The ’30s and ’40s in living color, Part 1

One of the really cool things about the internet is that now everyone who can get there can get access to a treasure trove of historical documents and photographs that were previously the domain of hardened researchers or supergeeks.  All you need is some time to spare and the desire to take a look at our country’s not-so-distant past, and some great stuff is there for the asking.  Case in point, the Library of Congress WPA poster gallery I highlighted a few years ago.

This time we’re going to look at something even cooler – highlights from a LoC collection of photographs from the 1930s and ’40s… in color!  While the subject matter isn’t necessarily scintillating on all these, the opportunity to see life as it really looked back then is a rare treat indeed.  Something about seeing a scene as pedestrian as a quiet street in color brings it to life in a that black and white photography can’t always do.  I find it a lot easier to immerse myself in the past when looking at it this way.

These photos were all taken between 1939 and 1944 by the United States Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI).  Here’s a few of my favorites (click on a photo to see a larger version)…

I love the vividness of this one, taken in Tennessee in 1943.  The photo credit says this woman is operating a hand drill, but it looks like a rivet gun to me.

Barrage balloons are one of the iconic images of World War I, but not so much WWII.  Nevertheless, they were still used in that conflict and did prove to be very valuable.

Commuters, who have just come off the train, waiting for the bus to go home, Lowell, Mass. (LOC)

Most people would look at this and go “meh,” but this is the type of photo I love – an insignificant moment, frozen forever in time, showing a world that has long since ceased to exist.  Love the clothes, love the ads, and it goes without saying that the car is super sweet.

Forget RSS feeds or cable news…this was the quickest way for people in Brockton, Massachusetts to find out what was going on in 1940.  And hey, is that window sign for WB Mason up there?  Who but!

And I’ll say it once again — I really wish hats like this would come back into style.

Ah, good ol’ Frenchie’s Bar.  Where else could a young man in Monroe, Louisiana go and get beer, whiskey, and dental snuff all at the same time?  (before Wal-Mart)

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2 Comments

  • Those 2 street shots are truly fascinating. Back then the people in the unemployment lines were better dressed than most college grads these days.

    I have taken up my own crusade to get hats back in style.

  • Those 2 street shots are truly fascinating. Back then the people in the unemployment lines were better dressed than most college grads these days.

    I have taken up my own crusade to get hats back in style.

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