Connecticut

Flashback Photo: Meriden, Conn., Begins to Emerge From the Great Depression

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'Rear of apartment house, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

'Rear of apartment house, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photographer Russell Lee took these photos of Meriden, Conn., in October 1939 for the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was a New Deal program to fight rural poverty. The agency hired 11 photographers to record the plight of poor farmers. Some of the most famous Depression-era photographers (including Lee) got their start at the FSA: Walker EvansDorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks. The agency's focus shifted to patriotic themes during World War II and it became part of the Office of War Information.

Meriden, Conn., was the biggest manufacturer of silver tableware in the world during the 1930s and 1940s. International Silver had been formed in 1898 by independent New England silversmiths and grew through acquisitions. The Meriden-Wallingford area was transformed into a center of silver craftsmanship. Silverware production peaked in the late 1930s, but then lines of business were discontinued or sold. Though silverware is no longer made in the area, Meriden is still known as Silver City.

'House with articles on roof of porch during fall house cleaning, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

'House with articles on roof of porch during fall house cleaning, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Meriden was hit hard by the Great Depression. Many people were in danger of losing their homes. President Roosevelt's Home Owners Loan Corporation helped save 301 Meriden homes for their owners by January 1935.

'Fruit vendor, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

'Fruit vendor, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The city gave make work to people who couldn't find jobs. They cleared the reservoir and salvaged firewood for the needy, turned the dump into a playing field, expanded the golf course. The Works Progress Administration put people to work building the Chamberlain Highway, improving the airport, clearing streams and painting schools.

'Burning leaves, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

'Burning leaves, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

By October 1939, the unemployment crisis began to ease. The relief rolls were shrinking. Four months after this photo was taken, local factories began to hire for the war effort.

'Entrance to Odd Fellows Hall, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

'Entrance to Odd Fellows Hall, Meriden, Conn.' Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is a benevolent fraternal organization that dates back to 17th-century Britain. It came to the United States in 1819, and the Grand Lodge was established in Connecticut in 1846.

You just have to wonder if the fellow raking leaves went to the dance that night.

 

 

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Daniel C. Purdy

    Daniel C. Purdy

    July 20, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    My understanding is that it was really the Second War that brought us out of the Depression.

  2. Kris

    July 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Very powerful photos. Most of my Polish relatives lived in Meriden and New Britain, CT at the time.

  3. Mary Ellen Casey

    Mary Ellen Casey

    July 20, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    The link does not work.

  4. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    July 20, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Yes, maybe but the WPA certainly helped put bread on a lot tables. Don’t you think?

  5. New England Historical Society

    New England Historical Society

    July 21, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    ^Mary Ellen, we apologize. We had some problems with the site yesterday. It should be fine now.

  6. Daniel C. Purdy

    Daniel C. Purdy

    July 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    WPA and the other New Deal programs pulled so many through the Depression.

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  9. Meriden railway

    January 5, 2016 at 3:34 am

    EXCELLENT sir…

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