The Great Depression

U.S. Great Depression photos from the 1930's - 1940's See more...


Did you know that the Great Depression was worldwide but began in the United States with the crash of the stock market on October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday)? As a result of the Depression, unemployment rose to 25% in the United States and in some countries unemployment was as high as 33%.

The Great Depression of the 1930's and 40's affected economies worldwide for over a decade and no other economic downturn has been as devastating. This collection of photos shows snapshots of life, jobs, the economy and of the people who lived during this notable time in history.

Part of an impoverished family of nine on a New Mexico highway. Depression refugees from Iowa. Left Iowa in 1932 because of father's ill health. Father an auto mechanic laborer, painter by trade, tubercular. Family has been on relief in Arizona but refused entry on relief roles in Iowa to which state they wish to return. Nine children including a sick four-month-old baby. No money at all. About to sell their belongings and trailer for money to buy food.
A shanty built of refuse near the Sunnyside slack pile, Herrin, Illinois. Many residences in southern Illinois coal towns were built with money borrowed from building and loan associations. During the Depression, building and loan associations almost all went into receivership. Their mortgages were sold for whatever they would bring, and the purchasers demolished houses by the hundreds in order to salvage the scrap lumber. The result was a serious overcrowding and high rents in all the coal towns. A number of people could find no houses to rent, and lived in tents and shanties on the fringes of the town.
Inflation: Almost too recent and painful to recall - the dark days in America's 1930 Depression. Men this side of the sign are assured of a five-cent meal - the rest must wait for generous passersby.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and President Herbert Hoover on their way to the U.S. Capitol Building for FDR's inauguration. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to wear leg braces and use a cane & braces or a wheelchair (due to having contracted polio as an adult - or perhaps, it is now thought, Guillain-Barre syndrome ), I think they have a blanket over their laps not because of the cold but because it covered FDR's legs and braces. Throughout his presidency, FDR was never publicly photographed, or seen, in his wheelchair or braces. Because of the Depression and WW II, which both occurred during his presidency, it was considered a public boost to see him as "virile". Such were the times. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
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Aug 10, 1874 - Unknown 1874 - ?
The Glen Cook Family of Little Sioux Township, Woodbury County, Iowa in 1936. Glen Cook rented his farm from a loan company and he had to cut his livestock down because of lack of feed. It looks like his family of 6 (plus cat) may be growing by one. Look at the machine on the porch - isn't that a washing machine? Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer
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Unknown - Unknown ? - ?
Added Sep 7, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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Note:The unemployment rate in 1938 was just under 20% - the US population was just under 130 million. This photo shows when unemployment benefits began. A line of men inside a division office of the State Employment Service office at San Francisco, California, were waiting to register for benefits on one of the first days the office was open. They received from $6 to $15 per week for up to sixteen weeks. Coinciding with the announcement that the federal unemployment census showed close to ten million persons out of work, twenty-two states began paying unemployment compensation Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Dorothea Lange
Added Aug 11, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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This photo was taken on "Skid Row" - Howard Street in San Francisco, California. So sad. No blankets, no newspapers, no covers . . . and we think that this is a current problem. And it's the middle of winter. (Winter in San Francisco is damp and cold) Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Dorothea Lange
Tulare migrant camp. Visalia, California. "Steel cabins house individual families." I'm sorry, but did anyone think about how hot it gets in Visalia?? I can't imagine living in one of these during 100+ degree heat. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, photographer Arthur Rothstein.
This is our family homestead in the depression days. The farm had 40 acres and was purchased in the 1860's and sold in 2010. The Chaffee family of 10 were poor but proud. They worked the farm and churned butter and sold it in Towanda, PA. They had chickens, pigs, cows, and a horse. They raised crops and my Great Grampa Fred and Great Grama Marie were trained nurses. The barn went first and then the house fell down in the 1960's, by the looks of the roof in this picture, it figures.
Child actress Shirley Temple in a movie still or promotional picture. Shirley Temple was born Shirley Jane Temple in 1928 and was a media phenomenon not only in her childhood but in succeeding generations as well. Most of her personal success was in films when she was a child. She did some films as a teen/young adult (my personal favorite was The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer, had a tv show 1960 - 1961, and spent most of her adulthood in politics. Shirley Temple Black served as an ambassador in various capacities.
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Apr 23, 1928 - Feb 10, 2014 1928 - 2014
Nina Belle (Swift) Harrison and Baby Harriet Harrison on the back porch of their home in Sabula, Iowa.
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Unknown - Unknown ? - ?
Listening to speeches at mass meeting of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers protesting congressional cut of relief appropriations. Taken in San Francisco, California Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Dorothea Lange
Added Aug 11, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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Delta Road, near New Orleans, LA. Emile Riche, a farmer, has a small place bordering the levee, and for a period of years has been fighting the Parish officials for payments due him for damages to his property in the flood of 1927. He used this method of advertising by converting his barns and fences into a medium for visual statement. Photograph shows sign with photographer and camera labelled "I am taking the photogka [sic] of depression anp [sic] starvation at once".
Refugees from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl arrive in San Fernando, California. This (unnamed family) photo was taken in June of 1935 by Dorothea Lange, who documented many affects of the Dust Bowl on the farmers. The caption says: "More Oklahomans reach Calif. via the cotton fields of Ariz." The family seems to be carrying all of their possessions in their car and there is a box on the front bumper labeled "Scotch Soap'.
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Unknown - Unknown ? - ?
Child actress Shirley Temple leaving the White House after visiting with President Roosevelt. Here's what the caption (from the time) says: "Shirley told the President about losing a tooth last night, and he told her about Sistie and Buzzie losing their teeth. Shirley expects to be in Washington a week checking on the affairs of government with different government officials" This was during the Depression and Shirley Temple was considered a morale booster. President Roosevelt was doing all he could to lift the spirits of the American people during this time. I believe the woman reaching out to Shirley as she stands in the car door is her mother, Gertrude Amelia Temple (née Krieger). courtesy of the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing, photographer
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Apr 23, 1928 - Feb 10, 2014 1928 - 2014
Famous child actress Shirley Jane Temple (born April 23, 1928) began her career at 3 years old in 1932. Shirley Temple's acting career includes multiple roles in films specifically designed around her character. Some of the more popular movies include Stand up and Cheer, Bright Eyes, Curly Top, The Little Princess and Heidi. Shirley Temple, later known as Shirley Black Temple, would go on to win an Academy Award in 1935 and became the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.
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Apr 23, 1928 - Feb 10, 2014 1928 - 2014
Ben Shahn photo of cotton pickers going to work at 6:30a at the Alexander plantation in Arkansas. Cotton picking was a tough job - especially on the hands. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969, photographer
A "Kentucky colonel" (name unknown) sitting in the street in front of the courthouse in Versailles, Kentucky Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Marion Post Wolcott
Added Aug 12, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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The Fugate School, a one room school in Breathitt County, Kentucky, on the South Fork of the Kentucky River. It looks like the kids are playing "London Bridge"? Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Marion Post Wolcott
Added Aug 12, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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The car in which a school superintendent and Marion Post Wolcott drove up the South Fork of the Kentucky River to take pictures of conditions in rural schools. Obviously, the car got stuck! Taken in Breathitt County, Kentucky Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Marion Post Wolcott
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Jun 7, 1910 - Nov 24, 1990 1910 - 1990
Added Aug 12, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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A "mountaineer" (name unknown) who was raising his grandson in his home with the help of the neighbors. He was crippled with arthritis most of his life, so he needed help. He's sitting on the steps of a schoolhouse with his dog. They are near the South Fork of the Kentucky River. Breathitt County, Kentucky Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Marion Post Wolcott
Added Aug 12, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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A Marion Post Wolcott photo of mountain people carrying a coffin up the creek bed to the family graveyard, where it will be buried. This area was too isolated to have a formal funeral service immediately. Names of the people in the photo are unknown, Marion Post Wolcott was sent to Kentucky by the federal government to document conditions in Kentucky during the Depression. Photo taken on the South Fork of the Kentucky River, Kentucky Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Marion Post Wolcott
Added Aug 12, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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Striking longshoremen in front of Frank's Cafe during a waterfront strike in San Francisco, California. Look at the sign at the left on the building. I think it says that the store will have been in business 64 years in 2000 AD! Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, photographer Dorothea Lange
Added Aug 11, 2011 by: Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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