Mr. Mauritz Fredriksen was born in Norway in 1912. He experienced the Depression both in America and abroad
Mr. Fredriksen: Before we start let me brief a little so that you know how to form your questions. I come from a little coastal town in Norway. In this time when all this happened we used to have it like we have it here we have a big bank covering all counties and each little town had a branch where we could then put the money into small little piggy banks. So the economy was strictly making a living of fishing and sea-faring and just to give you an idea of what area we’re talking about.
Q: Can you state your name?
Mr. Fredriksen: Mauritz Fredriksen.
Q: How old were you in 1929?
Mr. Fredriksen: Ok, well I was born in 1912, I am 97 now, that would be 17 years old.
Q: During the Depression years where did you live?
Mr. Fredriksen: Same place, Norway.
Q: What were your parents names and what did they do for work when you were little?
Mr. Fredriksen: [My] Father’s name was Mauritz Fredriksen, [my] mother’s name was Magna.
Q: What did your parents do for a job?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh sea, sea, sea, boating and fishing. My father had a big sailing ship.
Q: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mr. Fredriksen: We were five all together.
Q: Was your mother impacted by the Depression?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh absolutely destroyed.
Q: How so?
Mr. Fredriksen: I guess I have little town like this and everything was similar. The kids had piggy banks, parents had checking accounts, and all of a sudden everything that my father, who had all this money, what happens is that all of sudden the bank is closed, the doors are closed, no lights are on inside. That’s what happened, it happened without warning. And everything went because the banks just closed up, the light went out. There was nothing else to talk about. It was a tremendous shock.
Q: So you didn’t know it was going to close down at all?
Mr. Fredriksen: No no, if we knew that, then we would have gone to the bank and taken out the money. The point was that the bank existence just collapsed overnight. No warning, no nothing, we had just come out of World War II. We were all shipping and building ships, and then suddenly we couldn’t pay for any of it. It’s just like you come home tomorrow yourself come through the door, walk into the house, and you have no money, and what you had is gone. Just like that.
Q: How much money did you lose?
Mr. Fredriksen: EVERYTHING! When you’re poor, money is very important to you and it happened to everybody.
Q: Did you have a lot of money in the bank?
Mr. Fredriksen: We didn’t have a lot of money. We used to work for pennies. People were working for money but getting no pay. It was a black out. You can’t imagine the shock.
Q: When did you come to America?
Mr. Fredriksen: About when I was 36, I had just finished the war and had been sailing during all of it for the allies.
Q: Why did you come to America?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well I came because I had been spending so much time there during the war years. I was a sea captain and had been going back and forth between America and Germany. Once I got there I wanted to be a citizen and tried to get citizen papers.
Q: Did you always know English or did you learn it when you got over here?
Mr. Fredriksen: No, don’t be shocked now, but I got an education in three languages. In fourth grade we started to learn English and in high school we started German. That way when we got out of high school we were fluent in three languages.
Q: What did you eat as a child?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh, all types of regular food. Lots of bread, bacon, and stuff like that.
Q: Did your family own a car?
Mr. Fredriksen: They didn’t have cars back then.
Q: When did cars come out?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well the first cars came out in the 1920’s, and nobody could afford to buy them. So Henry Ford decided to put the production line into use so they could build cars cheaply for the public.
Q: Were there any cars in Norway?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well, we had one in 1920, it was my father’s that he brought back from the First World War. We used it for picnics and stuff like that.
Q: Did you ever go to any carnivals or shows like that?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well there was a traveling circus that came around to all these small towns and we enjoyed sitting in.
Q: Did you play any sports?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh god yes. Soccer, soccer, soccer!
Q: How different was the clothing from back then to now?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh, no difference. We lived in a cold climate, so we had nice warm clothes. There wasn’t much darkness in my village so sometimes during the summer we would play soccer at midnight.
Q: What were the movies like back then?
Mr. Fredriksen: They were all black and white of course. The first color movie didn’t come out until I was about 15 or 16 years old and no sound until I was 25, but we enjoyed them.
Q: Did you ever go dancing?
Mr. Fredriksen: Not me, I never had time to go dancing.
Q: How about the radio shows, what were they like?
Mr. Fredriksen: I built my first traditional radio with kits you could buy in those days. I put the headset on and plugged the radio into an electric outlet and then I used an antenna …. and by moving it around I could hear sounds.…Those were the first radios.
Q: When did you get your first radio?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh I was about 13 or 14.
Q: What type of music did you listen to?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well we were very in with the classical music and the piano, we all took piano or violin lessons. Music was very important to us. I played in the brass band.
Q: What was your first job?
Mr. Fredriksen: I was fifteen on the deck of a ship up in the Baltic Sea making some money.
Q: What was school like for you?
Mr. Fredriksen: Very tough. We went six to seven hours a day. And we had to walk to school because there was no transportation. Lots of homework. Went to school on Saturdays. We had to be nice and good-disciplined. The punishment for not going to school was to meet before classes in the morning and check in with the instructor. The streets were very icy so everyone skated down them to get to school.
Q: Did you have any heroes when you were young?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh God yes. I remember we had our sports stars, music stars and of course skiing was our favorite sport.
Q: What was the community life like?
Mr. Fredriksen: It was normal stuff like mamas and papas and friends down the street. We did a tremendous amount of reading. We had a good library. And that’s something I miss here. Most of the books we had were almost like made for children, like a funny book with cartoons in it but they were about classical stuff like Helen of Troy and all these great classics.
Q: What chores or responsibilities did you have when you were young?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh, God, everybody worked. The boys, my brother and I, we had to use the snow shovel to shovel the whole street for all of our mothers.
Q: What did your sisters have to do?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well, she had to help mother with the young ones. So she had a full time job taking care of all the young ones.
Q: Were you the oldest child?
Mr. Fredriksen: No, there were two older than me, a brother and a sister, and then I come.
Q: So the people in your community, you said everyone was affected by the Great Depression?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh, God, absolutely. You, yourself, your parents, everyone had everything in the bank. Then suddenly, the bank shut its lights off. Everyone lost everything.
Q: Were there any wealthy people in your community that weren’t affected?
Mr. Fredriksen: No, everybody lost everything. My father had to sell the ship he had.
Q: Was your religion affected by the Depression?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh, yes we were Lutheran. But it was not affected. We were very lucky because I caught our fish everyday so we always had food.
Q: What do you recall about Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well when I came over here, he was president and he was excellent. Before FDR, there was excess gambling and much inflation. You were only allowed to spend a certain amount, the rest was taxed away from you and so there was no speculation.
Q: Who did the tax affect?
Mr. Fredriksen: Everybody was affected except the big businesses.
Q: Do you remember Eleanor Roosevelt?
Mr. Fredriksen: Very much so, yah.
Q: What do you remember about her?
Mr. Fredriksen: Well, she was a very strong supporter to her husband. She was very valuable.
Q: What do you remember her doing?
Mr. Fredriksen: Not so much. In that time, I was very much interested. But she was a very strong help for FDR. He had polio so she helped him with that. She used to spend the summers up in Capabaro, Maine to help treat his polio.
Q: Do you remember any of the New Deal?
Mr. Fredriksen: Not exactly because now I’m so used to them every day. There were lots of names but I didn’t pay much attention.
Q: Do you remember any of the big construction projects going on at the time?
Mr. Fredriksen: Yes, I remember them especially the Hoover Dam. We had to start using electricity instead of gasoline so we built the dam to get more electricity. And during the war they were building liberty ships. I remember there was a big assembly line. I remember a big field in Oregon. In one place there we were building a bridge and [we were] building boat pieces and ships all over. We had to get them out in thirty days. That is what we call the liberty ships.
Q: What did you use the ships for?
Mr. Fredriksen: The war!
Q: Do you remember hearing about Hitler?
Mr. Fredriksen: Hitler, but now you go way back. So of course I know a lot about Hitler. At that time, Hitler was a German sergeant. And Mussolini from Italy with the fascism. And we had Franco in Spain. Franco in Spain formed what we called the Axis. And later Japan became a part of it. Later the Allies formed and that included us and Britain and such.
Q: Do you remember New York’s world fair in 1939?
Mr. Fredriksen: (laughs) Oh, yes and how.
Q: What was that like?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh I didn’t go there. But I had lots of inference, people came up from there. And there were some brand new restaurants and assembly lines. There were restaurants all sending food to one place and then they did the same with the dirty dishes. (chuckles) If you wanted to drink cocktails, you drank them out of paper cups. And if you wanted to have food you ate them off of paper plates.
Q: Do you think, today, people are still affected by the Great Depression?
Mr. Fredriksen: We learned so much from the Depression that it has provided protection. And the same thing would have happened now if we hadn’t been able to get all the extra money pumped into the accounts.
Q: When you first came to the U.S., where did you live?
Mr. Fredriksen: The first time I came to the U.S., I was fifteen or sixteen and I lived among the ships. And while I was still a young fella, I went back to Norway to go to maritime school to get my license and stuff. Norway is a little country up by the North Pole. I worked on the ships and I went by the Panama Canal and then up to Buffalo.
Q: How do you think kids are different these days?
Mr. Fredriksen: Kids? No they’re exactly the same. They are just as bad as I was when I was a kid. They are all so hopped up on sex and all. Kids are getting into more trouble because they are not as responsible.
Q: Oh yeah, there are a lot of them.
Mr. Fredriksen: I blame it all on the National Rifle Association. They think the Constitution gives them the right to bear arms. The Constitution does not give them that right. What does the Constitution say about that?
Q: It’s in the 2nd Amendment.
Mr. Fredriksen: What does it say about exactly? Quote it for me.
Q: Well I don’t know exactly what it says.
Mr. Fredriksen: Okay. I can do that and I haven’t even been to school here. It says you have the right to form a militia, and carry arms. A militia, like a National Guard, has the right to carry arms. It was started back when you needed to fight Indians and such. (chuckles) It took someone who didn’t grow up an American to tell you that.
Q: So what lessons have we learned from the Great Depression?
Mr. Fredriksen: Me?
Q: Well you, and everyone who’s lived in America after the Great Depression.
Mr. Fredriksen: Well I think it’s popped up lots of times in discussion, how to avoid a depression. In times like this we have to look back at what happened in the past. If we haven’t learned from the past, we will never learn.
Q: After the D
Mr. Fredriksen: Well first of all it took a long time to make enough money to save (chuckles). Took them a long time to save enough money.
Q: Did you continue to use banks?
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh yah! Banks opened up after one or two years and they tried to pay back everyone’s money that was lost and the money trickled down. I invested my money again because without the banks, nothing is possible! You cannot finance anything! So we had to get that started.
Q: Well that’s all the time we have today, thank you so much for your time. It was a real
Mr. Fredriksen: Oh, not a problem, come back anytime!