Rich people during The Great Depression


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Page last updated: 24/09/2022

This article will discuss how rich people were affected by The Great Depression. For that, the article will explain what The Great Depression was, and how each class was affected by it, focusing on how the upper class handled that moment.

What was The Great Depression?

The Great Depression was an economic downturned that started in 1929 and went on until 1939. It started in the United States, but it went on to affect most countries in the world. Although not all of them were hit in the same manner, most of the Western economies felt it.

It was more intense in America and Europe, and it had a mild effect in Asia and the Latin American Countries. The Great Depression caused a sharp rise in unemployment rates, a decline in production, and an intense deflation in many countries.

Although it had many causes, such as the overproduction that was going on in America, the tipping point to The Great Depression was the crash of the market in October of 1929. Up until this point, America was going through a mild recession, but once the bubble burst on the stocks, people began to sell it in panic, causing the stock market to sink.

Over the years, governments created packages to aid the population that was suffering and the economy that was in distress, but it was only when World War II was about to begin, that economy finally got back on track, majorly due to the war, that created the need for weapons and much war-related material, increasing the production.

How did The Great Depression affect rich people?

The upper class was the least affected by The Great Depression. It would be unfair to say that they made it without a scratch, some rich people lost everything they had during the crisis. But most of them manage to keep their extravagant lifestyle even during the worst economic crisis the world has ever lived through.

Not only that, many people became even richer during The Great Depression, and because of The Great Depression. An example of that is the actress Mae West. Up until the crisis started she was a burlesque dancer.

But when The Great Depression hit, people needed a cheap source of entertainment, and movie theaters were just that. She got into her first movie when she was 39 and became a box-office hit. Not only did she get rich, but she also turned the studio that made the movie around.

Paramount was close to bankruptcy when they made She Done Him Wrong and Diamond Lil. But releasing those movies made them a fortune. Not only her, Howard Hughes, who was already from a rich family saw his fortune get even bigger during The Great Depression.

Before the crisis, he had already inherited his father’s fortune, and in the 1920s he was getting his money from movies. He produced many hits, such as Ten Arabian Nights. And during The Great Depression, he turned his attention to aviation. 

In 1932 he created the Hughes Aircraft Company and became the owner of the most profitable aircraft manufacturer in the world. As the II World War began, he had the aircraft to sell to the military.

Along with Mae West, another entertainer gained momentum during The Great Depression. The singer Gene Autry turned into a hit machine during the 1930s. In 1929 he had a record deal with Columbia Records and went on to be a part of more than 90 movies, which made him the face of western cinema.

He even created a Tv and radio broadcasting business that turned into an empire. Not only that, but he also became the owner of the California Angels. The Great Depression didn’t make only good guys rich, during that time, John Dillinger and his friends made a fortune by robbing banks.

He and his crew were chased vastly all over the country, while he made more than 500 thousand dollars back then. Eventually, he was killed by the FBI as he left the movie theater in Chicago in 1934.

Even though the upper class continued to grow through The Great Depression, improving their quality of life, or even maintaining the one they had wasn’t possible for everyone. Let’s discuss how the other social classes handled The Great Depression.

Rich people during The Great Depression

How did it affect other social classes?

Before The Great Depression, the social structure was divided between the lower class, middle class, and upper class. The lower class was the most affected by The Great Depression. It was made up mostly of African American families, and they were the first ones to lose their jobs when the crisis came.

Those people lost everything when the economy was hit that hard. Most of them started to depend on bread or soup lines to get some food, as for housing, some even had to look for shelters to have a roof over their head.

To them, The Great Depression was something that turned their lives upside down. But for much of the middle class, it also wasn’t an easy thing to go through. Many people from the middle class had money in banks and had bought stocks, so they lost a great deal of it, making them extra careful with the money they had left.

There was also a part of the middle class, especially the farmers that were affected by The Dust Bowl, severe wind, and drought that hit farms all over the MidWest, that went through extreme difficulty due to the junction of The Great Depression and the environmental crisis they went through.

With all this said, it is possible to see how The Great Depression impacted most of the planet, but some people were immune to it, some even got richer because of it, as the example given of Mae West.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQ): How did The Great Depression affect rich people? 

What are people that got rich during the Great Depression? 

Along with the people said before, other people had the opportunity to make money, one way or another, during the Great Depression. One of them was John Dillinger. Even though he got rich with illegal money, since he made it by robbing banks, he made today’s equivalent of 3 million dollars.

He was later killed by the FBI, in 1934, when he left the cinema in Chicago. Babe Ruth was also someone that made a lot of money during this period. The baseball player came to a point where he won more than President Hoover. 

When that happened, he even made jokes about it, saying that he made more money than the president, but that he had a better year than him as well.

Along with them, James Cagney made a lot of money during this period. His Hollywood career exploded, and he went from a 500 dollars week contract to more than 40 thousand dollars in 1933. In 1935 he became one of the most known celebrities of Hollywood.

Did the Great Depression have a positive effect? 

Through the New Deal, a governmental program that aimed to improve the outcomes of the Great Depression, many new laws were set that came to have a positive effect on life as we know it now. There were laws to regulate the stock market, so people wouldn’t go buying them without consideration or second thought.

Aside from that, the Great Depression altered how people would be able to take credit. From then on, they would be required to have a way to back them when getting a loan. 

Not only that, the Great Depression left a legacy that made it necessary for banks to have insurance that would guarantee that people would be able to withdraw their money if they all decided to do it at the same time, as happened in the Great Depression.

With all of that, it is possible to say that the Great Depression, even though it brought a lot of poverty and despair, had also some positive effects on how people and economical systems were built.

What were the forms of entertainment in the 1930s?  

During the 1930s, there were different forms of entertainment depending on what social class you were a part of. For the rich, it involved traveling, big parties, and events in luxurious hotels. But for the less privileged, there were other forms of entertainment.

Movie theaters were one of them. The industry became big during that time since it was incredibly cheap. Along with that, there were a lot of dancing marathons going on across the United States. 

It wasn’t only a way to see who could stand it for longer, but also, many people that had no resources at that time would join the marathon as a way to have shelter and even some food.

During that period, many of the Halloween traditions also started. They were initially created as a way to take kids out of the street and look for trouble. Many haunted houses were created in communities so people could participate.

And since the rich and famous were living that lavish life, following what they were doing was also a source of entertainment for people in the 1930s. They would read it in the newspapers and want to know everything that was going on in the exclusive Cafe Society.

How did the Great Depression affect labor? 

From the creation of the New Deal, many new labor laws were created. From that moment on, it became forbidden for kids to work, since during the Great Depression many children and teens started to work to help their families survive. 

Along with that, the 40-hour week was set, which meant that employees could only work that many hours a week. It was set that employees would have the right to some support if they were fired. That is because, once the Great Depression hit, many employees lost their jobs from one moment to the next, leaving them with nothing. 

This would guarantee employees to leave their jobs, but still, have a sense of dignity, and something to turn to.

What were celebrities of the 1930s?

The 1930s was a prominent period in Hollywood, many artists gained fame through the movies that were made back then. There was Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Paul Robeson, Fred Astaire, Spencer Tracy, and Cary Grant. All of them made movies that influenced that period.


This article explained how rich people were affected by The Great Depression. For that, the article showed what this historic event was, and how other classes, beyond rich people, faced The Great Depression.

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