Bang! Went the Doors of Every Bank in America

Cashless, we carried on with nothing to fear but fear itself; by the time FDR opened them again, something called the New Deal was hard upon us

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Wikimedia Commons

On March 1, 1933, a hood named Mark Massey had everything he needed for a profitable day: a plan, a gun and a bank to rob. Only trouble was, when he got to the bank it was crowded with desperate folks trying to get their money out before a feared permanent closing. Massey couldn't handle the mob and was caught. "I never got a break in my life," he said from the hoosegow. But on that day bank customers all over America had reason to feel sorry for themselves.

The Great Depression was firmly in place. Bankers had foreclosed on millions of farms and homes, but there was no one to resell the properties to, so banks had been closing all over the country. Then on March 6, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt, just sworn in for his first term as President, suddenly shut all 18,000 banks in America, aiming to overhaul them as fast as possible, and so reestablish people's faith in government and America's banking system. While the banks were closed, Americans lived without cash or credit. People bartered with all manner of things.The price of admission to see the Irish Players in Chicago was two potatoes. Scrip began to circulate, including "dollars" fashioned from clamshells, strips of buckskin and pieces of wood. After FDR reopened the banks, he created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and rushed through the Gold Reserve Act and other laws. It was clear that though the Depression was not whipped, the country had turned a corner toward recovery.

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