The five figures seen here represent Americans waiting in line for public assistance during the Great Depression (1929–1939), the worst economic collapse in recent history. During this time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) enacted policies designed to save the country from economic decline. With this sculpture, Segal sought to “evoke the emotional tenor of FDR’s extraordinary four (presidential) terms: how it felt to live during the Great Depression and World War II.” A bronze cast of this original sculpture marks the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Originally trained as a painter, Segal began experimenting with plaster figures when a student in one of his classes brought dry plaster bandages to class. With the help of his wife, Helen, he created a full body cast of himself, then reassembled the pieces to form a seated figure. Segal’s subsequent figures often inhabit environments that suggest the artist’s interest in the people and places familiar to him. Segal himself served as the model for the fourth figure from the right; the first figure in line, Leon Bibel, was Segal’s neighbor and once stood in the bread lines during the Depression.