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America in the 1930s
Introduction | The Great Depression | The Dust Bowl | Public Enemy #1 | The Bonus Army

The Dust Bowl

From 1934 to 1940 severe drought ravaged an area twice the size of Pennsylvania covering parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. When the drought destroyed the crops, there was nothing to hold the soil of the wind-swept and treeless plains. The area became known as "The Dust Bowl."

A father and his 2 sons seek
refuge from a dust storm
Cimarron County, OK 1936
By 1935, winds reaching 60 miles per hour whipped the dirt into gigantic clouds as high as 1,000 feet blocking the sun. Dust reached the president's desk in Washington and even reported by ships 500 miles out to sea. Storms blanketed highways in impenetrable clouds of swirling dust stranding motorists. With the land literally blown away, farmers left the area. By the end of the decade almost half the population, an estimated 300,000 from Oklahoma alone, migrated. Most headed to California in hopes of finding work and a better life. John Steinbeck immortalized the hardships and misery of these "Okies" in his 1939 novel "The Grapes of Wrath."

The federal government moved to reclaim the land by strategically planting trees throughout the area that reduced the effect of the wind and by promoting scientific farming methods. The effort was successful. When the drought ended in 1940, the land could successfully be farmed again.

How To Cite This Article:
"The Dust Bowl," EyeWitness to History, (2000).

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The Great Depression Public Enemy #1