Trade & the East India Company

Some of you may have been recently intrigued by the doings of the East India Company by the BBC series Taboo, starring Tom Hardy. You now probably have the idea that the East India Company was the true evil of modern capitalism. Well, you may not be wrong about that, but perhaps you are not entirely right. What you will sure know about is that as an organisation the EIC held a huge amount of power, sometimes even more than the crown itself, at least in terms of trade and the politics behind it. What I want to talk about today with you, our lovely and curious readers, is actually about what the EIC traded and what this was worth for them.

So, how did the East India Company come about? This was an organisation previously known as (behold the redonculous name) Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies – EIC much more catchy. This organisation was created by a royal charter in 31 December 1600 with the aim of taking control of the spice trade that England was missing out due to the heavy dealing of Spain and Portugal in the East Indies. What perhaps to Elizabethan contemporaries may have seen as the greatest ordeal actually became a very profitable enterprise, as the EIC gradually became a monopolistic corporation with an overwhelmingly firm grip over trade with the orient. Just so you get an idea of the scope of this institution, the EIC had their own ships, private armies and even their own coinage! When originally established in 1600 the EIC would have had £68373. By the end of the 19th century, around 280000 men would have been counted amongst their ranks. So, you know, just your average trader really…

This is the map I have made just to give you an idea of the sites and scope of their domain…All the way back to England of course.

So here is the analysis by location:

Bombay: with the blue ‘house’, this was one of the headquarters for the EIC. It was transferred in 1668 by Charles II for the ludicrous amount of £10 of annual rent…

Madras: (brown ‘house’). The fort of St. George built-in this site in 1644 would become the citadel that acted as the base for the EIC in this area – real handy.

Calcutta: given the yellow star for a relatively obvious reason – this was the capital of the British territories of the zone until 1911.

Bantam: appropriately marked as a shopping bag, this was the first factory the East India Companies created in the east, and one of their most important trading markets – their mall essentially. Slowly but surely, Bantam became a powerful site due to its economic drive.


Now all we need to know is where we are getting what and for which purpose. So let’s have a look at the ‘goods traded’ list (like you would in a game of Civilization V or VI depending how up to date you are…):

Pepper: this came from the area of Sumatra and Java (our dark grey trapezoid). The EIC first expedition in search for this took place in 1601, so pretty high up in their list of priorities.

Spices: these came from all over India, and they would have included things that perhaps we do not think about today such as cloves, nutmeg and mace. These items were important not just for food, but due to their medicinal properties. Furthermore, these essences will shortly be introduced in perfume production, which was at its peak in England during Tudor times.

Indigo: commonly known as “blue gold”, this was a high value commodity in Europe because of the richness of the colour and the sheer difficulty and craftsmanship that was required to obtain it. This was a key resource to control in all of India. The EIC acquired the whole monopoly for the sale of this precious dye with great profit; perhaps its most important trading item!

Saltpetre: this would be a known item for the Taboo watchers. Scientifically known as potassium nitrate, this was one of the key components in gun powder which, as you may know, was in high demand in Europe. The East India Company was a big player in the transport and acquisition of saltpetre that came from several areas comprised in the map above. We know that by 1682 the EIC was importing around 1500 tons of this stuff back into the West.

Fabrics: we all know of the use and desire for things such as silk throughout history as a luxurious item. However, the use of these fabrics for the EIC was not just for the purpose of European markets. It seems that the Indian textiles were good items to trade with at the Bantam markets, to the point that by the mid 18th century, this constituted 60% of the sales by the EIC.

Tea: this should not come as a surprise. We know that by 1699 the East India Company had solid arrangements for the trade of tea with China. In fact just 50 years later around 2150 tones of tea were traded each year from Canton (red trapezoid in our map) in exchange of silver.

Porcelain: before establishing their connection with the area of Canton in the 18th century, this would have been acquired by the EIC in the markets of Bantam (you see now why they needed all those pieces of cloth huh?).

Opium: and here comes the great evil of this economic enterprise. This became the go to resource for the trade with the China when the rest of British goods loss their value, particularly cloth and silver. Therefore, instead of the carts loads of silver transported over to Canton, illegal opium became the trading commodity in this area by the 19th century. Of course, this did not work very well: just in a matter of years the First Opium War (1839-1842) came knocking into the EIC’s door to let them know the price to pay.


Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain- Formation of New France

As many of you will know Canada and parts of the United States have historical ties to France. Today, Canada recognises French as an official language along with English and the recognised native languages of Chipewyann, Cree, Gwitch’ in, Inuinnqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and the Dogrib language. This post will explain the formation of New France which will detail Jacques Cartier’s exploration of the St Lawrence River and Samuel de Champlain’s charting of the St Lawrence. This in turn was a stepping stone to the area that is today known as Quebec in Canada. Although this post will focus on the foundations of New France that became Quebec, other places like Acadia, Louisiana and much of the interior of North America formed part of New France. By 1750, New France stretched from Quebec right down to the Bayous of Louisiana.

Cartier’s voyage occurred during the ‘Age of Discovery’ in the fifteenth century. Take the term as you will, it nevertheless was a time when a number of European nations started to explore other territories, notably in the Americas. The prominent nations at the time were; Spain, Portugal, Britain, the Netherlands and France. Cartier was born in St. Malo, the Duchy of Brittany. In 1534, by this time the Duchy of Brittany was amalgamated to the Kingdom of France. King Francis I commissioned Cartier to find a route to Asia so France can prosper from the wealthy Asian markets. However, Cartier had come across the area that is now known today as Newfoundland, the Gaspe Peninsula and other maritime lands near the opening of the St Lawrence River. Cartier and his men who sailed with him first made contact with a native population in the Chaleur Bay and some Iroquoian peoples around the Gaspe Peninsula. The Iroquoian peoples here should not be confused with the Iroquoians that were further south, in the area that is now New York. This contact was said to have not been hostile and some trading occurred, albeit the contact was not for very long. It was on the first voyage that Cartier took two Iroquoian captives with him to France and it was they who revealed the names of the land on that first voyage, ‘Honguedo’ and that the land allegedly featured areas of immense wealth.


In 1535 Cartier returned for his second voyage. However after travelling further up the St Lawrence River this time, Cartier and his men made contact with more Iroquoians living close to the river. The settlements were at Stadacona (now Quebec City) and Hochelaga (now Montreal). Cartier could not sail past Hochelaga as numerous rapids allowed him to go no further. Cartier much preferred the site of Hochelaga than Stadacona as he commented that Hochelaga seemed more appeasing. However, the area did not attract a lot of attention at this point for permanent settlement. Cartier returned to Stadacona before returning to France. However Cartier and his men were unable to due to adverse weather conditions. They had to remain in Stadacona for the winter. Again there was no track of hostility when Cartier and his men stayed during the winter of 1535-1536 before returning to France. Cartier and his men spent their time to strengthen their fleet, collect wood and combat a break out of scurvy. However when Cartier and his men were ready to leave in the spring of 1536 the Iroquoians became unhappy when Cartier decided to take a chief back to France.

Cartier returned for a third voyage, however this voyage was not as successful at least for him on a personal level. Cartier was replaced by a French Huguenot by the name of Jean Francois de la Roque de Roberval, who led that expedition. The goal of this voyage however changed considerably from the other two, whereby the goal was to find an alternative route to Asia. The purpose of this voyage was to find suitable land, full of the necessary resources to make a permanent settlement. Although Cartier did not lead the expedition, he did have permission by Jean Francois to sail before him as he wanted to wait for supplies to be ready for the voyage. Cartier decided to settle on an area further on from Stadacona. The area is a little west to Quebec City today and is now incorporated under the city. The area in question is Cap-Rouge. In addition to Cap-Rouge another area close to it was settled in and fortified to protect French interests. This area was called Charlesbourg-Royal. The land had proven to be successful as food crops like cabbage and root vegetables did grow and harvests were carried out. This proved that it was feasible to farm and grow food. By this time Cartier became interested in an Iroquoian legend from what he had been told during his second voyage. The legend in essence is about somewhere further north there was place full of gold and furs, named Saguenay. During the third voyage he wanted to go out and search for it. However, Cartier was prevented from doing so due to adverse weather conditions and he never came across it. Cartier was not the last person to go looking for it. Many men did try to find it but to no avail. It is unclear just how much truth there is to this legend, if it was misunderstood by Cartier and the French or that the specific Iroquoians who told the legend wanted the French to embrace it and travel further away from their lands. Nevertheless, what we do know is Iroquoian peoples relied in oral history as a way to pass down their stories and traditions for other generations. Before the coined term the ‘Age of Discovery’, Norsemen were the first known Europeans to land in North America. After all they established a settlement by the name of Vinland for a short time. Could it be that this was the origin of the legend? It may very well be, but one thing is for sure was that this was a legend that stuck with the French, particularly Cartier who wanted to set sail to find it. It soon became apparent that Cartier’s time on the North American continent would be short lived, failing to find the legend of Saguenay and failing to protect French fortifications from Iroquoians discontent prompted him to depart for St Malo, whereby he would spend the remainder of his life.

Although Cartier’s time on the North American continent was short lived, a man by the name of Samuel de Champlain was not. By the time Champlain crossed the Atlantic in 1603, trade was a more lucrative prospect. This idea in trade increased when Iroquoian tribes contracted European diseases and many of them left their riverside villages. This allowed a fur trade in the area to flourish. Champlain’s voyage in 1603 was to chart the St. Lawrence River even further as a way to help trade by King Henry IV of France. On a second voyage returning with Pierre Dugua Mons who led the expedition further north. Champlain was asked by Dugua to find a winter settlement. Port Royal, which is today situated in Nova Scotia was the site founded. This site became the start of a new colony, Acadia. This was a particularly potent point for New France as Champlain founded a settlement that was not on the St. Lawrence River. This was a good base for further exploration on the coast. In 1608 Champlain founded a new settlement, where the modern day Vieux-Quebec is. This site consolidated French claim to the area and was used as a base to help stimulate trading endeavours, regarding furs. It was from this point that Iroquoian contact was not relied upon. Many of the St Lawrence Iroquoians had died from European disease or through skirmishes. The Huron people were perceived by Champlain to be the primary suppliers, this proved effective for the French as they had gained an ally but not so much for other tribes known as the Five Nations that intensified discord between them. In addition to the founding of Quebec City, Champlain also settled on an island in the middle of the St Lawrence River. This area was to become Montreal and it was to be used for the same purpose as the previous settlement, for the furs trade further upstream. This settlement was called La Place Royale and later Ville Marie. This three tiered system appeared to work very well with fur traders as the extra site inland enabled them to acquire more territory for the trade to send back to France. By the mid-1600s as a result of the trading, this created a new identity, the Metis. This occurred as many European traders took native wives as a way to bridge the gap between the two distinct cultures. The wives would generally help with any cultural, language or lifestyle concerns. Eventually as the Metis children grew up they were able to interpret for fur traders and become traders themselves as a way to maximise production.

In spite of the fur trade, Ville Marie was unable to attract a considerable numbers of colonists. Most of them came to the area to start up Roman Catholic missions in the hope to convert the native population. Frequent raids occurred in the area from tribes, this offers one explanation as for why other would be colonists from France did not want to come. For those who were there, for many if the attacks persisted this was a sign to leave Ville Marie for Quebec upstream. By the turn of the century however, these raids stopped and this attracted more colonists to come to the area of Ville Marie. This happened because a missionary order under the name of the, Sulpician order convinced some of the native population to move away from Ville Marie to mission villages called Kahnewake and Kanesatake, which became reserves.

All in all this was the foundation for New France and other areas were established under French territory south of the continent. Although this vast area was lost by the French, the Francophone culture remains in the province of Quebec, Canada. Saint Pierre and Miquelon (near Newfoundland) is the only area that remains that was a part of New France, now a French overseas territory.

Winchester’s Forgotten Train Station

The city of Winchester has a very rich history full of changes. As you know we have done a walk-about of Winchester, exploring its development through different centuries. Well, I thought I hadn’t talked about lovely Winchester much for a while and I remembered I spent a few hours at the records office (a few years back) investigating some of the cities properties for a university assignment. To my surprise, here I found that for being such a quaint little town, once we actually had two train stations! This was in the area nowadays occupied by the Chesil Street multi-storey car park. The reason why I would like to share this story with you is because I think it represents the changes that many British cities suffered since the industrial revolution. Moreover, it shows how crucial rail networks were, and how this kept the country going in more than one ways. So, for you only, here I present you Winchester’s forgotten train station.

One of the first evidence that are found about this station is that in Bridge Street there was a place called Railway Coffee Tavern, named after the opening of the station in 1885. The company Didcot and Newbury was then involved in the project of establishing rail connections in the south of England. Winchester was chosen as a stop in their line due to its history. Didcot and Newbury made a deal with another company to proceed with the project, and found a partner in the Great Western Railway. With their support the trains could run to Shawford and link with Southampton. Nonetheless, things did not go particularly well for this little enterprise. There was a strong rivalry between the G.W.R and the South Railway, therefore they had to swap trains and locomotives before arriving the station.

Nevertheless, the line did well, and in fact played a crucial role in the transport of military troops. The book Winchester Voices records the memories of Austin Laverty who remembered seen the men coming from the Boer Wars using the line that stopped in Chesil’s station. During the Great War, the train line experienced higher transit as a larger number of soldiers needed to be dispatched. However, this service stated to fall into decay with the nationalisation of British railways, which impacted negatively the businesses of the G.W.R. Cancellations of daytime services started to become something common until March 1960 when the station closed to the public. Eventually it would be used for minor services, especially in summers to help reducing the congestion of the diesel service of the Southampton line. After its definitive closure in 1968, the order of demolition was declared in 1972.

But what this shows to us about Winchester, the fluctuation of the economy and, in general, what was happening in Hampshire and the country? I believe the Old Chesil Station is a product of the Victorian revival, not only of the country as a whole, but particularly of Winchester as the city had been run down, pretty much since the English Civil War. There was a big growth in population and a period of prosperity. The railway was spreading quickly everywhere; tourism increased, and as Winchester was such an attractive place for tourists due to its history, there was a need for better connection with different places.  Even the decadence of the railway is giving valuable information of economic development and competition amongst similar business such as the G.WR and the South Railway.  And, almost in a poetic way, I think the decline of this line, and the decrease of train usage in general, links in with the current use of this plot of land: a car park necessary for the current preferred method of transport.

So, I hope you have enjoyed exploring this often forgotten site of Winchester, and that next time you see a car park, you think to yourself: “it’s likely that, underneath that structure there are the forgotten bones of an English king…or perhaps an old railway station”


P.S: If you are desperate to know more about local railways, check some of the works that helped me with my research:

Robertson, K., The Railways of Winchester (1988).

Oppitz, L., Lost Railways of Hampshire (2001).

W/G1/1223 (Contract for demolition of Chesil Station, Cowdrey Lodge Hotel, Gladstone Arms, 1-17 Gladstone Street, Winchester; letter only) – archived at the Hampshire Record Office

or check – David Turner is great, he knows loads about trains, and posts some very interesting things in his blog and twitter account –  we know this because we have been reading his stuff since 2010!!

Chocolate and the Quakers: Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry

The nineteenth century saw the rise of the three famous cocoa refining companies: Cadbury; J. S. Fry & Sons and Rowntree. What were unique about these companies were their Quaker roots. All three were run during this period by Quaker families although by the twentieth century these companies moved out of Quaker control. So why did Quakers come to dominate the British cocoa industry?

Quakers, as Protestant dissenters, were a marginalised group up until the early nineteenth century, including being barred from universities. This meant that a highly educated and motivated group in society were left to pursue business. While a number of famous British companies such as Clarks and Barclays Bank were set up by Quakers, in the nineteenth century Quakers like other Protestant groups such as Salvationists, were concerned about the effects of alcohol abuse. Quakers were a leading group in the temperance movement and saw drinking cocoa as an alternative for alcohol. Cocoa was seen as a good substitute, as not only was it cheap but the requirement to boil water to make the drink meant that it was safer than drinking just water, therefore it was suitable for consumption from those from all social classes.

Fry was the first of the companies beginning chocolate production in 1759. By 1822 the company was the largest commercial producer of chocolate in Britain and had introduced several factory techniques to improve chocolate production. Fry was followed by Cadbury in 1824. After initial success including a royal warrant the company went into decline in the 1850s until Richard and George Cadbury took over in 1861 who turned the company profitable within three years by moving the company’s focus solely onto cocoa products rather than tea and coffee. In 1862 Rowntree was founded and the three Quaker companies began to coexist.

So why were the three companies so successful? Their Quaker roots certainly were a major factor as Quaker businesses were widely seen by the public as reliable and fair who were not out to rip off consumers with unfair prices like non-Quaker businesses. They were also seen as good employers who were socially conscious, again due to being Quakers. They provided decent working conditions, housing, healthcare and education for both staff and their families. Cadbury and Rowntree in particular pioneered socially conscious working conditions such as the five-day week, sick pay and pensions. These two companies are also particularly famous for their model villages built for their workers. Cadbury designed the famous Bournville village in Birmingham for their workers, with superior housing stock and facilities for their workers. Rowntree produced a similar village known as New Earswick in York. As Quakers the signature community pub however was missing in conjunction with Quaker views on alcohol.

However while these may seem morally enlightened, some aspects were outdated, such as the fact women were not allowed to continue working after marriage. Fry who did practise fair practices towards their workers were let down by their refusal to move from their cramped premises which meant that Fry’s employees worked and lived in worse conditions than their Cadbury and Rowntree counterparts.

By the early twentieth century Cadbury began to dominate. During the nineteenth century the three companies had managed to coexist in the market. For example Fry had produced the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873, which Cadbury followed in 1875. These Easter eggs were different from those produced today made out of a much more bitter dark chocolate and were hand decorated, which meant they were seen as a luxury item. However the creation and popularity of the brand’s staple Dairy Milk in 1905 propelled Cadbury to become the leader in the market while Fry’s and Rowntree’s attempts could not match up to the quality of Dairy Milk. Rowntree was let down by the belief of its owner Joseph Rowntree who mistakenly branded milk chocolate as a fad. Fry on the other hand was let down by its premises once again, which did not allow the transportation of fresh milk in the quantities needed for quality production, instead they used dried milk which led to an inferior product.
While Rowntree managed to maintain some level of competition with Cadbury, Fry was plagued by problems. They failed in advertising, which meant that Cadbury and Rowntree managed to gain more of their market share. The final blow was upon the death of Joseph Storrs Fry when the company fell into the hands of squabbling family members who would only communicate via letter. As a result Fry merged with Cadbury in 1919.

By the second half of the twentieth century both Cadbury and Rowntree had both moved on from their Quaker roots and were run in a more typically capitalist fashion, with Cadbury merging with Schweppes in 1969 and Rowntree taken over by Nestlé in 1988.
For British readers, especially, Cadbury and Rowntree are part of our daily life. We recognise and have purchased products bearing these brand names since childhood. In some respects they are a fundamental part and symbol of British life. While in their current capitalist itineration it is easy to forget their impact on British history. Firstly their impact on chocolate becoming such a valued and popular food in Britain and secondly how as companies they helped revolutionise working conditions in Britain, helping make their historical impact twofold.

Let them Eat…Pumpkins

So back in October (2014) with the Halloween craze I suddenly found myself thinking: “what’s the deal with these pumpkin stuff?”. Then I realised I knew nothing about pumpkins- OK it is not a big deal, and perhaps you do not know much about pumpkins either, but you know where potatoes or tomatoes come from right? Well I came to the conclusion that I ought to know what was so special about them in both cultural and historical terms…And here is my research.

It seems that they are not only a Halloween icon, but also one of the most common crops on Earth. They had being used as a source of food as far back as 10.000 B.C as recent research by Cindy Ott shows. They were popularly grown and consumed in the Oaxaca highland (Mexico), and certainly cultivated in the Tehuacan and Tamaulipas as staple food since 6.000-5.000 B.C. Most Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian tribes like the Aztects and the Maya used them not only as a source for nutrients but also their seeds to create oil and sauces, and even the shells to make cups. Moreover, it has been suggested that they would also dry strips of pumpkin and then sew them together to make mattresses. 

The use and demand for pumpkins increased even more with the arrival of the European colonists, as there were no other staples easily available unlike in the old continent. It seems that at this stage they may have even being used to produce certain drinks, like beer (Pumpkin beer…that’s a thought for you…) The Spanish colonists took brought pumpkins back into Europe where they became popular as they were quite cheap and nutritious food, and so pumpkins started to become common ingredients in European recipes. Of course, the tradition continued in America, and in fact the first recipe for pumpkin pie recorded in American cookery books dates from 1796, provided by a woman by the name of Amelia Simons.

However, by the 19th century pumpkin consumption went into decline. The main reason behind this turn was simply that fact that other food sources were available, and even though it was still an affordable item for the poor, the wealthier classes did not deem it appropriate for their kitchens neither their tables. Ironically, while less and less pumpkins passed through the tables of both American and European people, they grew dear in their hearts and evoked a sentiment of nostalgia. Moreover, these orange, dark green and yellowish fruits (yes, they are technically fruits) became usual sightings in daily life paintings and landscapes. In addition, this contributed to the tradition of serving pumpkin for Thanksgiving, as a recollection of the traditional agricultural life of the American settlers and ancestors.

So how do we get from the pumpkin to the Halloween lanterns? Well, it is all due to the Irish, of course. With the great influx of immigrants from Ireland since the Potato Famine, a cultural mash-up took over the United States, thus combining the original Celtic idea of Samhain and the American pumpkin tradition to make Jack O’ lanterns that were meant to spook off evil spirits.

But if you think that pumpkins are things of the past, then you are wrong. Most traditions revolving around pumpkins are still alive. The production of pumpkin crops in the United States nowadays is still massive. Researches Orzolek, Greaser and Harper, from the Penn. University have gathered data that suggests that around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year in North America, particularly in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, in modern-day Mexico they grow enough pumpkins each year to supply for the whole country as have spare to export to Japan…

And with this brief story about pumpkins, I hope your curiosity, like mine, feels a bit more satisfied and complete. knowing about this millenarian food resource that has shape shift from pies to lanterns!

The Legacy of Edward I: Beyond Robert Bruce and the Scots

This is something I worked on sometime ago. Now I am a medievalist but Late Medieval England is certainly not my thing. I had to do some research about Edward I as an undergraduate and I found it quite tough, as I wasn’t all that interested…However, the approach I took helped me understand a monarch and period in English History which is sometimes too focused on the events up in Scotland, and the quarrels between the English crown and Scotland. So, in the following lines, I invite you to consider this subject with different eyes, under a different light.

Continue reading “The Legacy of Edward I: Beyond Robert Bruce and the Scots”

President Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, 1929-1933.

The economic boom of the 1920s, the result of a thirty-year industrial revolution, was destined to weaken the economy long-term. There were massive technological changes and the 1920s was a period of great innovation. Automatic switchboards, conveyor belts and the concrete mixer were just a few examples of the new products that were available to use and to purchase within the economy. The most successful venture was the of conventional use of electricity; it provided a cheaper and more efficient source of power for factories and also led to the production of new consumer goods such as the refrigerator and radios. However, these new techniques meant that goods could be produced more cheaply and on a much larger scale such as Henry Ford’s car industry after introducing the assembly line, however, this meant that as everyone who could afford a car had brought one, the consumer demand decreased and over-production became problematic. This lead to unsold goods, which in turn saw profits falling. With no profit, staff were made redundant and unemployment began to rise. A short-term cause of the Great Depression was credit. Even though it made circumstances easier for consumers to buy goods, many did not have enough money to pay back the banks what they owed. This meant that when the depression did hit in October of 1929, Americans would rush to the bank where they had deposited all of their life savings only to find that there was not enough money for them to make a withdrawal. From 1930-33, depositors lost $2.5 billion in savings from banks that closed or went bankrupt.

The National output had been cut by half and was now less than in 1915 meaning that ‘boom’ of the 1920s had been lost. Investors lost as much money in October 1929 as the USA had spent fighting in the First World War. If 1920s America was looking bleak before 1929, the Wall Street Crash ensured the last bit of hope that remained was crushed. Over the weekend of 26th and 27th October, stockbrokers who had sold their shares ‘on the margin’ had borrowed money from banks to fund the initial purchasing of said share and the banks were now demanding repayment of their money. To repay the banks, the brokers in turn had to ask their customers for repayments of debts and the only way in which customers could do so, was to sell shares at any price. Panic-stricken brokers and investors sold 16 million shares in one day. Stock prices slumped by $14,000,000 on 29th October. On Wall Street, between 29th October and 13th November, over $30 billion disappeared from the value of the American economy.

President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, believed that the government should not try to manage the economy, strongly highlighting Hoover’s ‘voluntarism’ efforts. He tried to persuade businesses to take action to deal with the economic crisis without the government passing laws to force them to act i.e. not to cut production or lay workers off. When the depression hit, 8 months after his inauguration, Hoover waited 2-3 years – once the American economy was in a dire condition – to finally set up funds and organisations to get the US back on its feet. He authorised $2 billion for the creation of the RFC, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in January 1932 which was intended ‘to make temporary advances to establish industries, railways and financial institutions which cannot otherwise secure credit, and where such advances will stimulate employment’. Similarly the Glass-Steagall Act gave $750 million of government gold reserves as loans to private businesses. Hoover’s most notable attempt to regulate trade was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930. He increased the price on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels with an average of 40% on agricultural and industrial items. This led to most other nations applying the same tariffs on American goods meaning that US exports dropped by half ensuring the depression lasted longer and affected more businesses. The US depression had reached its peak as world trade was practically halted.

The next step in Hoover’s plan was to create the Federal Farm Board, which administered loans and aimed to stabilise prices and to promote the sales of agricultural products. By the end of its first year, the FFB had loaned in excess of $148 million. However, the government’s involvement did not produce many results in the agricultural or business industry and did not solve the problem of unemployment. Hoover established the Emergency Committee for Employment as one of his last attempts to combat the depression, but he gave the committee, limited resources ($47 million) and so on such a small-scale and small budget, it never really had a chance at making a difference. The last memorable demonstration from Hoover was insensitively dealing with the Bonus Army in June 1932. The veterans of the First World War, who were unemployed and as a result their families were hungry, began a march in Washington demanding the payment of a veterans’ bonus approved by Congress in 1924 but to be paid 20 years afterward. The money, in the sum of $3,500,000,000, would clearly provide the much-needed lifeline to the veterans and their families. Congress rejected the 20,000 veterans their proposal to pay the money immediately and in protest, thousands of ‘bonus marchers’ and their families built a home of tents at the nearest Hooverville in Anacosta Flats in Washington and threatened to stay there until the proposal was passed. However, Hoover approved a plan to evict them. One thousand armed soldiers, equipped with tear gas, tanks and machine guns, drove the veterans from the camp and burned it to the ground along with all of their possessions. After this incident, Hoover lost public faith.

Hoover was not successful in combating the depression. A reflection of this was the beginning of ‘Hoovervilles’; the popular name for a town of homeless men who lived in cardboard boxes. The term was coined by publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee, Charles Michaelson named after Hoover. These people lived in shacks, in the worst living conditions possible and had to beg for food. Democrat’s popularised related terms such as the ‘Hoover blanket’; old newspapers used as blankets and the ‘Hoover flag’; an empty pocket turned inside out. After these events, Hoover, who returned unopposed as a Republican candidate was prepared for a defeat as well as the rest of the party. Hoover’s term as President saw the descent of the nation further into depression. He was reluctant to take action until the situation was exceptionally poor and when he did, it was with reluctant implying that any organisation or fund that he set up was to barely get below the surface of the problem as he had no confidence. This would suggest that he was not totally dedicated to bringing the USA out of the depression; an attribute that the next elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt was passionate about. However, some historians argue that while Hoover was not successful, he should not be labelled as a ‘do-nothing’ president. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation for example, was adopted by Roosevelt in the New Deal and was successful because of the massive scale and funding that went into it.

When discussing unemployment and business, Hoover’s actions can be seen as ‘too little and too late’. His handling of unemployment was a disaster, and not to mention ineffective; while millions of Americans were starving and left homeless, Hoover refused to take extensive government measures in response. Instead he upheld his firm belief in laissez-faire; the minimum input on the governments’ behalf and voluntarism; businesses to take action alone in order to deal with the economic crisis without the passing of any laws forcing them to act. The deciding factor of Hoover’s defeat and unpopularity was the way in which he dealt with the Bonus Army (The Shame of Anacosta Flats). America did not see Hoover as a compassionate leader in touch with their needs, who would lead them out of the depression. Instead, they saw failure.

Hoover’s time in office led the USA to desire someone new and passionate. They demanded an intelligent and effective government to revive the failing economy; a president who would be active and representative of his people – far from the Republicans of the 1920s. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and would later become one of the most successful and passionate presidents America had seen. Roosevelt promised the New Deal, which in effect was the RFC authorised by Hoover, but on a much larger and more ambitious scale; what America needed during their time of need. This would help the economy in a much more effective way, and as the President connected with the people in a more personal way, the public finally felt that a political figure understood the extent of the damage and was not going to give up.