Teacher's Guide: Breadline

When the New York Stock Exchange crashes in 1929, the chain reaction devastates economies throughout the world. Unemployment soars, trade halts, crime escalates, and political fringe groups flourish. In response, governments create a range of solutions.

Unit Themes and Topics:
the Great Depression
ideology and social movements
the New Deal
the role of government

Bill Bailey
(citizen, United States)

"When I came down the street and saw my mother in that soup line, I knew damn well that something was haywire. Something was rotten with the whole system."
photographic portrait of Bill Bailey


Before Watching

1. Ask students to contribute what they already know about the Great Depression. What does the term mean? What images does the term evoke? How was the Great Depression different from previous economic slumps?

2. What does Bill Bailey's quotation tell you about the economic, psychological, and political effects of the Great Depression? How might the depression have challenged people's ideas about the way society should work? As students watch the program, have them take notes on the events and trends that affected Bailey and how he responded.

After Watching

1. How did Bill Bailey's views and experiences represent or not represent life during the Great Depression?

2. Compare how Great Britain, Sweden, and the United States responded to mass unemployment. In which country would you have preferred to live during the Great Depression? If you were an unemployed citizen in one of these countries, how do you think you would feel about your government, based on its response to the unemployment?

3. In the program, farmers throw away milk and destroy their crops while people are starving. Why was this done? What other necessary resources were wasted in the program? Are necessary resources wasted today? If so, what are the motivations for, and consequences of, that waste?


Have students interview grandparents, relatives or others who lived through the Great Depression. Brainstorm a list of questions to ask, for instance: How did the Great Depression affect your family at the time? How did it affect you? How old were you during the Great Depression? How did living through the Great Depression shape your attitudes? With the subjects' permission, have students share their stories with the class.

Have students investigate the impact of the Great Depression on a developing country, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, India, or Peru. First, discuss the economic factors that are unique to developing countries. Then replay the segments on Chile's copper and nitrate industries. Discuss how industrialized countries' economic slumps affected Chile's copper and nitrate industries, and why those industries revived in the late 1930s. Have students present their findings by writing a journal entry or letter in the voice of someone who lived through the changes wrought by the Great Depression in that country.

FOCUS: The New Deal

The following lesson focuses on a program segment in which the Bonus Army demonstrates in Washington, DC, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) is elected president, and Americans tell how the New Deal changed their lives.

Program Segment
approximately 17 minutes

The Bonus Army holds a demonstration in Washington, DC.

Mancil Milligan says, ≥Mr. Roosevelt. . . actually saved the country.≤


Before Watching

1. As students watch the program segment, have them write down how the federal government changed during FDR's presidency.

2. Have students brainstorm a list of services that the federal government provides. As they watch the program have them note the agencies or programs that provide those services that began during the New Deal.

After Watching

1. Whose lives were changed by the New Deal? What New Deal programs affected them? What made the programs successful? Who was not helped by the New Deal?

2. How did the New Deal affect people's feelings about themselves and their government leaders? How did restoring confidence in the government help the economic recovery? Do you agree with Mancil Milligan's remark that ≥Mr. Roosevelt. . . actually saved the country≤? Why or why not?


Have students work in small groups to investigate a recent debate over the role of the federal government. Issues might include free trade, minimum wage, social security, universal health care, welfare reform, or balancing the federal budget. Ask each group to trace the history of the debate and to bring in newspaper or magazine articles that represent different viewpoints in the debate. Then have each group present their findings in a debate format that equally represents the different viewpoints.

Discuss the notes students took on how the federal government changed during FDR's presidency and how his programs addressed problems in a new way. As a class, create a list of what students think the advantages and disadvantages of these programs might have been. Have students write three paragraphs about how the New Deal changed or did not change people's lives. Each paragraph should be told in the first-person voice from the perspective of the following people: an African American sharecropper, a cattle rancher's wife, and FDR.

Program Summary

Use the following information to assist in finding specific segments within the program. The times listed on the left indicate minutes into the program.

01:00 1920s: American economy seems strong. The stock market crash shocks the public.

03:15 1929: Crash in US affects people worldwide.

04:00 1930s: Unemployment in America leads to shut down of industry in the US and other nations dependent on US trade.

06:30 South America suffers -- copper mining in Chile, becomes a crisis situation for workers.

08:50 Nitrate (used for fertilizer) industry in Chile also suffers.

10:50 Chileans resond to unemployment by going to the capital in search of work. People die of hunger.

11:40 Merchant shipping slows down.

12:06 Britain's shipping yards close.

14:30 British government offers little help to workers.

15:57 US government response in the early 1930s to the Depression is to not intervene.

17:35 1932: Thirteen million people unemployed in US. People head west in search of work.

20:30 In response to falling prices, farmers let produce rot, hoping to decrease the supply and raise prices.

21:13 Belgium in winter, 1931.

23:30 Other governments' response to the Deppression. In US, Hoover decides to wait out the economic cycle.

25:25 US citizens become increasingly angry at government. They begin to speak out and explore alternative forms of government.

29:26 Sweden effects change through public spending.

31:50 1932: Washington D.C. under siege with unemployed WWI veterans. Ddemonstrations and counter attack by US soldiers.

35:15 FDR gains popularity and is elected based on his campaign to break the Depression.

37:46 1936: With election of FDR, a new mood sweeps the US. "New Deal" takes shape.

39:50 Roosevelt's economic reform in US spreads to other countries. FDR creates federal jobs.

42:30 Development of WPA to provide jobs to develop the US.

44:00 Roosevelt uses radio to further "New Deal" propaganda.

46:00 From the rural perspective, new economic policies does not help farm-laborers and land tenants.

47:55 In midwest, droughts force farmers to move west to California.

50:30 Ambitious "New Deal" project brings electricity to seven states. Roosevelt's actions save the US from the Depression.

52:21 In England, no public works projects or other help for people.

55:19 English shipyards become active again, thanks to re-armament.

56:45 Chile's copper mines re-open because copper is needed for artillery shells.

58:20 Late 1930's see revived production and trade. The last countries to re-arm were the last to crawl out of the Depression.

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