NYPL Exhibitions

Hard Times

Reformers and philanthropists in New York generated many projects aimed at helping the poor by underwriting the cost of food. One of the most famous was inspired by the widespread unemployment in the city during the Great Depression. In the fall of 1930 Joseph Sicker, chairman of the International Apple Shippers’ Association, had the idea of putting unemployed New Yorkers to work selling apples on the street. A fund supported in part by produce suppliers helped the plan get started, and a surplus of Washington State apples made it possible to sell boxes of the fruit cheaply. The apple vendor on the streets of New York became a lasting image of the Depression.

The image, however, lasted longer than the apple selling. Although an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 of the unemployed sold apples, they were out of business in less than a year. Overcrowding at busy street corners led to police intervention, sales were banned in many high-traffic locations, and apple cores littered the streets. Finally, even the supply of cheap apples ran out. When the price per box went from $1.75 to $2.25, the vendors saw their profits shrink, and the plan collapsed.