Holly Johnson: George A. Hormel’s vision in the midst of the Depression

Published 6:30 am Saturday, September 26, 2020

This is part two of my attempt to summarize the theories of George A. Hormel about how the United States could recover from the devastating economic panic of the depression era. His four column series was published in the Los Angeles Times in September of 1935.

In the opening article, George portends that we, as a nation should learn from the period leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. He referred to this era as the greatest period of prosperity in the nation’s history. He also suggested we should take lessons from what he called the longest period of business distress and human suffering experienced in history to that point.  From these two contrasting eras, he said that a plan could be made to address the extreme unemployment and business depression so as to protect the future from another catastrophic period.

In 1935, George was comparing the lifestyle and culture of his youth from the 1860s through the 1890s to the “more privileged, sanitary and comfort-surrounded life” of the time in which he was writing his columns. In his childhood during the 1860s most everything a family needed was made by the family — food, clothing, candles, soap. Each industry was individual — the cobbler, the cabinet-maker, blacksmith.  Everything produced took much time and labor.

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During the 1880s and 90s life was still “crude” as the automatic machining age had yet to come.  Laborers worked 12-hour days for wages ranging from $1 to $1.50 per day.  Farm production was in great demand around the world as England and Europe had become industrial nations.  Those nations purchased surplus farm products from the U.S., and this country imported manufactured goods from foreign producers.

By the time George was writing for the L.A. Times, much progress had been made in terms of labor saving machines and the rate of production.  In looking back, he could see how these developments changed the life of the working man.

Increased productivity meant more to sell and more prosperity for many.  However, this progress was halted instantly in October 1929. At this point, George was no longer leading his company in Austin, but his mind was still thinking of ways for businesses, and people, to survive.

He wrote that a plan was needed and he didn’t think the government should be the agency making the plan. “To formulate and execute such a plan is the responsibility of experienced business America and should not be left to the governmental experiment involving destructive interference and regimentation.”

With that statement, I will conclude. Next week I will lay out for you George’s ideas which suggest a few practices that you will recognize in place today.

Upcoming Events

History’s Sweet Reads Book Discussion, Week 3, “The Open Road, Autobiography of George A. Hormel”

5-6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 28

Sponsored by the Hormel Historic Home and Sweet Reads Book Store

Join in person or virtually.  All sessions recorded so participants can join at any time.  Pre-registration required on website or by calling the Hormel Historic Home. $5 per session or $45 for whole series. Register at www.hormelhistorichome.org

Lillian’s Table

Culinary Hospitality Series, Week 1

10-11 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 8 via Zoom

This edition will feature 4 online cooking demonstrations led by the Primrose Retirement Center team.  Please register to receive the link to the Zoom event.  Recipes and instructions will be provided. Free.