'Occupy' movement has precedents in American history

— -- American history is dotted with popular movements like the "Occupy Wall Street" protest -- particularly during times of great economic hardship.

Several movements from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the major economic crises in the 1890s seem to parallel the "Occupy Wall Street" phenomenon, Iowa historians said.

In each case, they said, average people united and called on the federal government to ease financial hardships or correct what they perceived to be structural inequalities caused by the concentration of wealth. Here are a few of them:

Coxey's Army: The protest known as Coxey's Army may hold the strongest parallels to the Occupy movement, said University of Iowa history professor Shelton Stromquist.

The movement, led by Ohio populist Jacob Coxey, united unemployed workers in a march to Washington, D.C., in 1894 to demand that Congress inflate the U.S. currency and use the newly created wealth to create public-works jobs for the unemployed.

The similarities, Stromquist said, come in that Coxey's Army, like Occupy groups today, rallied against growing income inequality and was spurred on by persistent unemployment. The movement attracted thousands of marchers from across the country, but ultimately petered out without success.

Stromquist noted that Coxey himself was arrested for trespassing after walking on the grass at the U.S. Capitol -- the same charges brought against protesters arrested in Boston this week after they expanded their demonstration to a downtown greenway.

Kelly's Army: An offshoot of Coxey's Army with an Iowa connection, Kelly's Army was a group of protesters from California seeking to meet up with Coxey's protesters.

The group crossed the western U.S. by commandeering trains, but was finally forced to march on foot beginning in Council Bluffs. As they marched, the more than 1,000 unemployed workers were greeted by supportive Iowans in towns and on farms along the way, Stromquist said. In Des Moines, carpenters and students from Drake University built a fleet of flatboats that the protesters floated to the Mississippi River.

The Bonus Army: In the spring of 1932, amid the Great Depression, about 17,000 largely unemployed World War I veterans and their families occupied public lands in Washington, D.C., demanding immediate cash payments for service bonuses they were due to receive in 1945. President Herber Hoover resisted their calls, and ultimately ordered their camps to be cleared from government property.