These Photos Of The Great Depression Will Humble You

The Great Depression was one of the biggest economic depressions of all time. Starting in the United States in the 1930s, it created a ripple effect across the rest of the world. These pictures will take you back to the time, making you feel as if you were there yourself.

Beauty Transcends Time

There is no doubt that people, particularly men, did not still try to find beauty among these dark times. The saying, “The heart wants what the heart wants,” is something that comes to mind. While the struggle was real, this beautiful model still managed to work her magic through the Great Depression. The pin-up girl was clearly popular during the ’30s as she can be seen in a lot of photos around this era. At this time, however, this type of photo was considered extremely risque.


Many workers lost their jobs during these hard times and this resulted in families either having to find a new home or making their own when they were unable to travel further. The numerous shantytowns that were popping up around many parts of the United States were given the term “Hoovervilles” as a way of pointing the blame towards the president at the time, Herbert Hoover. The photographer of this image has captured well the shocking contrast between the wealthy urban community compared to the Hooverville under its nose.

Empire State Of Mind

In the United States, unemployment rose to 25 percent, the highest level during the Great Depression. Think about that – a quarter of the country’s workforce without jobs. As a result, many would take any job that came their way in order to put food on the table for their families. For example, this steelworker resting on a girder on the 86th floor of the new Empire State Building is more worried about having a job than the dangers he is facing for it.

On The Road With Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange took some of the most iconic photos from the Great Depression era. The photographer managed to capture moments that were so vivid and high quality that she was able to portray the realness of the time period. She became known as one of the most important photographers through this period. This amazing picture of this lady with her child on the road is one of many she took that tells a story of the Depression through the eyes of individuals.

Happy 4th Of July!

Helen Twelvetrees was a film and theater actress whose career got a boost from her series of “women’s pictures” in the early 1930s during the Depression. Starring in movies such as The Painted Desert, Helen was one of the first actresses to replace silent stars who would not make the transition to talkies. This picture of the actress sitting on a firecracker celebrating July 4th is a great metaphor to describe how her career seemed to take off but instantly fall flat.

Girl Power

Capturing a young migrant girl working on a farm in Burlington County, New Jersey, this image illustrates exactly the lengths people went to in order to strive for the American dream. This girl, who most likely has not been in the U.S. for long, looks pretty scruffy after her long day of picking berries. You can see the struggle in her eyes as she lifts one of the heavy boxes which is filled to the brim. This is not what her family had hoped for when arriving in America.

Sharing Is Caring

During the Great Depression, people had to make many sacrifices, and this picture shows exactly that. Society had to come together, make sacrifices, and compromise for the benefit of everyone. People had to change their attitudes and share even the most minor of things. In many cases, it was the only way to survive. The picture showing a young lady doing her laundry in a communal tub illustrates the exact sharing nature that existed at the time.

Women Of The War

The Great Depression continued into World War II and many women with husbands in battle continued their legacy in a range of different ways. This picture shows Virginia Young. She became a supervisor for the Naval Air Base’s Assembly and Repairs Department after the death of her husband, who was one of the first soldiers to die in the conflict. Young worked to ensure that women had a place to call their home during this time, including Ethel Mann, who uses the electric drill.

Lifting Spirits

Although times were hard, people tried hard to remain hopeful. While adults were going through the strains of the Depression, the younger generation was reaping the effects. In order to uplift society, many would use the power of music. Children at school, like normal, would be taught joyful songs and hymns that they would sing every day during assemblies. This 1940 photo shows a group of schoolkids singing to their parents during a morning assembly, reminding them of a hopeful future.

Long Pay Day

Payday is usually thought of as an enjoyable day, but this photo showing workers at the end of a long day waiting in line to get paid gives off a different impression. As the Dust Bowl affected farmers, especially from the Midwest, many workers had to travel elsewhere to find work. Most fled to more prosperous areas of the country who were forced to take in workers from a variety of backgrounds. Despite more stability, wages were poor as many of the institutions were overstaffed.

Family Photo

This family photo was taken by Russell Lee, one of the most famous photographers of the time. He took some of the most eye-captivating images during the Great Depression’s most serious time, between 1939 and 1942. This is one of his many pictures taken of the Whinery family, who he spent a lot of time with. The image of Jack Whinery with his wife and kids is very typical of the late ’30s. This family was self-sufficient and lived half underground.

Burn It All

This 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.” Considered the worst stock market crash in American history, in 1929 the Wall Street Crash happened. This was considered to be the event which conceived the Great Depression. In the picture, crowds formed in America as the men burnt what was called “scrip money,” 100,000 dollars worth, to be precise.

Migrant Mother

This is one of the greatest photos taken during the Great Depression that completely encapsulates the struggles of the time. The main focus of this picture is the lady in the middle, Florence Owens Thompson, who was labeled from this photo as Migrant Mother. “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California,” is the caption attached to this Library of Congress image. This is Dorothea Lange’s most famous pictures and is considered to be the photo of the Great Depression.

Bedroom Of Hundreds

These sleeping quarters for workers to rest at night set up by the government was the cause of hundreds of men sleeping in the same hall. With men above, below, to the left, and even right of you, this hall set up for sleeping in New York does not look particularly comfortable. While many families took to the make-shift “Hoovervilles,” the workers, bread-winners of the family, or single men would sometimes reside in these sleeping quarters and come for food.

The Juke Joint

Some people just don’t let the hard times get them down. The term “Depression” did not stick with everyone, and for some, this era was anything but depressing. Many people around the country still tried their best to have fun. Groups and groups of migrant workers would flood to the local social club, called a “Juke Joint.” The “ale, beer and stout” advertised on tap here was probably the reason for the loud and disorderly atmosphere at these joints.

Fight The Power

While some were enjoying their time at the Juke Joint, others were ready to take out their frustration. Many individuals tried to take matters into their own hands during the Great Depression, including Gertrude Haessler. Gertrude, along with four other adults and a handful of children, tried to enter the White House on Thanksgiving Day as an attempt to express their anger to the president. Unlucky in their efforts, the gang was arrested for creating disruption and was taken away by the police.

Sounds Like Hope

Photographer Rothstein captured this picturesque moment of this man and his child in Weslaco, Texas in 1942. The picture displays the beauty of how music can transform any dull or gloomy moment and make it feel special. The ability to play one of your favorite tunes on your preferred instrument is a great thing, but it is made even better when the moment is shared with your child. This dad is teaching his daughter to play the guitar while other children look on.

Line Up, Folks

Some of the things we take for granted now were much harder to come by during the early 30s. For many, getting hold of food and drink was not as simple as popping into your local store. People would gather on their way to and from work and stand in line in the blistering cold just to get the essentials they needed to stay nourished. The urgency is clear from this photo taken on February 13th, 1932, showing people in Times Square waiting for just two things: a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

Little Help From My Friends

The Great Depression was just as wicked for the children as it was for the adults. Children as young as 10 were encouraged to lift a hand and take part in the hard, manual labor, sometimes even taking priority over schooling. The children in this picture seen gathering photos in Aroostook County would have to make sure all the potatoes were harvested before they were able to have their school classes. There was a lot of pressure on these children as migrant workers would travel around the country.

Cooking On The Go

For many, life was always on the move and people had to find ways to adapt in order to stay alive. A homesteader or migrant worker would need to be efficient and learn ways to cook in a short amount of time and with little resources. Many realized it was useful to have basic cooking tools on them at all times. For instance, if a worker found himself stranded, he could pull out a skillet, light a fire, and cook something quickly.

Pride & Joy

There is no better way to light up your day than seeing a smile on a child’s face. Even if the child was not ready yet for manual labor, they had their benefits of being around. Kids were a great source of emotional support during the Great Depression. Having his child sitting on a cabbage patch looking adorable reminded the dad of just what he was aiming for through the hours of hard work; food and shelter for his family.

Hitchiker’s Guide To California

After the drought and Dust Bowl epidemic destroyed many farms, many workers decided to migrate to California in search of better opportunities. Many would have to walk all the way to the Golden State, dragging their struggling children and belongings along behind them. However, others would be lucky enough to catch a ride. The children pictured here were able to hop on board this caravan, taking them and their belongings all the way from Abilene, Texas to California in 1936.

Gotta Have Faith

Many looked on in hope through the testing times of the Great Depression and held on to the faith they had inside that things would get better in time. Some people would also turn to religion, believing that their prayers would help, no matter when and where they said them. These people even gathered before their barbecue dinner to take their hats off and say grace, praying that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.


While some photos on this list display the hopeful times during the Great Depression and the way many were still able to live their lives as fully as possible, others, like this photo, illustrate the hopelessness that many felt. No picture could display this more than this group of farmers. Tractor farming had made their services obsolete and no longer were farmers in such need. As a result, they had to find opportunities elsewhere, leaving behind all they had known, including their hope.

Hope Springs

Jim Norris from Pie Town, New Mexico was a homesteader who appeared in many photos from the Great Depression. The self-sufficient farmer was very experienced at what he did and made efficient use of his farming land. In this photo, Norris is harvesting the corn using his horses. This came at a time when jobs were getting easier to come by, and farmers especially were being seen to have a newfound passion for their jobs. They were beginning to see the light.

Not-So-Merry Christmas

Nearly every family comes together for Christmas day, covering their homes with decorations and putting together a delicious dinner. However, during the Great Depression, these were considered luxuries and were a lot harder to come by. For many, Christmas trees, lights, tinsel, and even presents were commodities that were best left not thought about to avoid disappointment. However, some kept their festive spirits up including this family who, despite having limited chairs, managed to gather around the table to eat and celebrate.

Homes Of Steel

As seen previously in this article many families were forced to make their own shanty homes in areas known as “Hoovervilles.” Occasionally, these makeshift homes would house over a dozen people in one room. This home is a true example of how many lived at the time, sandwiched in houses made of scraps of metal.  Although living in poor conditions, the situation actually would bring families closer together. This photographer also caught a snap of some of the children that lived in these Hoovervilles.

Home Is A Feeling

This photo was taken by the familiar Dorothea Lange in 1938 as she stumbled across this family who had temporarily parked on the outskirts of Perryton, Texas. As she took the photo, she learned that the man was a migrant worker who had been traveling with his wife and children for the last 13 years. They had a shared dream to eventually obtain enough money to purchase a home somewhere in Idaho. Unfortunately, things did not go to plan. It is interesting to wonder where they would have been if the Great Depression did not occur.

Absolute Dispair

There may be many ways to interpret this photo, but as it was taken during the Great Depression, the message is quite clear. As this hopeless young housewife cries into her arms she prays that her husband will come home with some more money or food. Resting her head on the empty table, she feels deflated that her four children are coming home to a kitchen table which should be covered with food. With major rations, this family is struggling to make ends meet and are reaping the effects.

Absolute Silence

This photo is a clear representation of the devastating effects from the Dust Bowl. Once full of vegetation, this land is now empty, wiped of its greenery and agriculture, turned into a barren wasteland. What was a flourishing farmhouse surrounded by crops and farming utensils, is now a stranded hut in the middle of an empty desert with dead weeds. You can almost feel and hear the destruction from the Dust Bowl by looking at the emptiness of the picture.

Giving Back

During the Great Depression, people would pull together in order to keep spirits up as well as keep each other alive. This photo taken by Russell Lee in 1940 shows a potluck event that took place in Pie Town, New Mexico. Ladies got together to make and give out deserts, creating a strong bond within the community. While times were hard, people realized they had to find ways of increasing a positive mentality. This picture coincides with the famous saying, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

The Dust Bowl

For those wondering what the Dust Bowl actually looked like, this picture should be enough to solve your curiosity. As this dust storm smothered a state, you can get an idea of how places like Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado were all affected. We know by now it was responsible for destroying many of America’s farmlands, but the impact was greater than just that.  These choking billows of dust – named “black blizzards” or “black rollers” – were certainly not good for people’s health.

Harsh Times

A lack of hope turned into reality. People would take to the streets of New York with nowhere else to go. To see a man lying on the cold streets with nothing but their hands in their pockets, with almost no energy to beg, was not out of the ordinary. Whether this would be his new home for the unseeable future or he was simply having a lie down on the street, this man was not the only one to look as though he had given up.

Road To Perdition

Some had lost their jobs, companies, farms, and even homes leaving them with almost nothing. While people were giving up, many men put on their shoes, packed their bags and took to the long, dusty roads in order to seek new opportunities and a new life. A popular choice was to flee to California, The Golden State, where they heard the farming was much more superior. However, while the journey there was fueled by great hope, many returned home with no success.

Me & My Farm

Some farmers in America were already self-sufficient before the Great Depression. The changes did not affect these homesteaders as much as others. However, they were actually able to thrive in a world where people had to take care of themselves and be self-sufficient. Homesteaders Jim Norris and his wife from Pie Town, New Mexico, were used to being self-dependent. He was able to maintain his house, job and dignity as long as he had his crops and land.

Homestead Run

Despite the dire times, here is another picture to demonstrate that people were still able to have a good time and occasionally enjoy their passions, such as sport. While the men were mainly the ones to go to work and slave away to put food on the table for their families, there was no harm in allowing some time aside to fit in life’s pleasures. This photographer was able to capture a momentous moment in a baseball game that took place at a game in Weslaco, Texas back in 1942.

Teaching The Next Generation

This image, taking in Alabama in 1935, gives us a clear idea of the nature of education during the Great Depression. This picture depicts children from sharecropper families having an English lesson. These children would have a sporadic routine and would often have to walk for many miles to and from class. To make matters worse, these “schools” often only had one room and it is likely that these kids were different ages and grades, making it detrimental to their learning.

Makeshift Homes

People had to begin to make their own temporary shelters and it looked as though shantytowns were forming in every American state. During the Great Depression, these areas were known as Hoovervilles and were spreading rapidly due to the vast amount of homelessness. Some people were even unable to find the resources to build a roof over their heads. People used everything and anything to make their homes, collecting any material they could find and even using cars or other vehicles that they owned to give them that little extra space.

Dust Bowl Masks

Poor farming conditions and drought were key issues. As a result, huge dust storms were created which led to many farmlands being destroyed. This period was known as The Dust Bowl and in order to cope with the conditions, people wore dust bowl masks.

Germana Paolieri

Germana Paolieri, an Italian actress, was arguably one of the most talented actresses of her time. She became a leading lady of Italian cinema in the 1930s and appeared in major films such as The Dream of Butterfly, The Life of Giuseppe Verdi, and La Wally. Her last role came in 1957, in the movie The Angel of the Alps. Unlike many others at the time, it is clear from this picture Germana did not suffer too much during his period.

Gator Farm

Despite many years of struggle, there were times that people were still able to attempt to live life to the fullest. While people faced extreme changes, this only made them stronger and their fear of life’s minor problems went away. For instance, this group of people did not have a care in the world as they dined at an alligator farm in Los Angeles. Not only do they seem to have terrifying alligators accompanying them at the table, they don’t seem to upset about it either.