Friday, January 28, 2011

Herbert Hoover, a Chicken in Every Pot, and the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, many Americans couldn't afford to pay their mortgages and lost everything they owned. Suddenly homeless, millions of American families had no choice but to find shelter in shanty towns, or Hoovervilles, which sprang up throughout the United States in the early 1930s.

In the popular musical Annie, which takes place in a Hooverville beneath the 59th Street Bridge in New York City, there is a song called “We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover." In it, the chorus blames President Hoover for all the hardships they are forced to endure as a result of the Great Depression. Maybe you've heard the lyrics:

[ALL]
Today we're living in a shanty
Today we're scrounging for a meal

[SOPHIE]
Today I'm stealing coal for fires
Who knew I could steal?...

[ALL]
We'd like to thank you: Herber Hoover
For really showing us the way
We'd like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
You made us what we are today...

In ev'ry pt he said "a chicken"
But Herbert Hoover he forgot
Not only don't we have the chicken
We ain't got the pot!


During the Election of 1928, Hoover never actually uttered the phrase “a chicken in every pot and two automobiles in every back yard,” but the Republican Party ran ads suggesting that this was what Americans could expect if he was elected.

As far as modern campaign slogans go, "A Chicken in Every Pot" sounds rather modest. But "the words rang hollow during the Great Depression that blighted Hoover's presidency and shook the economic foundations" of the nation to the core. As one observer remarked, "daily bread and shoes without holes were hard enough to come by, let alone stewing chickens and automobiles."

Nevertheless, while millions of American families were scrounging for food in the streets, President Hoover and his wife Lou were entertaining on a scale not seen at the White House in years. According to historian Poppy Cannon, "The watchword had been economy while the Coolidges lived at the White House. Now it was elegance...Mrs. Hoover never questioned the amount of food consumed or its cost. Her only requirement was that it be of the best quality, well cooked and well served.”

Needless to say, this infuriated many struggling Americans, and, in the Election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in a landslide, ushering in decades of Democratic dominance in presidential elections. Meanwhile, Hoover left the White House in disgrace, "having incurred the public's wrath for failing to lift the nation out of the Great Depression."

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