These Rare Photos Of The Great Depression Will Completely Humble You


Dust Bowl Masks

One of the key features of the Great Depression was the poor farming conditions and drought, which eventually led to huge dust storms. As a result, many farmlands were destroyed and agriculture was at an all-time critical state. The Dust Bowl, as it was colloquially called, affected millions of people and in order to cope with the hazards, people wore dust bowl masks.

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Gator Farm

Due to the extreme changes that people faced during the Great Depression, people’s fear of the more trivial things in life was stripped away. This meant that things that were obviously scary to some no longer packed the punch they once did. Take this group of individuals, for example. They are enjoying a pleasant picnic at an alligator farm in Los Angeles, of all places. Not only are they not bothered to have the gators so close, they enjoy it.

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Beauty Transcends Time

The concept of beauty has been important since the dawn of man. You know what they say – “the heart wants what the heart wants.” A lot of that is to do with how something affects the human eye. It seems like this particular model was a popular pin-up girl during the time of the Great Depression, with a variety of photos of her dotted around the internet. At the time, of course, this type of photo was considered extremely risque.

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Teaching The Next Generation

Here is another mindblowing photo displaying the bizarre nature of education during the time of the Great Depression. This image, which was taken in Alabama in 1935, shows children from sharecropper families who are having an English lesson. Not only were these kids’ school routines sporadic, but they would often have to walk for many miles to and from class. That’s not all though. These “schools” often only had one room and it is likely that these kids were different ages and grades.

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Makeshift Homes

Hoovervilles rapidly started to dot around the U.S. during the Great Depression. It seemed like every state had numerous shantytowns where people were forced to make their own temporary shelters. Sometimes, they didn’t even have the resources to put a roof over their heads. Not only did families collect whatever materials they could find to create their makeshift homes, but they would even use their cars, or whatever vehicle they owned, as a desperate type of extension to make the shelters just a little bigger.

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The displacement of many workers resulted in many families either a) traveling miles and miles before finding a new home or b) making their own homes when they just couldn’t travel any further. Seeing that many pointed the finger at the president at the time, Herbert Hoover, the numerous shantytowns that started to appear around the U.S. were coined as “Hoovervilles.” This image shows a stark contrast between the prosperous who dwelled in the urban landscapes in the background, and the Hooverville it overlooked.

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Empire State Of Mind

Many would desperately take any job to make ends meet, no matter how dangerous it may have been. Take this steelworker, for example, who sits on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, which was under construction at the time that his photo was taken – September 24, 1930.

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On The Road With Dorothea Lange

Probably the most important photographer during the Great Depression was Dorothea Lange, who captured some of the most iconic images of the era. Her work has stood the test of time, not only due to the high quality of the photos but how vivid they captured the realness and grittiness of the time period. Most notably, her work told stories of the Depression through the eyes of certain individuals. One fine example is this lady, on the road with her child.

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Happy 4th Of July!

It is no secret that actress Helen Twelvetrees’ career fell flat on the ground soon after it took off. So you could say that this Depression photo is a fine metaphor for her career trajectory. Here you can see the “women’s pictures” actress sitting on a firecracker in celebration of July 4th. Helen Twelvetrees was known for starring in movies such as The Painted Desert, which was actually the first movie that Clark Gable ever appeared in.

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Girl Power

This particular image encapsulates what it means to strive for the American dream in the thick of America’s darkest hour. Here is a migrant girl, who probably hasn’t been in the U.S. for too long, working on a farm in Burlington County, New Jersey. Here she can be seen at the end of a long day of picking cranberries. She is holding one of the many boxes that has been filled to the brim with the delectable berries.

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Germana Paolieri

One person who didn’t suffer too much during the Great Depression was Germana Paolieri who was arguably one of the most talented actresses of her time. It was during the 1930s that she became poster girl of Italian cinema starring in a number of hit movies such as The Opera Singer and The Gift of the Morning. Her most notable role probably came in the 1938 biopic Giuseppe Verdi, playing Margherita Barezzi. Her last role came in 1957, in the movie The Angel of the Alps.

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Sharing Is Caring

If there was one word that summarizes a lot of these stunning photos, it could be the following: sacrifice. The Great Depression was all about making numerous sacrifices and compromises for the greater good. In a society where people were forced to share the most trivial of things, you had to approach life with a kind attitude. Otherwise, you would not survive. This young lady had no choice but use the communal tub to do her laundry.

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Women Of The War

The Great Depression extended into World War II and here are two women who carried on the legacies left by their husbands who went off to battle. Virginia Young’s husband was one of the first soldiers to die in the conflict. She became a supervisor for the Naval Air Base’s Assembly and Repairs Department. Young worked to ensure that women had a place to call their home during this time – women like Ethel Mann, who uses the electric drill.

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Lifting Spirits

Another way that people remained hopeful during the Great Depression was through the power of song. If there was a corner of society that needed uplifting the most, it was the youngest generation of the time. Like usual, kids at school would be taught joyful hymns and they would sing them on a daily basis. In this 1940 photo, you can see a group of schoolkids gathering at their morning assembly, singing in front of the elders. It was a reminder that the future still had hope.

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Long Pay Day

As the Dust Bowl affected farmers of the midwest the most, many workers were forced to travel elsewhere to find more stable work. More prosperous areas of the country were forced to take in swathes of workers from a variety of different backgrounds. However, pay was generally poor, especially since many institutions became overstaffed. This is clearly demonstrated by this photo, which shows many workers at the end of a long day of work, waiting in line to get paid.

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Family Photo

Russell Lee is one of the most famous photographers to have captured some of the most stunning images of the Great Depression during its most serious time, between 1939 and 1942. One of the families who he a spent a fair amount of time with and was able to take numerous photos of where the Whinery’s. Here is an image of husband/father Jack Whinery with his wife and kids. They were an archetypal homesteading family, who lived half underground and were completely self-sufficient.

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Burn It All

In 1929, the Wall Street Crash happened, which is considered to be the phenomenon that sparked the Great Depression.¬†Here is a picture of Mr. Barlow, a member of the city council and Mr. Jil Martin, who was Treasury Secretary at the time, just a few years after “Black Tuesday.” They are burning what was called “scrip money,” 100,000 dollars worth, to be precise. To this day, the Wall Street Crash is considered to be the worst stock market crash in American history.

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Migrant Mother

If there was ever a photo that encapsulated the plight and struggle of a family during the Great Depression the most, it has to be this one. The centerpiece of the image is Florence Owens Thompson, who was immortalized by this photo as Migrant Mother. The caption attached to this Library of Congress image is as follows: “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” The photo is Dorothea Lange’s most famous work and is considered to be the image of the Great Depression.

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Bedroom Of Hundreds

It wasn’t just the many families who took to the streets, creating their homes in the aptly-named “Hoovervilles” during the Great Depression. The “bread-winners” of the families and even just the single men who needed some food ended up in sleeping quarters like this one in New York City. Seeing that many couldn’t afford their own homes, the government set up sleeping quarters for workers to rest their heads at night. The end result was hundreds of men sleeping in the same hall.

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The Juke Joint

Don’t let the term fool you. Although the Great Depression was considered to be one of the hardest times in American history, the time was far from depressing for many people. It didn’t stop people from having fun. Large swathes of migrant workers would swarm to the local social club, which was called a “Juke Joint.” The term “juke” alludes to a rowdy or disorderly atmosphere, and we assume this was due to the “ale, beer and stout” that was on tap.

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Fight The Power

It makes sense that there were plenty of individuals who tried to take matters into their own hands during the Great Depression. One of those people was Gertrude Haessler, who, along with four adults and a handful of children, tried to enter the White House on Thanksgiving Day and express their frustrations to the president. However, Haessler and the crew didn’t get so far, especially after being arrested for creating disruption. She was taken away uninjured by the police.

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Sounds Like Hope

There is nothing quite like the ability to play the notes of your favorite tunes on your preferred instrument. However, it is even more of a pleasure to be able to teach your child how to play in harmony with you. Photographer Rothstein captured the moment this happened between a man and his child in Weslaco, Texas in 1942. It goes to show that the power of music can virtually transform any moment, no matter how dark and gloomy things might seem.

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Line Up, Folks

During the early 30s, things were so dire that just a few pieces of food and drink were hard to come by for so many people. People on their way to and from work would show up in droves so that they could be just a bit nourished while in the blistering cold. This photo was taken on February 13th, 1932, and shows long lines of people in Times Square waiting for just two things: a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

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Little Help From My Friends

The Great Depression was a time when not just the adults were doing the heavy lifting. It was encouraged for kids as young as 10 to take part in the hard, manual labor and this normal took precedence over other activities such as school time. In fact, these kids, who were gathering potatoes in Aroostook County, didn’t see have many classes until all the potatoes were harvested. With all the migrant workers who traveled around the country, this put more pressure on the kids to work.

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Cooking On The Go

The life of the homesteader or the migrant worker was all about finding ways to adapt to working on the move. With long sunny days to survive, it was a matter of fly or die for a lot of these people. If you were sensible, you would always make sure to have a basic cooking kit on you at all times. That way, if you get stranded somewhere, you could just pull out the skillet, light a fire and cook some chopped vegetables.

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Pride & Joy

Even if one’s child wasn’t physically ready to perform manual labor in the fields, it was always nice for workers to have their kids around during the Great Depression to give them some sort of emotional support. This kid sitting in a cabbage patch might not be able to too much heavy lifting. However, he was able to put a smile on his dad’s face. After all those hours of hard work, it’s important to have goals to work towards, such as food, shelter, and family.

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Hitchiker’s Guide To California

As previously established in this article, many workers migrated to California in search of better opportunities after the drought and sandstorms obliterated their farms. However, while many painstakingly walked all the way to the Golden State, there were some who were able to get a ride. Here are some children who were lucky enough to jump aboard this caravan, which took them along the dusty road all the way from Abilene, Texas to California back in 1936.

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Gotta Have Faith

It’s amazing to look back at the times of Great Depression and think that; despite such testing times, people still managed to have such fervent faith that things were going to get better. No matter how hard things got, people believed in something greater than themselves and would still say prayers no matter what time of the day it was. Take these people for example, who took off their hats and said grace before their barbecue dinner.

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If there was one photo on this list that encapsulated the hopelessness that many people felt during the Great Depression, then it has to be this one. Here are a group of farmers who were unfortunately displaced from their own land. This is because tractor farming rendered their contribution obsolete. As a result, the workers were forced to move on to pastures new and seek opportunities elsewhere. This was the moment when all they could do was look at the ground, feeling hopeless.

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Hope Springs

Here is another stunning image of homesteader Jim Norris. The man from Pie Town, New Mexico had a lot of experience when it came to self-sufficiency and knew exactly how to make the most of the land around him. This photo shows Norris harvesting the corn, using two of his horses. This was a time during the Great Depression when work was getting easier to come by. Farmers, in general, worked the land with a newfound enthusiasm. Hope was on the horizon.

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Not-So-Merry Christmas

For many families, Christmas is the day that trumps all others. It is an opportunity to pull out all the stops and put together a dinner like no other. However, this wasn’t so easy during the Great Depression. Festive commodities such as trees, presents, and tinsel weren’t guaranteed for many families. Despite only having a small table and not having enough chairs, here is a family who were still able to celebrate the festival together, appreciating what they did have.

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Homes Of Steel

Many families made their own shanty homes in what became known as “Hoovervilles.” Sometimes, families consisting of over a dozen people fitted into one makeshift room. Here is a perfect example of a home that was made out of foraged scraps of metal. The irony of these homes is that more often than not, the families were even more close-knit, strong and together than the shelters they lived in. The photographer caught some of the home dwellers walking past.

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Home Is A Feeling

In 1938, photographer Dorothea Lange came across a family who had temporarily parked on the outskirts of Perryton, Texas. The head of the family was a migrant worker who had been constantly traveling with his wife for the previous 13 years. Their shared dream was to eventually have enough money to purchase a home somewhere in Idaho. However, life happened, and things didn’t go quite to plan. On the flip side, the couple had four children and built a family together.

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Absolute Dispair

They say that a photo can tell a thousand words. When it comes to this image though, you can write an entire book about it. It pretty much summarizes the tone of the Great Depression into one solemn image – a young housewife with her head on an empty table. Her family have little money or food and are struggling to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis. Imagine having five kids to feed and finding out that your entire standard of living would change overnight.

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Absolute Silence

While this may appear to be a fairly normal photo of a farmhouse stranded in the desert, there is so much more to this story than meets the eye. It’s not what is in the photo; more specifically, what isn’t there. This part of the world was once full of vegetation – a perfect setting for any farmer. However, it was the Dust Bowl that gradually wiped away all the greenery, turning it into a barren wasteland. All that was left was the farmhouse and some dead weeds.

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Giving Back

You know the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”? Well, this couldn’t have been truer during this dire time. When the people of the Great Depression were at there most desperate, it was imperative that they pulled together in order to survive. In this photo, you can see a group of ladies giving out desserts at a community potluck event in Pie Town, New Mexico. The photo, which was taken by Russell Lee back in 1940, shows the power that community can have.

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The Dust Bowl

People always ask, “well, how bad could the Dust Bowl have actually been?” Sure, it is reported that it was responsible for the decimation of many of America’s farmlands. However, you can never quite believe the extent of its damage until you see it in all its glory. This photo shows the dust storm smothering one of the states affected by the phenomenon. States such as Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado all took a big hit.

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Harsh Times

The most tragic part of this photo was that it was a regular occurrence. Walking around the streets of New York during the Great Depression, to see a man lying on the cold streets, without the energy to even beg for food, was a normal thing. Without job prospects, food, shelter or any security whatsoever, it was unsurprising that some would just lie down on the streets, unsure of what the future would bring. Uncertainty and a lack of hope were recurring themes during this time.

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Road To Perdition

It was a long, murky road for many men who suffered the most during the Great Depression. These were the types who had pretty much lost everything; their farms, their companies, their jobs, and decided to pack up their bags and travel elsewhere for work. While many went from town to town in hope of something, a large number of workers fled to California after hearing about the farming prospects in The Golden State. Many returned home though with no success.

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Me & My Farm

For those who were already well-established homesteaders during the Great Depression, changes weren’t so hard to adjust to. If you were comfortable taking care of yourself and being self-sufficient, then this was a period that you would thrive in. Someone like Jim Norris of Pie Town, New Mexico, was used to not depending on anyone else to get by. All he needed was his land, his crops, and his space, and he was able to live a fairly satisfying life.

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Homestead Run

Here is another piece of evidence suggesting that no matter how dire things got during the Great Depression, people were still able to have fun. What is life without pursuing your deepest passions? Even when people were doing everything in their power to provide for their families and themselves, they could still fit in a game of baseball from time to time. This photographer perfectly captured a home run in mid-air that took place at a game in Weslaco, Texas back in 1942.

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