This story ran in the Sept. 22, 2009 edition of the Prairie Post.
You often hear that our current economy is the worst since the 1930s. That may be true but, fortunately, our current difficulties don’t come close to approaching the hardship faced by the citizens of this country 75 years ago.
The contribution by North Dakota citizens to the federal government in taxes had been less than $2 million in 1933. And the citizens of the state got a lot of benefit for that money.
Various New Deal programs paid over $150 million to the citizens of North Dakota. On top of that another $31 million was paid to the farmers of the state through farm programs.
During the depth of the depression the state was receiving benefits from the federal government on a about a 90 to 1 ration based on what taxes the state paid.
The state was receiving about $265 in federal aid for every man, woman and child in the state. Adjusted for inflation that is the equivalent of about $4,100 today which is pretty much delivering the cash for clunkers deal for every resident of the state.
Still there were a lot of people suffering.
Unemployment was high and people were looking for work of almost any kind.
That is why the Federal Emergency Relief Agency started a number of factories around the country. These plants produced two things, jobs for the unemployed and a product that would be useful for the people of the area.
In September of 1934 Harry Dickinson, Stutsman County relief administrator for FERA, announced that a mattress factory was to begin operation in Jamestown in the next weeks.
The Jamestown plant was part of larger plan that included similar plants in other communities. The cotton, all 26,000 pounds of it, was made into pads in Fargo, other parts of the mattresses were made in other communities, and the final assembly was to occur in Jamestown.
Dickinson announced that 4,500 yards of ticking had been delivered to Jamestown on Oct. 11, 1934. The same announcement said the mattress factory was to operate in the Red Trail garage which was already the location of a “canning center” operated by FERA.
The mattress factory started operating a little later that fall. Perhaps the people employed at the canning center went to work making mattresses when the growing season ended and there was no more produce to can.
The Jamestown Sun never reported how many people worked at the mattress factory or how many beds they made. Working with 12 tons of cotton and nearly a mile of ticking I’m sure they produced a lot of mattresses which were sold locally with one restriction.
In order to not compete with the furniture stores mattresses made by FERA factories could only been sold to low income families.
But given the depths of the financial difficulties of the time I would guess they all sold.