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American West History – Great Depression Forward

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Flowering Aloe Vera spikes in sunny Southern California USA

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes


 American West History

During and after the great degression and into the great war WWII the American west was in rapid change. In this short article, I go over some of the elements that have to lead to the change and provide information of stimulus thought that will help you see how this event and policies impact us today.

The great depression and World War II brought massive transformation to the American west.

 The American West during the great depression brought a massive change during the time of Great Depression, one of the hardest-hit groups was young men just entering adulthood, with no work experience. Jobs were hard to come by, and employers didn’t want to hire someone without experience. Not only were these young men left out of the workforce but it was believed that they needed a boost to their morale, and new safety nets would soon be rolled out in the American West and the state of California would benefit.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave this issue of young employment and his new form of socialism a high priority. During the first 100 days in office, the Civilian Conservation Corps or (CCC) for short was created. This particular program would be used on a massive scale in the American West and more importantly in California to expand the state park system. FDR believed that full employment and the healthy outdoors of nature would completely change the lives of these young men living in poverty within the United States and in this case the California area where the program was also used. In California, the young CCC members took to the hard work and discipline and also gave back to the state with the refurbishment and creation of additional state parks. The California State Park system was completely dependent on this program during the 1930s. The young men of the CCC worked in forty different parks. At the time only eighteen California state parks were open to the public in 1933, and the facilities were not developed and thus meant they didn’t get used very much. By the year 1937, seventy parks in California were fully operating and the fruits of the CCC program in California did produce this advancement in the park system. They created a wide variety of roads, trails, and bridges, and also constructed housing, administration buildings and recreation halls, and other structures. These jobs were not highly paid but meant to give young men in California something to do and the ability to earn some money. These same men most likely did join the military after the bombing on Pearl Harbor and we would have to agree that the hard work of the California CCC program did prepare them for hard physical activity in the military during World War Two.

World War Two and the American West Internment System at Manzanar California.

World War Two and the American west also brought the additional transformation of disparities of certain peoples during this time. I am going to focus on the California Internment camp in California but also bring focus on how the American West was used for this purpose. I am not agreeing with what happened but only pointing out the facts for the purpose of this short essay.

There were ten war relocation centers or camps built-in remote areas of the United States. From deserts, plains, and swamps with seven states having them located within their state borders. Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming were the location of these remote facilities, and the camp of  Manzanar, located in the Owens Valley California was one of the largest. Situated between the Sierra Nevada’s on the west side of the Inyo mountains.

The first Japanese Americans to arrive at Manzanar, in March 1942, were men and women who volunteered to help build the camp. Now since these people were of Japanese descent I am unsure if they were really voluntary but most likely the first to be “voluntold” during this time period with the war with Japan being the excuse. Officially I read that they were volunteers but I suspect this is not true. On June 1st of 1942, the War Relocation Authority took over the location and camp of Manzanar California.

The camp was 500 acres large and had a housing section surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers,  searchlights, and patrolled by military police. So defiantly not a place anyone who volunteers to visit. The whole facility was self-sufficient to include water, sewage, and farming. Facilities for the military MP’s surrounded the camp. By 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were crowded into 504 barracks organized into 36 blocks. Coming from Los Angeles and other communities in California and Washington, Manzanar’s internees were not adjusted to the harsh desert swings in temperature and the mental adjustment needed to endure. This situation played out across the American West and ensured to trans form and impact people mentally for many decades to come. Because the US military did know that Japanese spies were present in the west they decided that it was easier to just relocate every single Japanese American to one of these camp facilities than to interview and determine who and who was doing what. 

california american west history
California and the American West History and westward expansion.

American West and Exceptional Entrepreneurship and major differences in politics.

California has been very exceptional in a particular area of research and that area has transformed the country and even the world we live in today. The invention of the transistor and then the first semiconductors was created with the ideas from the East but the freedom of the west. We see this transition now happening again today in Texas where companies and people again are moving from areas of restriction in California to areas with more freedom like Texas. Even though it was the transistor originally inb=vented in New Jersey and advancements back east from companies such as Fairchild semiconductor; it was the west that allowed for the freedom of invention, and thought that made it happen. Ideas thrive in areas of enlightenment and once this becomes stifled people tend to move where have the freedom to exchange those ideas. California in the West was one of those areas and the Bay area of San Franciso, San Jose, and others brought people from all over the world. Today we now have the area called Silicon Valley where many of the world’s greatest companies started and then spread out across the United States and now the world.

Silicon Valley between San Jose, California, and San Francisco make up this area. But it was Frederick Terman the dean of Stanford engineering school in the 1940s and 1950s that created the environment for engineering excellence to transition from the lab into the private industry. It was this Stanford dean that created the tradition of the Stanford faculty starting their own companies. Several companies with names we came to recognize even today came out of Stanford during those years, with Hewlett Packard and Varian Associates being two that come to mind.

Now another company Intel Corp did also get its start there in Silicon valley amongst others, but it was the modern transistor that was invented and manufactured in Silicon Valley. This gave the United states major advancements in the radio and telegraph industries, and the Navy base in Sunnyvale also received tremendous benefits during this time. With the space race advancing post-1957 and the creation of NASA and the opening of Moffett Field by San Jose, leaving Fairchild Semiconductor of California was the only company in the area capable of creating electronics for NASA at Moffett Field. 

It was these events and the human brainpower of advancement with the California West that drove the new advancements first discovered in the East coast Universities but now being acted on by immigrants and others who moved to California to be a part of the new brain trust of the modern enlightenment. These early engineers were not after money and we’re about making things or creating the possibilities that had never been done before, such as space travel and the creation of post punch card systems that represent the microprocessors we continue to develop today. Because of these advancements and the connections to early government programs they received both government grants and venture capital. Many household names such as HP, Intel, Apple all started in this area of the American West, and continue to be headquartered there.

As I said earlier the environment that made silicon valley is beginning to evaporate in today’s modern age, and with many countries infiltrating the companies of this area, and politics many new companies are choosing to relocate or to start somewhere else such as the areas around Austin Texas. This new area of the old American West is fast becoming the new Silicon Valley and will most likely replace California. But it was the ideas and concepts from Stanford University and new startups within these areas that are impacting other locations even back east around Boston that today are becoming the life sciences headquarters in the United States.

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Politics and the American West

The Politics of the American West as we have been reading from our books and lectures from Prof. Hirschmann show us that one this is for certain and that is that change in the American West political system is inevitable and just when we think it will become one thing, rest assured it will change again. I am going to continue with my theme of California because it has seen many changes since the days of Spanish control.

With California becoming a state it brought with it the resources of mineral wealth and a vast amount of people who went there for many reasons other than for the gold rush. At first, California was a major agricultural area and still is but the advancements and industry of Silicon Valley and the Movie industry moving to Hollywood it brought with it some of the changes we see today. Concepts, ideas from the human political past such as marxism and socialism do exist today in larger concentrations in California cities. But this was not always the case. The great depression and events of World War Two helped to shape these concepts into a new brand of California political socialism with a single party controlling the state. Since this state has a large number of electoral votes it does influence all of American politics. Some of the ideas today present in California got their start with FDR and programs such as the CCC that I wrote about earlier. It is this strong power of influence that emanates out of the Bay Area and silicon valley that feeds the political influence of Sacramento. This power and influence also emanate up into the cities of Portland, OR and Seattle WA, where large companies such as Intel having their start in California draw heavy influence there today. It is the money from the time period of post-World War Two that feeds this political shift up the west coast of the American West but with some limitations.

Alaska is unique in its setup as a state and how the indigenous peoples are organized. Because of this difference, the natives of this region enjoy a larger amount of prosperity than American natives of the continental USA. Even though this group politically does have a tendency to ally themselves towards the left political establishment it should be noted that without their connections to the other side of the mining and oil operations that many of these groups really would not exist. As a whole due to Alaska’s isolation and its countryside-based value system, Alaska is very conservative and family orientated. This does impact the State politically and for now, has little influence on the overall America West due to its small population. That that were to ever change Alaska would then begin to influence the Greater west along with areas of sustainable environmental policies and the oil industry use of state and federal lands. For now, the people of this state are not even fully connected via a road or rail system and rely on small air travel to bring goods from the modern world.

American West History – In conclusion, American West is unique in how it developed and prospered via events, policies after the Great Depression. and WWII.

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