Wow, life sure was quite different back during the Great Depression compared with today’s modern lifestyle. I mean, really different. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to try and compare the survival skills during the Great Depression era with those which are sorely lacking today (if it were to happen again).
However it’s good insight. Imagine how they survived, what they had to do, the skills needed to just get by. Today? Unless well situated with level 3 or level 4 preparedness, with a good working grasp of self-reliance and self-sufficiency – coupled with a good location, the rest will just collapse into chaos…
My dad was born during the end of the Great Depression era. His parents were in their 20’s and my great grandparents were in their 50’s during that time. It’s difficult to imagine what life must have been like back then. Especially given today’s modern world of conveniences being so stark in contrast to that period.
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s. It started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. If you’re interested, you can read more about the Great Depression on Wikipedia.
Being preparedness-minded, and given the potential for another Great (Greater) Depression in our own time, I think back to those days.
What did those people do to get by or to survive? What skills were better to have back then and what were they forced to do as a result of hard times all around them?
A few thoughts come to mind…
Frugality during The Great Depression
Perhaps the most learned skill during the era of the Great Depression was that of frugality. Frugality in all things. Use and Reuse. Little was thrown out.
People had no choice but to make do with very little. But they managed to survive. The things we throw away today or the things we take for granted would be treasured and used to its fullest back then…
Every scrap of food was consumed. Everything. Every part was used to its fullest potential.
You know how most people throw out what’s left of a ketchup or mustard bottle (for example) with maybe that last inch of stuff on the bottom that won’t come out? Well they would get it out… Add a bit of water in there and shake it up, and it will come out. Things like that… frugality. No waste.
When clothes became too worn out, they were mended or patched up, sewn. (How many people can actually sew today?) When clothes became too worn to wear, the materials were used as rags, mops, whatever.
There are a million examples. But you get my drift… Frugality was a necessity of life. Nothing at all was thrown out.
Homesteading and Farming Skills
Farms. There were lots of farms back then. Today in the United States, fewer than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation.
The farm was a place where resources and nothing went to waste. The cows, chickens, livestock were mostly fed from the food that was grown on the farm as much as possible. Old bread, corn cobs, apple cores, and other kitchen scraps were fed to the hogs. Then the livestock’s manure was collected and used to fertilize crops.
The farming lifestyle was self-sustaining. Gardening. Food preservation. Outdoor skills. Animal husbandry. Butchering. It involved many and countless hands-on skills from building fences to successfully growing foods to managing livestock, and everything in-between.
If you lived on a farm, and the farm was not indebted (or indebted beyond the ability to keep paying), then you could survive.
While my grandparents weren’t farmers, as a young boy I do recall their large gardens! EVERYONE seemed to have them. And nearly everyone seemed to ‘home can’ their bounty. It was common to see rows and rows of home canned foods on shelves.
Seems like it would have been valuable to be a “Jack of all trades” during the great depression era.
A good handyman, someone with construction skills. Someone who knew how to fix ‘anything’ so to speak, or patch anything up and make it work again. They would probably be more likely to find some sort of work, even if temporary. Subsets of a handyman might include carpentry, masonry, and plumbing, for example.
To become a ‘handyman’ requires practical life-experience knowledge and skills from ‘doing’. It is learned through action. Getting one’s hands dirty…
To fix machines, machined things, and/or vehicles. Someone who knows tools and has knowledge and skills using equipment like the lathe, the milling machine, the drill press, the saw, grinding, forging, welding, etc.. Knowledge of how vehicles work. Engines. Pumps. Hydraulics. And the tools to work with…
There always was and there always will be those who need medical care. The field of health care, doctors, nurses, etc… Was and will always be a necessary service and skill(s). The advancements in this field have been tremendous and extraordinary compared to the era of the Great Depression.
That said, without the technologies of today, there will still always be demand for those who can help others with their medical needs and conditions, emergency or otherwise.
Willingness and Ability To Adapt
Many people and families were uprooted from their lives as they once were. Many migrated to other areas perceived to have better opportunities. That’s not an easy or simple thing to do.
Adapt to live and survive with less. Not that there was much of a choice… There were no government safety nets back then, especially compared with today. You had to find a way. You had to rely mostly on yourself, somehow, some way.
I’ve listed a few of the great depression era skills above, and I believe that they would apply towards what would be valuable during life in a post-collapse world where we’re set back in time so to speak.
The Foxfire Books
A comment below reads, “People need to be familiar with the Foxfire series of books. Contains a ton of depression era type skills that have been superseded by today’s high tech world.”
Years ago I bought the set. For your interest, here are the links via amzn books:
The Foxfire Book 1
Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living
Ghost Stories, Spring Wild Plant Foods, Spinning and Weaving, Midwifing, Burial Customs, Corn Shuckin’s, Wagon Making and More Affairs of Plain Living
Animal Care, Banjos and Dulcimers, Hide Tanning, Summer and Fall Wild Plant Foods, Butter Churns, Ginseng, and Still More Affairs of Plain Living
Fiddle Making, Spring Houses, Horse Trading, Sassafras Tea, Berry Buckets, Gardening
Ironmaking, Blacksmithing, Flintlock Rifles, Bear Hunting, and Other Affairs of Plain Living
Shoe Making, 100 Toys and Games, Gourd Banjos and Song Bows, Wooden Locks, A Water-Powered Sawmill
A comprehensive history of the churches and church leaders of the area
Southern Folk Potter from Pug Mills, Ash Glazes, Groundhog Kilns to Face Jugs, Churns, Roosters, Mule Swapping and Chicken Fighting
General Stores, The Jud Nelson Wagon, A Praying Rock, A Catawban Indian Potter, Haint Tales, Quilting, Homes Cures, The Log Cabin Revisited
Railroad Lore, Boardinghouses, Depression-Era Appalachia, Chairmaking, Whirligigs, Snake Canes, Gourd Art
The Old Home Place, Wild Plant Uses, Preserving and Cooking Food, Hunting Stories, Fishing, More Affairs of Plain Living
Square Dancing, Crafts, Cherokee Traditions, Summer Camps, World War Veterans, Personalities
The Complete Set
A Complete Foxfire Series 14-Book Collection Set with Anniversary Editions (Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 plus 40th and 45th Anniversary Editions)
What about Survival Skills That Would Be Needed Today…
A rebuttal to the value of the Foxfire series type of information and skill sets, from another comment below reads:
Great blog and comments, but let’s move forward, like 80 years……everything you mentioned, all of the skills, will be needed, big time, but they are basically geared to the great depression era!
Skills for today, especially in a SHTF/ “One Second After” scenario, these are skills not covered in the Fox Fire series.
I agree 100% that there will most definitely be additional concerns and/or skill requirements. Particularly those tools/skills/preparations involving security and safety. Much of the nation had morals back then. Today, not so much. It’s going to be bad…if it happens.
Look how much has changed in the past 4 family generations (~25 year intervals). That’s nearly approximately how long it has been since the mid 1930’s. And it has been 6 social generations (~15 year intervals) since that time. Look how much has changed in nearly all aspects of our lives and lifestyles. Just look at the dependencies. We are going to need a unique set of skills (including some of the old ones) to get through it…if it happens again.
Mindset and Attitude
Someone else commented and said,
As an experiment, try going a week or more without T.V., Computers/Internet, a cell phone or a vehicle.
Try eating 1/2 of what you eat now. Then you might have some idea what it was like during the great depression for your parents and grandparents, and also what it might be like if it all falls apart again.
Look around your house, yard and barn. Do most of the things you have run on electricity, batteries or gasoline? Can you walk to work? Are you overweight? Take a look at the photos of the people back in the day. Most are thin.
My point is that their mind set and attitude was what saved them.
I originally published a version of this article a number of years ago and there are a lot of great comments below describing real experiences or accounts thereof during the Great Depression era.
Let’s hear your additional thoughts about what may have been ‘valuable’ skills back then. Or how it may be different today.
And which skills might be valuable or particularly useful in a similar (but certainly much more dangerous) world of the next, Greater Depression…