Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution early in the nineteenth century the United States ad experienced recessions or panics at least every twenty years. But none was as severe or lasted as long as the Great Depression. Only as the economy shifted toward a war mobilization in the late 1930s did the grip of the depression finally ease.
Stock prices had been rising steadily since 1921, but in 1928 and 1929 they surged forward, with the average price of stocks rising over 40 percent. The stock market was totally unregulated. Margin buying in particular proceeded at a feverish pace as customers borrowed up to 75 percent of the purchase price of stocks. That easy credit lured more speculators and less creditworthy investors into the stock market. The Federal Reserve board warned member banks not to lend money for stock speculation because if prices dropped, many investors would not be able to pay back their debts. No one listened. The stock market began sliding in early September, but people ignored the warning. Then on "black Thursday" (October 24, 1929) and again on "black Tuesday" (October 29, 1929) the ball dropped. More than 28 million shares changed hands in frantic trading. Overextended investors, suddenly finding themselves in heavily in debt, began selling their stocks. Many found that no one would buy anything at any price. Overnight, stock values fell from a peak value of 87 billion dollars to 55 billion dollars.
The crash was felt far beyond the trading floors. Speculators who borrowed money from the banks to buy their stocks could not repay the loans because they could not sell stocks. This caused many banks to fail. Since bank deposits were uninsured before the 1930s depositors' their money, which in many cases was all that many people had. The stock market crash intensified the course of the Great Depression in many ways. Besides wiping out the savings of thousands, it hurt commercial banks that had invested heavily in...
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