Communities In Crisis
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was a worldwide event caused by imbalances in the economic system. The imbalances were created by an industrial boom that followed World War I.
It took over ten years for the country to recover from the economic disaster. New leaders, including Franklin D. Roosevelt as President were elected to deal with the economic problems. The government devised plans to get industry working to provide jobs for people. Federal and State assistance programs like the Emergency Relief Act and the Works Progress Administration were developed to help people survive. Farm price supports and soil conservation incentives were enacted to help farmers. The Federal Housing Administration created a program that refinanced mortgages rescuing people who were about to lose their houses. Many historians feel the event that ended the Depression and improved the economy was war that was brewing in Europe. Orders for equipment, supplies and machinery increased the demand for production and put people back to work.
city hired unemployed residents paying them 35 cents an hour in fake or scrip money. Merchants in the community accepted and validated the money in exchange for goods or services. A five percent discount was given for each purchase on a scrip dollar. Scrip dollars allowed goods to be purchased from businesses while giving people work and relief from poverty.
Other communities pitched in to help their residents. Cold Spring area farmers created a market to sell produce from their gardens. The American Legion in Melrose gave turkey parties to feed the poor businesses, and families trimmed their budgets, shoes and clothes were worn until they fell apart, old objects were recycled, and employed people accepted lower wages in order to survive. Neighbors helping neighbors became a way of life in Stearns County during the Depression. It is how leaders and residents of Stearns County chose to respond to the crisis.
Many other programs were created to help citizens struggling for survival within communities. Use local resources as described in Unit I to discover what your community did during the Great Depression.
World War II
Military conflicts or wars bring about great change. Wars can change individuals, families, economies, national boundaries, international relationships, and styles of government. Wars can destroy cities, cause starvation, gain national resources or give people freedom from oppression. History tells us that wars have started over things as trivial as name-calling and as meaningful as the right to practice a religion.
Stearns County has been affected by several wars including the Civil War, World War I, the Spanish American War, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. Although the battles were staged in lands far away from the prairies and lakes of Stearns County, life in the community was touched by each of these conflicts. War creates a crisis for a community. Because each war had unique characteristics, Stearns County responded to the crisis of each war differently.
World War II caused dramatic change in the lives of people all around the world, including Stearns County. World War II centered around German occupation in Europe and Japanese invasions in China and the South Pacific. The United States had tried to isolate itself from these world conflicts and remain neutral, but the aggressive actions of Germany and Japan were difficult for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ignore. When American military bases were bombed at Pearl Harbor by Japanese planes, the American publics attitude toward the war changed. The United States became completely involved in the conflict. Over 15 million men and women entered the armed services. Military strategies were formed and troops were dispersed to the European and Pacific battle fronts. Food, clothing, supplies, and weapons had to be produced for the American and the Allied forces. Taxes were raised to pay for the war. Raw materials were needed for weapons, tanks, battleships, and aircraft. Rations were placed on raw materials and consumer goods that could be used for the war. Manufacturing output nearly doubled and agricultural produce increased 22 percent. Women went to work in defense industries. The entire country joined in an effort to fight the war. If you couldnt fight on the battlefields, you could help out on the home front. The war came to an end in 1945 when Germany and Japan surrendered following the suicide of German leader Adolf Hitler and the atomic bombing of Japan. A period of world reconstruction followed and a United Nations charter was established.
The American declaration of war began an era of great change for Stearns County residents. Patriotism, excitement, fear and grief became a part of everyday life. Over 291,000 men and women lost their lives in World War II. Of that number 120 were from Stearns County. These deaths caused a terrific sense of loss for the community. Men who were not needed at home, such as farmers, engineers or scientists, were sent to fight the war. With large numbers of men going to war, Stearns County businesses and industries needed replacement workers. For the first time, women were accepted into jobs outside nursing, teaching and secretarial. Women took on jobs as mechanics, electricians, managers and truck drivers. Large numbers of women were now in the work force doing jobs that had previously been reserved for men.
Stearns Countys businesses and industries did their part to help. Many converted their factories to make military or defense products. The DeZurik Company of Sartell made tank brackets, and the Hanauer Company of Avon contracted work from the Twin City Arsenal. St. Clouds Hilger Company made military vehicles, and the Char-Gale Company manufactured airplane fuselages.
Residents played their part in fighting the war on the home front. Rationing and recycling became a part of everyday life. Sugar, coffee, gasoline, nylon, and rubber were sacrificed for the war effort. That meant there could be no new shoes or clothes and unnecessary car trips were canceled. Communities held scrap drives and collected iron, tires and tin. Each town in Stearns County formed a volunteer Civil Defense Corps. These individuals prepared the community for the possibility of bomb raids. They taught families to stockpile food and supplies, practiced blackout drills, and monitored the skies for aircraft. Being patriotic was important to the people of Stearns County. Being patriotic meant doing your part to help fight the war.
Life on the prairies of the Midwest can mean disasters fit for horror movies. Such is the case of grasshopper invasions. The grasshopper invasions of 1857 and 1873 were two devastating natural disasters in Stearns Countys past. The first plague of grasshoppers began in the Rocky Mountains. By the time it reached Stearns County, the grasshopper swarms looked like huge dark clouds. Out of the clouds grasshoppers descended eating everything in their path. Crops, gardens, clothing, trees and shrubs were devoured by the insects. Fences, houses and barns were often damaged.
The farmers of 1873 were not as lucky. This time farmers had to endure a grasshopper plague that lasted through five summers. The dark cloud of grasshoppers left fields looking as if they had been plowed. During the plagues farmers tried many things to protect their crops from the grasshoppers. They set fires around their fields hoping the smoke and fire would deter the grasshoppers and created tar filled shovels to scoop the grasshoppers out of the fields. Unfortunately, there was very little a farmer could do to fight the grasshopper and fields were lost. Some farmers returned to the east while others moved further west. Farmers that chose to stay often had to find work in far away towns and cities to make up for the money lost on their crop. They sent money to their wives and children who had stayed on the farm homestead to protect the claim. By 1877, after four summers of the scourge, Governor John S. Pillsbury introduced legislation to provide seed to farmers. Pillsbury also declared a day of prayer to end the plague. Farmers and towns people joined together to pray for the end of the horror. The plague ended that summer. Grateful community members built chapels near Cold Spring and Luxemburg to commemorate the miraculous end of the plague.