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.
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 now 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.
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.
Most of these unemployed residents of the Hoovervilles used public charities or begged for food from those who had housing during this era. Democrats coined other terms, 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.
- Central Park, New York City: Scores of homeless families camped out at the Great Lawn at Central Park, then an empty reservoir.
- Riverside Park, New York City: A shantytown occupied Riverside Park at 72nd Street during the depression.
In popular culture
Hoovervilles have often features in the popular culture, and still appear in editorial cartoons. Movies like My Man Godfrey (1936) and Sullivan's Travels (1941) sometimes sentimentalized Hooverville life.
- Man's Castle, a 1933 film directed by Frank Borzage, focuses on a number of down-and-out characters living in New York City Hooverville; the main characters (played by Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young) are lovers who cohabitate in a shanty outfitted with a skylight.
- In 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, "Forgotten man" Godfrey Smith (played by William Powell) is living in a Hooverville when he is patronised and "adopted" by Irene (Carole Lombard).
- In Sullivan's Travels, a 1941 comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, John L. Sullivan, a wanderlust movie director, played by Joel McCrea, visits a Hooverville and accidentally becomes a genuine tramp.
- The musical Annie, has a song called "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover," which takes place in a Hooverville beneath the 59th Street Bridge. In the song, the chorus sings of the hardships they now suffer because of the Great Depression and their contempt for the former president.
- In 1987, the Liverpool group The Christians had a British hit with the song "Hooverville (And They Promised Us The World)".ll
- In the Series 3 episodes of Doctor Who, Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks, The Doctor and his companion Martha Jones visit the Central Park Hooverville in 1930s New York City to investigate several mysterious disappearances of its inhabitants. It is stated that [a] Hooverville is "a place for anyone who has no where else to go"
- During a temporary housing crisis, the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper referred to a fictional solution to the resulting housing crisis at Stanford University as "Hooverville" due to its proximity to Stanford's Hoover Tower.
- The 2005 version of King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson, depicts the Hooverville in New York's Central Park at the beginning of the film.
- The 2005 movie Cinderella Man also referenced the Central Park encampment.
- In the novel Bud, Not Buddy, set during the Great Depression, an early scene involves the police dismantling a Hooverville. Bud calls it "Hooperville".
- In Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side (novel), the main character Dove Linkhorn is described as descending from "Forest solitaries spare and swart, left landless as ever in sandland and Hooverville now the time of the forests have passed."
- In John Steinbeck's famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family briefly settles into a Hooverville in California.
- In Harry Turtledove's "Timeline-191" series of books, the equivalent of Hoovervilles in the United States and Confederate States are called Blackfordburghs and Mitcheltowns, respectively, after fictional Presidents Hosea Blackford of the US and Burton Mitchel of the CS.
- Hans Kaltenborn, It Seems Like Yesterday (1956) p. 88
- Gwendolyn Mink and Alice O'Connor (2004). Poverty in the United States: A - K.. ABC-CLIO. p. 371. ISBN 9781576075975.
- Andrew T. Carswell (2012). The Encyclopedia of Housing, Second Edition. SAGE. p. 302. ISBN 9781412989572.
- Gray, Christopher (29 August 1993). "Streetscapes: Central Park's 'Hooverville'; Life Along 'Depression Street'". The New York Times.
- Vitello, Paul (4 April 2007). "Why Listen to the Substitute? At 81, He does Tell History Firsthand". The New York Times.
- Nathan Silver, Lost New York (2000) p 258
- Mark Caldwell, New York Night: The Mystique and Its History (2005) p 255
- Saverio Giovacchini, Hollywood modernism: film and politics in the age of the New Deal (2001) p. 135
- Cecil Michener Smith and Glenn Litton, Musical comedy in America (1981) p. 314
- Home Improvement
- Housing - Hooverville
- Catherine Caldwell, Bud, Not Buddy: Study Guide and Student Workbook (2002) p 61
- Kevin Starr, Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (1997) p. 261
- Photos of a new father figure in Hooverville in Portland, Oregon, near the Ross Island Bridge, from a Library of Congress website
- Hoovervilles and Homelessness from the Great Depression in Washington State Project, including photographs, paintings, maps, essays and first-hand accounts of life in Seattle's Hoovervilles.
- Photos and details of a Hooverville in Seattle, Washington, from a King County, Washington website
- Photographs of California Hoovervilles (Sacramento, Kern County), via Calisphere, California Digital Library
- Missouri Hooverville Photographs collections at the University of Missouri–St. Louis
- Yael Schacher, "Homelessness"