News & Politics

Check Out Photos of Depression-Era Washington

A new photo archive contains thousands of images of life during the Great Depression.

Workmen receiving paychecks in Greenbelt in July 1936. Photograph by Carl Mydans via Library of Congress.

To help build public support for the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration deployed teams of photographers and writers across the country starting in 1935 to, as one official put it, “introduce America to Americans.” The Farm Security Administration dispatched well-known shooters of the day like Dorothea Lange, Carl Myadans, and Gordon Parks to nearly every pocket of the map. While the primary mission was to document the Great Depression’s effect on agriculture, the sheer volume of the resulting photographs built an archive spanning just about every facet of life in the United States.

The Library of Congress wound up with more than 170,000 photos snapped between 1935 and 1945. The full archive finally went online this week with the launch of a catalog built by researchers at Yale University that allows users to see what their hometowns were like during the deepest years of of the Depression. (There are more than 5,200 photos just from the District.) Here are a few of the more striking shots of Washington we found.

The outskirts of DC (September 1937):

Photograph by John Vachon via Library of Congress.

A farm outside Rockville (June 1940):

Photograph by Jack Delano via Library of Congress.

Good Humor truck visits Alexandria (March 1941):

Photograph by Martha MacMillan Roberts via Library of Congress.

Nabisco delivery in Fairfax (October 1942):

Photograph by Howard Liberman via Library of Congress.
Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.