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Georgia was one of the poorest states


Picture of Atlanta
Picture of Atlanta

From the Civil War to the mid-20th century, Georgia was one of the poorest states in the Union; the only states as poor were other Southern states. Indeed, during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt made a speech in Georgia declaring the South to be “the Nation’s No. 1 economic problem.” In 1940 the average Georgia family earned only 57 percent as much as the typical family nationwide. The American entry into World War II in 1941 began the economic revival of Georgia and the South. Military bases were created or expanded near virtually all sizable Georgia towns. Federal dollars poured into the region to build airplanes, ships, and munitions for the war effort. Suddenly there were more good jobs at decent pay than Georgians had ever known. A good example of the economic impact of the war is the Bell Aircraft Company, which converted Marietta from a sleepy town to a booming industrial center. Bell built a plant in Marietta in 1942 to build B-29 bombers for the war effort. A town of about 8,000 in 1940, Marietta became the home of a business employing almost 29,000 workers, and at much higher wages than Southerners were accustomed to earning.

With a large number of men off fighting, a significant part of the workforce consisted of women. Despite Southern customs of segregation, Bell also provided some opportunities for blacks. Although the Bell plant closed at the end of the war, it was reopened by Lockheed Corporation in 1950 with the outbreak of the Korean War. In the 1990s, Lockheed continued to be a major employer, relying primarily on government contracts. When the war ended, soldiers returned home to households with much more spending money than in the past. By 1950 the average Georgia family income was 70 percent of the national average, and Georgians continued to narrow the income gap during the next several decades. National corporations, noting the healthier economy of the South, established regional headquarters in cities such as Atlanta.

The availability of air conditioning made the hot, humid Southern summers less of a deterrent to Northerners. The war also improved the training of Georgia’s industrial workforce. A number of Northern industries moved south, attracted by the large labor pool, low wage scale, lack of unions, low taxes, and favorable climate. National migration patterns began to reverse. For decades many of the South’s brightest young people had deserted the region for the greater opportunities of the North. By the mid-1950s more whites were moving into Georgia each year than were departing, and by the mid-1970s the same was true for blacks. Moreover, those arriving tended to be better educated and skilled than those leaving, so that the net gain for Georgia was large. Some sluggish older industries became more dynamic as they moved to the South. For example, for more than 100 years, carpet manufacturers had made beautiful, high-quality woven rugs in Northern plants. The floor coverings were so expensive, however, that only the affluent could afford wall-to-wall carpeting. The typical prewar house had a hardwood floor because wood was cheaper than carpets.

But in the Dalton area of north Georgia, local entrepreneurs in the 1940s built machines to produce carpeting by a new, cheaper technique called tufting. After they discovered in the 1950s that durable, inexpensive rugs could be made with nylon thread, the carpet industry experienced unparalleled growth. Within a generation of the war’s end, United States home builders had virtually stopped installing hardwood floors, and wall-to-wall carpeting was nearly universal. In the late 1990s north Georgia continues to be the center of the world carpet industry. "Georgia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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