Originally created 04/18/99

1929: A look at the 20th Century



Headlines across the nation echoed the news: The stock market had crashed. It was the defining event of 1929.

History books provide an overview of the year's events, but written accounts lack the drama felt by three Columbia County residents who recently reflected on their personal experiences of 1929.

"The times were hard for a lot people," Bess Mayne recalled.

She, Bill Gibson and Dr. Russell A. Blanchard, who live at the Brandon Wilde retirement community in Evans, lived in different parts of the United States in 1929, but they share similar memories of those times.

Mrs. Mayne was a math teacher in Illinois. Mr. Gibson was an engineer from Missouri. Dr. Blanchard, a native of Augusta, was a banker.

They recalled 1929 with an enduring fondness and memories of time spent with loved ones. They also remembered the daily struggles of a time when planning for the future was nearly impossible. For many, life became a struggle.

"Harder for some than others," Mr. Gibson said. "It all depended on your line of work."

Americans worked hard, with few receiving much money for their labor.

"A nickel was a lot of money in 1929," Mrs. Mayne said. The value of the nickel would grow in the following years as fewer Americans had money in their pockets.

Most of the decade of the 1920s was an era of widespread discovery, and Americans thrived.

They celebrated technological advances, such as the first commercial radio broadcasts, and the feminist movement, which had brought women the right to vote.

But 1929 took a different turn -- etching itself in people's memories but for a very different reason.

The U.S. economy was unstable, with the stock market soaring and plummeting like a roller coaster. Americans began losing faith in the economy. By year's end, nearly all Americans -- and Augustans -- would be affected.

The year began with a shocking gangland killing in Chicago, where gangster Al Capone ordered a Valentine's Day hit against his arch-enemy, George "Bugs" Moran. Capone's gang attacked the North Side crime boss's garage.

When the machine guns fell silent, seven bullet-riddled corpses lay on the floor. But Moran wasn't among them.

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre returned the Prohibition debate to the nation's headlines.

With alcohol manufacture and sales banned by a constitutional amendment, bootleggers and organized crime supplied nearly all the alcohol Americans could drink. On May 20, President Herbert Hoover appointed the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement to study the link between Prohibition and crime.

Despite the rising crime rate, the nation flourished.

The literary community published many classics that are now required reading in high schools. William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own made their debut.

Construction began on New York's Empire State Building, while Gerber Co. introduced strained baby food.

Aviator Charles Lindbergh started Central American airmail service. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' first Academy Awards were given, with Oscars honoring films from 1927 and 1928.

While Hollywood dazzled, Augusta sparkled, and the city's downtown bustled with commerce.

"Broad Street was Augusta," Dr. Blanchard said. "All the churches were downtown. So were businesses and doctor offices. The Partridge Inn and the Bon Air Hotel were considered the suburbs."

The Garden City rode the coattails of good fortune for most of 1929. The city was a well-known vacation spot for the nation's affluent, and the local economy didn't appear to be at risk. Augusta had come a long way in the 1910s and 1920s, with much of the success attributed to former Mayor Thomas Barrett.

Barrett, known as "the father of modern Augusta," was elected mayor on Jan. 1, 1910, and immediately began "his notable record of achievements," according to The Augusta Chronicle.

He was recognized for building the Savannah River levee and University Hospital, as well as pushing for the Bon Air Hotel. The annual Augusta Horse Show was credited to Barrett.

When Barrett died in April 1929, Mayor William B. Bell described him as "one of the city's chief citizens for all time."

In September 1929, the Savannah River was rising, and water spilled into the heart of the city. The river reached 46 feet, submerging the Fifth Street Bridge. Water poured into the city and covered 100 residential blocks.

By Oct. 2, Mr. Bell was urging downtown residents to evacuate to the Summerville area. Residents filled sandbags in efforts to stop the rising water.

When the river receded Oct. 4, it left fish up and down Greene Street. Augusta survived the flood, but the Fifth Street Bridge had to be reconstructed.

Three weeks later, the stock market crashed -- casting a dark cloud over the nation and its president.

Mr. Hoover began his presidency seven months earlier, and by September, the market had peaked. Stocks sold for "stratospheric prices," according to historians. Investors attributed the high prices to the technological revolution of automobiles and household appliances. But with the crash, consumer confidence worsened and spending dried up.

The Hoover administration worked desperately to curb the crisis. However, Mr. Hoover believed that the "Constitution prohibited the federal government from mandating economic changes," history researcher H.J. Fortunato wrote recently on the Discovery Channel Online.

As a result, the American social and economic landscape became littered with soup kitchens and bread lines. Poverty and desperation decorated the nation's streets. The land of the free offered little opportunity for work. Millions of Americans were forced out of their homes.

The 1929 stock market crash marked the beginning of the one of the worst times in American history, the Great Depression.

Ashlee Griggs can be reached at (706) 823-3512 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.

Time line

Feb. 4: Aviator Charles Lindbergh started a Central American airmail service.

Feb. 14: Gunmen for Al Capone committed the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago.

March 11: English race car driver H.O.D. Segrave set the world's automobile speed record at 231.3 mph at Daytona Beach, Fla.

April 14: Former Mayor Thomas Barrett, described as the father of modern Augusta, died.

May 16: The first Academy Awards ceremony was held, to honor the films of 1927 and 1928.

May 21: The incorporation of Daniel Field Airport into Augusta's city limits was approved.

May 27: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that barred citizenship to Hungarian immigrant Rosika Schwimmer on the basis of her pacifist ideas.

June 14: Charley Patton, known as The King of the Delta Blues, made his first record for Paramount in Richmond, Ind.

June 18: Dr. William A. Mulherin received an honorary degree from the University of Georgia.

June 27: Bell Laboratories made its first U.S. public demonstration of color television.

July 3: A professional motorcycle race was held at Dan Bowles' racetrack in Richmond County.

July 16: C.M. Grace called himself the Black Christ and administered baptisms for $2 each in Augusta. His visit upset Augusta's black community.

Sept. 28: The Savannah River reached a crest of 46 feet, putting the Fifth Street Bridge under water.

Oct. 2: Mayor William B. Bell urged citizens of the lower parts of Augusta to flee to the Summerville area for safety from rising flood waters. Fire trucks were sent to warn people to evacuate.

Oct. 18: Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward was published.

Oct. 24: The U.S. stock market plunged on Black Thursday, with 13 million shares sold.

Nov. 13: Stock market prices reach their lowest point for the year; $30 billion in stock values were wiped out.