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Huts and unemployed in West Houston and Mercer St by Berenice Abbott in Manhattan in 1935
A hooverville near Portland, Oregon

A "Hooverville" is the popular name for shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression. They were named after Herbert Hoover, who was President of the United States during the onset of the Depression and widely blamed for it. The term was coined by Charles Michelson, publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee .[1] There were hundreds of Hoovervilles across the country during the 1930s and hundreds of thousands of people lived in these slums.[2]


Homelessness was present before the Great Depression, and hobos and tramps were common sights before 1929. Most large cities built municipal lodging houses for them, but the depression exponentially increased demand. The homeless clustered in shanty towns close to free soup kitchens. These settlements were often formed on empty land and generally consisted of tents and small shacks. Authorities did not officially recognize these Hoovervilles and occasionally removed the occupants for trespassing on private lands, but they were frequently tolerated or ignored out of necessity. The New Deal enacted special relief programs aimed at the homeless under the Federal Transient Service (FTS), which operated from 1933–35.[3]

Some of the men who were forced to live in these conditions possessed construction skills and were able to build their houses out of stone. Most people, however, resorted to building their residences out of wood from crates, cardboard, scraps of metal, or whatever materials were available to them. They usually had a small stove, bedding and a couple of simple cooking implements.[4]

Most of these unemployed residents of the Hoovervilles used public charities or begged for food from those who had housing during this era. They blamed President Hoover for this, and named the town after him. Democrats coined other terms,[5] such as "Hoover blanket" (old newspaper used as blanketing) and "Hoover flag" (an empty pocket turned inside out). "Hoover leather" was cardboard used to line a shoe when the sole wore through. A "Hoover wagon" was an automobile with horses hitched to it because the owner could not afford fuel; in Canada, these were known as Bennett buggies, after the Prime Minister at the time.

After 1940 the economy recovered, unemployment fell, and shanty eradication programs destroyed all the Hoovervilles.[6]

Notable Hoovervilles[edit]

There were hundreds of Hoovervilles across the U.S. during the 1930s (dozens in Washington State alone).[7] By 1932 millions of people were living outside their homes and hundreds of thousands were living on the streets.[8]

 Police with batons confront demonstrators armed with bricks and clubs. A policeman and a demonstrator wrestle over a U.S. flag.
Bonus Army marchers confront the police

In popular culture[edit]

Hoovervilles have often features in the popular culture, and still appear in editorial cartoons.[15] Movies like My Man Godfrey (1936) and Sullivan's Travels (1941) sometimes sentimentalized Hooverville life.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hans Kaltenborn, It Seems Like Yesterday (1956) p. 88
  2. ^ History Department, University of Washington, http://depts.washington.edu/depress/hooverville.shtml
  3. ^ Gwendolyn Mink and Alice O'Connor (2004). Poverty in the United States: A – K.. ABC-CLIO. p. 371. ISBN 9781576075975. 
  4. ^ Andrew T. Carswell (2012). The Encyclopedia of Housing, Second Edition. SAGE. p. 302. ISBN 9781412989572. 
  5. ^ John Morton Blum, The National Experience: A History of the United States Since 1865 (1993) p. 678
  6. ^ Steven L. Danver, Revolts, protests, demonstrations, and rebellions in American History (2010) p. 839. ISBN 1598842218
  7. ^ History Department, University of Washington, http://depts.washington.edu/depress/hooverville.shtml
  8. ^ History Department, University of Washington, http://depts.washington.edu/depress/hooverville.shtml
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Gray, Christopher (29 August 1993). "Streetscapes: Central Park's 'Hooverville'; Life Along 'Depression Street'". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Vitello, Paul (4 April 2007). "Why Listen to the Substitute? At 81, He does Tell History Firsthand". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ History Department, University of Washington, http://depts.washington.edu/depress/hooverville_map.shtml
  13. ^ Hoovervilles in Seattle. Archives Document Library for Washington State History
  14. ^ Martin G. Towey, "Hooverville: St. Louis Had the Largest." Gateway Heritage 1980 1(2): 2–11
  15. ^ Nathan Silver, Lost New York (2000) p. 258. ISBN 0618054758
  16. ^ Mark Caldwell, New York Night: The Mystique and Its History (2005) p. 255. ISBN 0743274784
  17. ^ Saverio Giovacchini, Hollywood modernism: film and politics in the age of the New Deal (2001) p. 135. ISBN 1566398630
  18. ^ Cecil Michener Smith and Glenn Litton, Musical comedy in America (1981) p. 314. ISBN 0878305645
  19. ^ "Home Improvement". Stanfordalumni.org. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  20. ^ "Housing – Hooverville". Phdcomics.com. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  21. ^ Catherine Caldwell, Bud, Not Buddy: Study Guide and Student Workbook (2002) p. 61. ISBN 1609336607
  22. ^ Kevin Starr, Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (1997) p. 261. ISBN 0195118022

External links[edit]