On April 14, 1935, many people in the Southern Plains of the United States feared the world was coming to an end. A dense black cloud sped toward them like a giant locomotive. It reached from the ground more than 100 feet into the sky. But it was not a rain cloud. It was made up of millions of particles of fine dust, a thick blanket that blocked out the sun. Everyone rushed to get inside so they would not choke on the dirt. Winds of more than 60 miles per hour drove the dust against cars and buildings. It came into houses through the tiniest cracks, even when the doors and windows were closed and locked. That day was called “Black Sunday.” It brought the worst of the storms in the area known as the Dust Bowl.
Wheat Will Win the War!
During and after World War I, from about 1917–1930, there was a great demand for wheat. Wheat is used to make flour for bread and other products. Huge areas of farmland in Europe were destroyed by the fighting there. People around the world needed wheat from the United States. The United States government announced that “Wheat Will Win the War!” Americans and their allies would be well fed while their opponents did not have enough food. Farmers knew they could sell all the wheat they raised, and at fair prices. The Southern Plains offered a perfect spot for wheat farms. The land was flat and covered with low grass and shrubs. With new, powerful tractors, farmers could plow under the grass, leaving the soil ready for planting long, straight rows of wheat. So many people began to grow wheat that some called the period The Great Plow-Up. There was a great demand for American beef, too, as cattle ranchers increased the size of their herds. The cattle ate so much of the grass that the land was almost as bare as the land for planting wheat.
Drought and Dust
The Southern Plains was a great place to farm, but in 1931, everything changed. It simply stopped raining. One dry year led into the next. It was not until 1939 that regular rains began again. By that time, much of the soil had blown away. Without rain to grow wheat and grass, the upper layer of soil became dry and dusty. There were few trees and plants to hold down this layer. So when the wind raced across the flat fields, the soil was easily blown away. Dust storms became common during the 1930s. During this period, adults and children wore face masks outside to keep the dust out of their mouths and lungs. Many people became sick and some died from “dust pneumonia” triggered when they breathed in too much dust. Animals in fields died when their stomachs filled with dust. After years of dust storms, with no crops or income, many people abandoned their land and moved west. They had little money and few household possessions. By the end of the period, one-fourth of all the people had left the area. So many people went to California that guards were sent to the state’s borders to keep them out.
Hugh Bennett was the head of the United States government agency that tried to protect farmland. He had struck out in his earlier attempts to get the government to take action, however, the “Black Sunday” storm reached into the Midwest and East. When the storm hid the sun in Washington, D.C., Bennett announced to Congress, “This, gentlemen, is what I have been talking about.” Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act soon afterward. The government paid farmers to change their methods of farming so that the topsoil could not be so easily blown away. Farmers rotated their crops and plowed the land in curves instead of straight lines. They also planted trees to slow down the wind. These and other methods reduced by 65% the amount of soil blown away.
Once the rains returned in 1939, much of the Southern Plains gradually returned to valuable farmland. Some land is still barren and dusty. There is currently no way to prevent a drought. Modern farming techniques, however, are able to prevent the return of the Black Blizzards of the 1930s.
1.Describe how the United States used wheat to win the war?
2. Describe three ways farmers changed their methods for farming after the Soil Conservation Act was passed.
3. Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act soon afterward.
What led Congress to pass this act?
the dust storm that reached the Midwest and East
the many people who moved to California
the early attempts of Hugh Bennett to protect farmland
the deaths of animals in the fields
Which statement best describes the problem that World War I caused the people of the Southern Plains?
The war destroyed huge areas of American farmland.
The war forced the people to plow under their wheat crops.
The war caused a need for food that the people met by growing more wheat.
The war caused the people to feed their extra wheat to larger herds of cattle.
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