In the early days of the Great Depression, the image of destitute persons selling apples on street corners proved an enduring illustration of the disparity between the haves and have-nots in many American cities. Considered to be only slightly preferable to panhandling, it was the last resort for many desperate unemployed who could not find work elsewhere.
The popularity of urban apple selling came to a head in 1930, when The International Apple Shippers Association found themselves with more fruit than they knew what to do with. In an attempt to alleviate themselves of their fruit, as well as address the growing problem of unemployment, they came up with an interesting solution. They agreed to empty their warehouses and sell their apples at a discount to those “hungry for work.” This, they hoped, would allow the impoverished to earn a meager living by selling the apples at a small profit. The result meant an influx of apple entrepreneurs crowding every available inch of sidewalk in cities all over America. With over 6,000 vendors on New York City streets alone!
President Herbert Hoover, in denial over the scope of the economic catastrophe, mistakenly explained the situation by declaring the vendors had actually “left” their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples!
Apparently, apple selling was not as profitable as President Hoover had imagined, because the Apple Shipper’s remedy to the Great Depression lasted only a year. By 1931 the apple sellers were gone, and the Great Depression became greater still.