The Great Depression in Cartoons, Part 1:
The Stock Market Crash

Posted on Monday, January 12, 2009, at 11:00 am, by Cadwalader Crabtree.

People are frequently comparing the current economic crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Accordingly, I thought I might begin my promised posts on vintage graphics with a look at that gloomy period. Specifically, I will be showcasing cartoons published in the American humor magazine Life, before it went under in 1936. Archelaus’s card designers — ever in search of suitable illustrations for our fine cards — have spent many hours poring over old issues of Life in the Library of Congress, and we have not been shy about scanning whatever interested us along the way. That research is the source of the illustrations for this series.

While the stock market crash of October 1929 did not cause the Great Depression, the collapse on Wall Street certainly ushered it in. With the extent of the gathering calamity not yet apparent, however, early cartoons naturally tended to focus on the crash itself.

“On Margin,” by James Montgomery Flagg, appeared on November 15, 1929. In the speculative fever of the roaring twenties, many people had made their stock investments with borrowed money. When stocks fell and creditors called in the loans, the results were ruinous.

On Margin - Cartoon by James Montgomery Flagg, from Life, November 15, 1929

“Just what he wanted,” by William Kemp Starrett, appeared on December 6, 1929, reflecting the false hopes many were then placing in what turned out to be a treacherous bear market rally. In fact, stocks still had a long way to fall before they would finally bottom out in 1932.

Just what he wanted! - Cartoon by William Kemp Starrett from Life, December 6, 1929.

“Finis,” also by Starrett, appeared three weeks later, on December 27. It sums up how many stock investors felt about the year 1929 (and may feel today about 2008). (For those too young to remember, the machine in the background is an old-fashioned stock ticker, which printed incoming stock quotes on “ticker tape,” as shown in the foreground.)

Finis. - Cartoon by William Kemp Starrett from Life, December 27, 1929.

“The long and the short of it,” by Russell Patterson, graced the cover of Life on January 24, 1930. The man on the right appears to be a beleaguered “long,” the lady on the left a triumphant “short.”

The long and the short of it. - Cartoon by Russell Patterson from Life, January 24, 1930.

“Up three points,” by Frank Hanley, is from January 10, 1930. It plays on the popular mythology of the time, according to which bankrupt stockholders were throwing themselves from the windows of New York skyscrapers in droves.

Up three points? My Gawd, I jumped too soon! - Cartoon by Frank Hanley from Life, January 10, 1930.

Indeed, a number of the early cartoons focused wrily on the fate of previously well-to-do investors, now fallen on hard times. The drawing below by Ed Graham appeared on December 6, 1929. As the Depression worsened, vast numbers of unemployed men would adopt the expedient of hopping freight trains in search of work. Relatively few, admittedly, were former shareholders.

It seems like only yesterday that I had stock in this company! - Cartoon by Ed Graham from Life, December 6, 1929.

The ruin of the rich (but apparently still privileged) is also the theme of this unsigned cartoon from December 20, 1929.

Keep out of there, you bum! That's the millionaires' bread line! - Cartoon from Life, December 20, 1929.

I can’t make out the signature on this cartoon from February 7, 1930, which is, in any case, more about the cattiness of wealthy women than the stock market crash, per se.

You needn't be so haughty. I lost as much on the stock market as you did! - Cartoon from Life, February 7, 1930.

By the time the final cartoon in this grouping, signed “Trent,” appeared on July 25, 1930, the devastating effects of the crisis had spread far beyond the ranks of well-known stock-brokers. As we shall see in posts to come!

Burglar enters splendid home of well-known stock-broker! - Cartoon by Trent from Life, July 25, 1930.

Comments (closed):

Steve Schoen wrote on May 25, 2010, at 7:07 am:

I am working on a book about the next financial crisis and would like to include a few cartoons.
What is the copyright obligations with these illustrations?
Steve Schoen

Cadwalader Crabtree wrote on May 26, 2010, at 9:07 am:

All of these cartoons are in the public domain.
Good luck!

Polycarbonate wrote on October 25, 2010, at 1:52 am:

i would love to invest in stock market if i had only the money that i need to buy stocks-,-

Lauryn Grammes wrote on September 8, 2011, at 12:31 pm:

thx mate Here’s some payback: Thought for the day? : All men are animals, some just make better pets