Ditch digger Mike McLaughlin, 42, drowned himself in the Monongahela River in July 1931 when he couldn't find work, leaving a widow, Mary, and nine children, some of whom are pictured above. They are, from left, Colman, 16, Agnes, 2, Mrs. McLaughlin holding baby John, 6 months, Winifred, 4, and Catherine, 6. The children had no shoes, and there was no food in the house. The survivors faced a future in the "orphans' home and still greater poverty." (Post-Gazette archives)
In Pittsburgh, stories of personal tragedy continued making headlines in the months after the crash.
In Uniontown, a millionaire banker crazed by fears of poverty, fatally shot his three daughters and himself in their home, according to the Pittsburgh Press.
The 64-year-old banker had lost several hundred thousand dollars in the market crash and told business associates he feared his family would end up in the poor house. He shot the girls — ages 13, 10 and 9 — in their sleep. He also shot his 45-year-old wife, who survived.
A Uniontown banker shot and killed his three children, critically wounded his wife and killed himself over fears of losing all his money, as related in this front page Nov. 13, 1930, news story. (Post-Gazette archive)
Meanwhile, in New York, the enormous toll of human misery became part of the national folklore.
“The tragic story of Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, will not be written until the record is compiled of homes which must be mortgaged, lifetime savings which have vanished and the thousands of men and women who had retired after years of toil and saving go out seeking employment to sustain them for their remaining years which they thought had been taken care of by investments considered prudent,” the New York Daily News stated on Oct. 30.
Other crashes have occurred since then. There was Black Monday in 1987; the bursting of the DotCom Bubble in 2001 and 2002; and most recently the 2008 financial crisis.
But the crash of 1929 remains the most devastating in U.S financial history.
The damage was more severe because not only had individual investors put their money into stocks, so did businesses. Consumers who thought their money was safe in banks lost out when banks that had invested the money didn’t have enough reserves to repay it.
Banks as well as people invested in the stock market. When the market crashed, the banks did not have the funds to cover their losses. When customers wanted to withdraw the money in their accounts, the banks ran out of money and had to close their doors, temporarily or permanently. The Bank of Pittsburgh exemplified the problem, as shown in this Sept. 21, 1931, headline in The Pittsburgh Press. (Post-Gazette archive)
While the market crash was not the sole cause of the Great Depression — a massive economic downturn that followed and lasted until the late 1930s — it definitely contributed.
“Pittsburgh was hurt badly by the Great Depression. But you can’t blame the Depression entirely on the stock market crash,” said Edward Muller, an emeritus professor in the history department at the University of Pittsburgh. “Some say the crash caused it, but most economists say the fundamentals were already in terrible shape.
“We put on terribly high tariffs and the stock market numbers were rising beyond the fundamentals to support it, just like today,” he said. “Pittsburgh was particularly hard hit because the market for steel for bridges and automobiles collapsed.”