The 1930s ushered in the biggest financial calamity of all time: the Great Depression.
The Depression resulted in widespread unemployment and poverty in the U.S. and around the world. At the beginning of the 1930s, more than 15 million people, or roughly 25 percent of America’s workforce, were idle. President Hoover did little to alleviate the pain and despair and thus lost the 1932 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Between 1930 and 1932, more than 9,000 banks failed, taking with them more than $2 billion in assets. In the days before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, many people were left with only the clothes on their backs.
In the auto industry, new vehicle production was cut in half---from 5.3 million units in 1929 to just under 2.4 million in 1930. By the end of 1931, this number was cut in half again. Cadillac took such a beating that General Motors considered dropping the line. Soon, about 80 percent of the car-building capacity was idle and 25 percent to 30 percent of auto dealers went out of business.
General Motors, Ford and Chrysler held 90 percent of the automotive market in the U.S. The remaining 10 percent was shared between Hudson, Nash, Packard, Studebaker and Willy-Overland. No one had yet heard of names like Toyota, Honda or even Volkswagen.
But things weren’t all bad. Despite the sharp decrease in new car production, advances were still made in vehicle technology and safety features including safety glass, windshield washers and sealed beam headlamps. All were meant to either help mitigate auto accidents or protect vehicle occupants in the event of a crash. In 1934, curved windshields were introduced in limited numbers. But curved windshields and back glass would not be widely used until the mid-1950s.