Crime in the Great Depression

Crime during the Great Depression was a huge deal. Although crime rates during his time decreased, the types of crimes became more extreme. It expressed itself in stump fishing, theft, and bootlegging. Adults would fish illegally to provide as much food as they could for their children, and children would steal food from their local farmers when things got tough in their families. Bootlegging means smuggling alcohol into the country, and the bootleggers were considered heroes for the crimes they committed. It was a sad, sad time in America; ruining the idea of “The American Dream”.

Stump fishing, or fishing with no proper equipment, was illegal back during the Depression. Instead of using the proper rods, hooks, and bait, the people would fish with their bare hands. ‘In the 30s, a few folks… fished with their bare hands even though it was illegal.’ (LivingHistoryFarm.com). This was because most people were poor, and could not afford to buy proper fishing equipment.

Before the Depression, everyone could afford proper fishing equipment, but without jobs no one had the money to purchase such things. Many were at risk of being caught for stump fishing, but it was necessary to feed their children so that they would not starve. It was so sad that low income or poor families were desperate for food, and had to break laws in order to provide for themselves. After the Great Depression, families were thankful to have jobs back and not have to provide food illegally for their themselves.

Theft, of not only money and possessions, but food became common. Even with minors and children who would go out to steal food from their local farmers. Watermelon was most common, especially in the summertime; “If a farmer grew good watermelons, everyone knew about it.” (LivingHistoryFarm.com). Sadly, these were the measures that had to be taken to survive during the 1930’s. Before, about a dime could buy you two watermelons, but with the shortage of money during the Depression, stealing was the better option for adults and minors alike. Although afterwards prices went up for foods, a watermelon costing about twenty cents, but with Americans having their jobs back, it was no problem at all.

Outlaws traveled across the midwest, on the run because they were wanted men in multiple states. ‘By 1933, outlaws in the Midwest began racing through the heartland robbing banks…it was another cruel feature of the Great Depression.’ (Encyclopedia.com). During times of hardship, the people did what they had to in order to get by, even if it meant stealing from others.

In my opinion, Prohibition caused more trouble than it was worth, making crime spread, even throughout the police community. The Eighteenth Amendment, or Prohibition, was a law stating that you could not ‘manufacture, transport or sell intoxicating liquors’. Angry citizens and corrupt police officers bootlegged liquor and sold it ‘under the table’. The government is not always right and can be corrupt, even in today’s world. It just goes to show the distortion of “The Perfect American Dream”.

Prohibition was eventually outlawed, but while in place, increased the crime having to do with alcohols and liquors. “For six or seven dollars, a portable still could be purchased in almost any hardware store. If the buyer didn’t know how to use it all he had to do was go to the public library.” (Britten, 116). In all, prohibition caused more harm than good, especially with police officers, gangs and other government officials who illegally imported (or bootlegged) alcohol into the country and sold and drank it against the law.

Overall, expressed itself in stump fishing, theft, and bootlegging. Adults would fish illegally, or stump fish, and children would steal fruits from their local farmers to get a meal in. Bootleggers were considered heroes for their crimes, importing alcohol into the country against the laws of Prohibition. It was a sad, sad time in America; ruining the idea of “The American Dream”.

Works Cited:

  1. Reinhardt, Claudia, and Bill Ganzel. “Crime.” Farming in the 1930’s, 2003, livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/life_26.html.
  2. Inc., The Gale Group. “Crime 1920-1940.” Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression , Encyclopedia.com, 2019, www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education- magazines/crime-1920-1940.
  3. “Do-It-Yourself-Booze.” The Jazz Age: The 20s, by Loretta Britten, Time-Life Books, 2000, pp. 113–127.