1929, of all years, must have held the most highs and lows.
From booming business to the market crash, from birthday parties and romance to family deaths and car accidents, it was a year of contrasts.
Or, maybe, these things happen every year.
Josephine Pensa Riley’s family
Cole’s 9th anniversary
As it had done every year since 1920, Cole’s Women’s Shop celebrated the anniversary of their Sedalia store opening. 1929’s celebration was unique, because the store had just added men’s clothing to its lineup.
Cole’s adds men’s clothing
After nine years as Cole’s Women’s Shop in Sedalia, Tom Gallagher and the Cole brothers made the decision to add men’s clothing to the store. It meant months of planning, buying trips, and remodeling.
In March 1929, the men’s clothing line was introduced with a “men only” buying night at the store.
1929 had been a good year so far. Everything was better, nothing was wrong.
This was a period in which the American household gets the washing machine, gets a refrigerator, goes off gas light and gets electricity in some cities, in which the family buys a car and goes on a long vacation. This didn’t occur before the 1920s.Optimism in the 1920s – Robert Sobel – PBS American Experience
July 1929 marked the 10th straight year of the booming economy and bull markets.
A crash (not the big one yet)
An extended visit
In July, Mike and Ellen Gallagher traveled from Junction City to Sedalia to spend the summer with their daughter Nell Donahoe and her family.
While her parents were visiting for the summer, Nell’s gasoline stove overflowed and caught fire. A quick response by the Sedalia fire department extinguished the flames.
It’s always something.
A July birthday party
Kathleen and Buddy Gallagher had lots of cousins in Sedalia. They were together at birthday parties, family functions, church, school, and everyday play.
Eb and Tommy Hurley were children of Tom and Irene Riley Hurley. Jean, Joanne, and Joe Riley were children of Joe and Emeline Staats Riley. And, of course, Buddy and Kathleen were children of Tom and Catherine Riley Gallagher.
Record-breaking sales at Cole’s
In July, the Sedalia Cole’s store reported record sales.
On October 6, 1929, Cole’s hosted the largest manager’s meeting in their history, with over 100 people attending the extravaganza in Paola, Kansas. Little did the Cole’s managers know that a cataclysmic economic event was just two weeks away.
Fall 1929 (pun intended)
The stock market soared throughout the Roaring Twenties. In August 1921, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 63. By September 3, 1929, the Dow had risen to 381, an increase of more than 600%.
And then it crashed.
In March 1929, a small stock crash occurred as investors started to sell off stocks, exposing some cracks in the market’s value. Then, from June to September, the market gained 20%. On September 3, 1929, the Dow closed at a record high of 381.
Later in September, there were selloffs. Prices bobbed and weaved. There were several days of big losses. But three particular days are generally labeled as the Great Crash:
Black Thursday – October 24
When the markets opened, people began selling, and selling more. Trading grew frantic. Ticker tapes were behind as much as 90 minutes. Phone calls got busy signals. Crowds gathered outside the NYSE trying to get information. Police were called. It was not yet noon on October 24.
By closing, the Dow had dropped 9%.
Black Monday – October 28
On Black Monday, investors faced margin calls. They owed more than the stocks were worth. They lost everything. The Dow declined nearly 13%.
Black Tuesday – October 29
On Black Tuesday, the market dropped nearly 12%. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors. The next day, panic selling reached its peak with some stocks having no buyers at any price.
The slide continued…
By mid-November, the Dow had dropped almost 50%.
Surprisingly, the largest losses in the market didn’t happen during 1929, but through the next three years. By summer 1932, stocks had lost almost 90% of their value. The Dow was at 41, its lowest value ever.
How did the crash affect Gallaghers and Rileys?
As mentioned above, the crash of stock prices would continue for three more years. The market would lose 90% of its value by 1932. That continued pattern of loss eventually affected most people. But in the first months after the market crashed, the Gallaghers and Rileys and their communities were little affected.
Cole’s sales continued to be good. Tom Gallagher had job security. He was a very good store manager.
Will Riley continued his insurance sales. Of course, the Riley’s lifestyle wasn’t as good as before prohibition, but that had been a long nine years in the past.
How about the Gallaghers in Junction City?
Henry Gallagher was still manager of Cole’s in Junction City. Like Tom, Henry was a very good store manager, and had good job security. Mike and Ellen Gallagher lived in Junction, and received continued support from Henry, both financial and tangible.
In fact, on October 9, 1929, Mike and Ellen Gallagher deeded their Lamar, Missouri properties to Henry.
Though they had moved away from Lamar to relocate wherever Henry was living, they had never sold the Lamar properties that they had inherited from Mike’s parents Patrick and Ellen Gallagher. Those included the 80-acre farm and 8-acre parcel that Patrick and Ellen Gallagher had bought in the 1870s. There were also two lots in the town of Lamar.
The transfer must have been a way to pass down the family land, and to arrange their continuing care from Henry.
In 1929, Mike Gallagher, age 66, was in failing health. Ellen, 63, was healthy and active.
Henry held these properties for many years.
The Sedalia City Directory for 1929 shows two interesting facts:
- Tom Gallagher was living full-time at the home of his in-laws Will and Josie Riley at 1406 West Broadway.
- Mary Agnes Riley was living at home at 1406 West Broadway, and working as a salesperson at Cole’s.
Mary Agnes worked at Cole’s. So did Tom. Mary Agnes lived at 1406 West Broadway. So did Tom. They spent a lot of time around each other.
At home, Mary Agnes had been a big help to Tom. She helped care for Kathleen, 6, and Buddy, 3, and was always ready to host a birthday party for them (or anyone else). She was very attached to his children.
Mary Agnes and Tom were an item.
As 1929 ended, the October stock market crash had little impact on the everyday lives of our families.
As they had for years, Will and Josie Riley hosted a fabulous Christmas dinner. Tom and Irene Hurley and their children Eb, Tommy, and Ann were there. Tom Gallagher was there, along with Kathleen and Buddy. Mary Agnes Riley was there.
1930 was on the horizon. The stock market had bombed. The national economy had hiccupped. What lay ahead for our families in Missouri and Kansas?
- Newspaper articles – The Junction City Daily Union – various dates – newspapers.com
- Newspaper articles – The Sedalia Democrat – various dates – newspapers.com
- Image – Drama masks – Nphs Theatre Newbury Park – Theater Play Cartoon Png – https://www.clipartkey.com/view/ihbRJb_nphs-theatre-newbury-park-theater-play-cartoon-png/
- Quotation – Optimism in the 1920s – Robert Sobel – PBS American Experience – https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/crash-optimism-1920s/
- Image – Car crash – Stunning vintage photos of car wrecks from the days before seat belts and airbags, 1930s – Rare Historical Photos – https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/vintage-photos-car-wrecks/
- Newspaper headline – Wall Street in Panic – Brooklyn Daily Eagle – Stock Market Crash of 1929 – History.com – https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/1929-stock-market-crash
- Graph – Stock prices during Great Crash – Stock Market Crash of 1929 Facts, Causes, and Impact – The Balance – https://www.thebalance.com/stock-market-crash-of-1929-causes-effects-and-facts-3305891
- Image – business graph with arrows – AM Online – https://www.am-online.com/news/market-insight/2019/07/05/car-finance-volumes-fall-in-may-as-registrations-dip
- Image – graph of stock prices 1929-1932 – Dow Jones – 1929 Crash and Bear Market – macrotrends – https://www.macrotrends.net/2484/dow-jones-crash-1929-bear-market
- Image – Christmas Dinner – SEASONS EATINGS: THE HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS DINNER – History – https://www.history.co.uk/articles/seasons-eatings-christmas-dinners-throughout-history
- Image – 1930 Dust storm – The Dust Bowl prompted the largest migration in American history – PBS American Experience – https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/surviving-the-dust-bowl-mass-exodus-plains/
- Image – 1930 Building and ticker – The 1930s – History – https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/the-1930s-video
- Music – No. 9 Esther’s Waltz – Esther Abrami – YouTube Audio Library – https://studio.youtube.com/channel/UCozCJjBiC8vCgPEPVavZRPA/music
Good post—building tension in anticipation of the new decade! Interested in the seeing how the families experienced the Depression years. I often asked my parents and relatives about their experiences during the Depression. My mother didn’t remember her family’s lifestyle being affected. Her father was a fairly prosperous grocer. My father’s Irish American family (Large and Magee) suffered terribly. His father waited in daily employment lines at RCA Victor for day work. Same city, such different experiences. Waiting for your next installment to see who prospered and who faced hardship.
I love that you love these stories and these times. Yes, your family was like ours; some weren’t much affected while others suffered to different degrees. With the luxury of hindsight, some of their decisions were not the best. But in the moment… I think we’ve all had those moments.
What the heck was RCA Victor employment? What kind of day work was that?