Breadlines in Depression-Era New York City

A long, winding string of waiting men stretches down a street as they wait for food on a bread-line

Whether it was suffering from unemployment, a wage cut, or from not having enough money left over after paying their bills, many New Yorkers found themselves so poor they could not afford to eat on their own expense, and often resulted to waiting on bread-lines for food. The term breadline refers to the lines that often formed outside of bakeries where men would wait on line for the bakers to give away old bread to the indigent so that they could eat. In an article from 1932, a man recalls looking back in line seeing “men in suits and hats, looking forward, and only forward, too proud to acknowledge the line they stood on, a line that stretched for blocks and blocks”.[1] The man went on to explain in his interview titled Breadline? What Breadline? that men who stood in breadlines often dressed nicely before departing from home for the breadline in order to fool their neighbors into believing they were heading to work, and not to stand in a breadline to feed their family.[2] Due to the large number of people that relied on breadlines, the city itself and private investors started investing in breadlines of their own where they would give out fresh bread, serving thousands of people a day. Despite the city’s efforts, “by the end of 1931, there had been ninety five recorded deaths from starvation in New York.”[3]

[1] David Leonhardt. “Breadline? what Breadline?” New York Times (1923-Current file), New York, N.Y., 2001, 5

[2] Leonhardt, 5

[3] Burns and Sanders 414


  1. Steven says:

    What I think about the bread lines is that there was little money in New York and bread was the only food that was available

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