Montana in the 1930s

Source: American Prairie Foundation

In 1889, Montana became the forty-first state in the US, and into the early 1900s, population growth soared. Between 1880 and 1920, the population in the Montana Plains increased by more than 100,000 people per decade. The enlarged Homestead Act was passed in 1909, increasing the size of homesteads to 320 acres, 80 acres of which homesteaders were under obligation to cultivate. Tens of thousands more homestead farmers trekked to Montana, along with other Western states, in hopes of inexpensive land.

World War I seemed to bring promise to Montana�s agriculture industry, with a new and robust demand for wheat and other grains. In 1919, however, a severe drought devastated the crops, and relentless wind erosion and insect plagues continued to trouble Montana farmers. After World War I, a steep drop in market prices, combined with an extended drought, squelched the previously popular wheat industry, and many Montana farmers were forced to relocate. Further indications that the land could not support such numbers of settlers and ranchers came in the early 1920s when crop yields dropped from 25 bushels of grain per acre to 2 or 3 bushels per acre. Soil erosion, wind, and drought culminated in the difficult Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, sometimes called �The Dirty Thirties�.

However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, implemented in 1933, alleviated some of the state�s worries with the creation of new works projects and agencies: the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Projects Administration (WPA), the building of Fort Peck Dam, and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The Fort Peck Dam project alone, begun in 1933, employed 10,000 men. Other programs instated by President Roosevelt eventually spread extended electricity into rural areas, developed recreational areas and parks, and resulted in new highway construction.

Then in 1934, The Taylor Grazing Act saw the close of the free range era, but established individual allotments and systematic range improvement programs, as well as the Bureau of Land Management. As the 1930s progressed, Montana gradually came to increasingly depend on federal aid for its citizens, and this trend has furthered since. When US involvement in World War II began in 1941, Montana, along with the rest of the nation, was broken free from the Great Depression�s hold. Jobs were created as federal money continued to flow in, but job availability elsewhere was so abundant that many of Montana�s young people left for wartime industries on the West Coast. However, despite its dependence on overseas demand, a lessening workforce, and weather patterns, agriculture has steadily existed as Montana�s premier industry. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/01 at 12:54 PM
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2006 Montana Heritage Project