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Historical Insights The Panic of 1893

Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey led “Coxey’s Army,” which was officially known as the Army of the Commonwealth in Christ. 1894, Washington, D.C.. Credit: Fotosearch/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Panic of 1893

Working-class Americans suffered from widespread unemployment after the Panic of 1893 led to the failure of 15,000 businesses.

After the Panic of 1893 crippled the U.S. economy, the soon-to-be-famous author Jack London got caught in a web of financial distress. London became a hobo, wandering from town to town. He wrote about a court appearance on a vagrancy charge: “The bailiff said, ‘Vagrancy, your Honor,’ and his Honor said, ‘Thirty days.’ Thus it went like clockwork, 15 seconds to a hobo and 30 days.” During the economic crisis from 1893 to 1896, the unemployment rate ballooned to at least 25 percent. Homelessness and starvation followed for the working-class people of both industrial cities and depressed farms. The bankruptcy of the Reading Railroad led to the cascading failure of banks and businesses associated with the railroad. President Grover Cleveland’s lack of action to alleviate working-class distress inspired a protest march on Washington in 1894 by a group of unemployed laborers known as Coxey’s Army.