Hard Times in Illinois, 1930–1940
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
TELEGRAM FROM THE U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE CONCERNING UNEMPLOYMENT IN ILLINOIS
April 28, 1930
When Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928 he was widely admired as a self-made mining engineer who had amassed a personal fortune, headed the Belgian Relief Commission during the first years of the Great War, headed the domestic U.S. Food Administration after America entered the conflict, and himself had served as the U.S. secretary of commerce from 1921 until his nomination for president. An informal nationwide census of the unemployed was undertaken in April 1930, of which document 2 was a part. Nationally it was determined that approximately 2,500,000 workers were unable to find work.
When this census was made the stock market had tumbled, capital was scarce, banks were failing, businesses were closing, and jobs were hard to find. But the crisis still was viewed as a recession rather than a full-blown depression. President Hoover had held numerous meetings with leaders from the business community and from organized labor in which he received assurances that production and wage levels would be maintained. To this point in time the displaced had been taken care of by local governments and private relief efforts.
In responding to this inquiry Governor Emmerson reported abnormally high unemployment in Illinois with a significant increase since mid-January, no increase for the period March 15-April 15, and a slight decrease for April 1-26. As of April 29, 1930 approximately 400,000 wage or salary earners were without jobs in Illinois.
Points to Consider
Why had the U.S. secretary of commerce telegraphed the governor of Illinois?
Why would a significant number of Illinois workers have been unemployed on April 28, 1930?
Today how does the federal government determine the information requested in this telegram?
Why did the U.S. president want the information requested in this telegram?