As the Great Depression neared its peak in 1933, farmers across the country were in great peril. Many were losing everything as their farms were sold out from under them in foreclosure actions to large financial lenders. It was an all too common and tragic story for many proud and long-time farm families who faced financial ruin. But in Wood County, Ohio, farmers figured out a way to foil the big banks so that some farmers would get a second chance.
It was called the “penny auction”, and the first one unfolded 77 years ago this week on the farm of Wallace Kramp near Bowling Green in Wood County. Owing some $800.00 on his mortage to the bank and unable to pay, Kramp was foreclosed upon and a sheriff’s sale was set up to auction off his equipment, livestock and land. But some crafty local farmers had a plan to save Kramp’s farm. About 700 local farmers showed up for the auction that day on January 26, 1933 and when the bidding started, they bid only a few pennies on each item and would not allow anyone else to offer more serious bids. The sheer size and mood of the crowd kept many would-be bidders from offering more realistic bids, so when the finally tally came on that day at Wallace Kramp’s farm, the farmers had bid a total of only $14.00. Not nearly the hundreds, or thousands of dollars the bank had hoped to reap that day. The farmers then told Kramp…he could have all the items back for a 99 year lease for a penny.
It was the start of something big. Over the ensuing weeks, the tactic was repeated over and over. At one sale, over 5,000 farmers reportedly showed up in Deshler. Their cars and tractors and mules blocked the roads for miles around. At the end of the bidding, the auction only netted $2.17. The stories of these “penny
auctions” spread quickly and newspapers from around the country carried the stories. Within weeks, that one simple and daring act of defiance that began in Wood County fired the determination of others and those “penny auctions” were soon being carried out in other areas of the country.