The prosperity of the 1920s ended with an economic catastrophe of unparalleled length and severity: the Great Depression. By 1933, industrial production had fallen to one-third its pre-Depression levels. Thousands of banks closed, and almost 13 million Americans found themselves jobless.
Women sewed dresses during sustainability classes at the YMCA 1932
Not immune from the financial strain, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company experienced a severe reduction in customer orders, producing 600,000 tons of steel in 1930 but only 191,147 tons in 1932. Because of the lack of demands for steel products, primarily rail, a severe reduction in workforce was necessary, dropping its payroll to 7,773 employees in 1937. With thousands of people dependent on the company as an income source, the company assisted those living in its mining communities as well as its Pueblo workforce by distributing food and clothing to the needy. The company also sponsored home economics classes to teach women, the primary food preparers of the era, the art of canning and preservation of food. It encouraged families to grow gardens for self-sustainability and printed tips and advice for healthy and bountiful gardens in company publications. The Pueblo branch of the Steelworks YMCA and the smaller YMCA’s in the mining communities experienced a growth of activity in sports competitions to keep those out of work full of life and vitality.
Rail Mill Bowling Champs 1930
Other projects sponsored by the company included the Valdez-Rug Project designed to train unemployed miners to weave from Jose Ramon Ortega, a well-known master weaver, in the tradition of the Chimayo, New Mexico weavers. For two years, blankets, car seat covers, and 200-300 rugs were created and sold to others, allowing those out of work to earn a little money. The popularity of the textiles caught on and the Colorado Supply Company Store distributed the rugs at both their Denver and Pueblo outlets. At the Sunrise, Wyoming store, the Colorado Supply Company allowed unemployed workers to buy merchandise on credit with the understanding that they pay back the amount due at their convenience. In some cases, three to five years after the purchases were made.
Unable to escape the effects of the Depression, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company went into receivership between 1933 and 1936 under federal bankruptcy laws. Reorganizing in 1937, the company experienced a rebirth as the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation. Following World War II, the company experienced a period of dramatic growth, becoming one of the largest and most financially successful steel manufacturers in the country by the early 1950s.