The stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting depression doomed those companies teetering on the brink of insolvency. The City's relief programs provided assistance to the City's unemployed until 1933 when the federal WPA programs took over. In spite of the depression, the City paid off its last bond in 1938 becoming America's only debt-free city over 50,000 people.
WKZO, Kalamazoo's first radio station, began broadcasting in 1931. Milham Park Golf Course opened the same year. Western State Normal School President Dwight Waldo's forceful personality saved the school from permanent closure proposed by State budget cuts. World War II reversed the City's problems. The Depression left the City low on income but with lots of labor. WWII production eased the monetary restraints but severely limited manpower. One third of the workforce and 11% of City employees were in the armed forces according to Willis Dunbar. The City lengthened airport runways, set up Victory gardens on City property and built a canning plant to preserve the food grown.
By the end of WWII, the City's infrastructure was suffering from four years of neglect. With thousands of men and women from Kalamazoo County returning from World War II, and the subsequent baby-boom, a rapid expansion of the community began. The roads, water and sewer lines struggled to keep up with the demand, particularly in the outlying areas and a subsequent series of annexations by the City more than doubled its geographic size by the end of the 1950s. Leading to an increased investment in infrastructure, the expanding City eschewed the pay-as-you-go model and undertook an impressive number of public work projects including road widening and paving and leading eventually to a new Wastewater treatment facility.
In 1959, the City of Kalamazoo adopted part of plan from Victor Gruen & Associates to close sections of Burdick Street and create the nation's first open-air pedestrian shopping mall. As Burdick Street closed to automobile traffic, the nation's new interstate highway system opened the area to further economic growth. By 1963 both I-94 and US-131 were completed, connecting Kalamazoo to Detroit, Chicago and Grand Rapids with four-lane divided expressways.
Runway expansion and a new terminal also brought increased traffic to Kalamazoo's airport. Along side these public improvements, businesses in Kalamazoo expanded rapidly, particularly manufacturing industries. Post war economic growth lead to expansion or increased production at Checker Cab Co., Upjohn, Kalamazoo Vegetable Paper Company and the Sutherland Paper Company among others.
In 1966, General Motors opened its 2,000,000 square foot Fisher body plant along I-94. Demand on the educational infrastructure surged as well, and new public and catholic high schools, Loy Norrix and Hackett, were constructed along with many other new or expanded facilities. These soaring student populations were not reserved for grade schools. The Western State Normal School had been renamed a college and by 1957 was Western Michigan University. The enrollment had far more than doubled between the end of the war and 1960, and had doubled again by 1968. To meet this demand, the University expanded to a new West campus included in the City's annexations.