The Way It Was

The Great Depression, 1930


Photograph Courtesy of The Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University (The Detroit News)

1930The Great Depression hit the world like a sucker punch, but it slammed Detroit like a tsunami. Cars being more or less a luxury than a necessity back then, the manufacturing of automobiles narrowed to a wafer-thin production, and countless workers lost their jobs. The Motor City had lost its horsepower almost overnight after the stock market crash of October 1929. Those lucky enough to keep their employment experienced a precipitous drop in their earnings. According to The Detroit Free Press book The Detroit Almanac, the average annual earnings of an autoworker were $1,600 in 1929, but plummeted to about $1,000 in 1933. But many in the labor force were not fortunate enough to keep — or even find — a job, and Detroiters went threadbare and hungry. However, thanks to organizations like the Volunteers of America, life’s deprivations weren’t as severe. Though they had just meager things to be grateful for, this counter of unemployed men enjoy a Thanksgiving meal in 1930, served by the Volunteers of America, a group founded in 1896. The nonprofit continues its good work today. The Michigan chapter aids anyone who needs assistance, particularly the hungry, veterans, and the elderly. To donate or to volunteer, go to or call 248-945-0101.


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