into World War II finally brought an end to the Depression. Though the Allies and the Axis Powers had been at war since 1939, the United States remained neutral until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. World War II solidified America's role as a global power. It also ushered in numerous social changes, including the movement of women into previously male-only jobs. And it established the reform agendas that would occupy the United States for the remainder of the 20th century. Yet while the United States was defending democracy against totalitarian aggression, it was denying the civil liberties of interned Japanese Americans and the civil rights of racial minorities. The country emerged from World War II a very different nation, with new enemies to confront abroad and new challenges to face at home.

Presidents From This Era
Herbert Hoover 1929-1933
Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-1945
Objects From This Era
Breadboard promoting Herbert Hoover
Pennant for Inauguration of Herbert Hoover
Microphone used for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats
Eleanor Roosevelt with grandchildren
National Recovery Administration poster
Akeley newsreel camera
The "Big Three" at Yalta
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National Museum of American History