The Story of the Great Depression in Photos

This collection of pictures of the Great Depression offers a glimpse into the lives of Americans who suffered through it. Included in this collection are pictures of the dust storms that ruined crops, leaving many farmers unable to keep their land. Also included are pictures of migrant workers—people who had lost their jobs or their farms and traveled in the hopes of finding some work. Life was not easy during the 1930s, as these evocative photos make plain.

The most famous picture of the Great Depression - a mother of seven children by Dorthea Lange.
This mother of seven children, age 32, is one of a group of destitute pea pickers in California circa February 1936. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

This famous photograph by Dorothea Lange is searing in its depiction of the utter desperation the Great Depression brought to so many and has become a symbol of the Depression. This woman was one of many migrant workers picking peas in California in the 1930s to make just enough money to survive. More »

View of a dust storm in Baca County, Colorado during the Great Depression.
View of a dust storm in Baca County, Colorado, Easter Sunday 1935. Photo by N.R. Stone. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Hot and dry weather over several years brought dust storms that devastated the Great Plains states, and they came to be known as the Dust Bowl. It affected parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. During the drought from 1934 to 1937, the intense dust storms, called black blizzards, caused 60 percent of the population to flee for a better life. Many ended up on the Pacific Coast. More »

A farm for sale sign during the Great Depression.
Farm foreclosure sale, circa 1933. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Outside the Dust Bowl, where farms and ranches were abandoned, other farm families had their own share of woes, and many were forced to sell the land and find another way of life. Generally, this was the result of foreclosure because the farmer had taken out loans for land or machinery in the prosperous 1920s but was unable to keep up the payments after the Depression hit, and the bank foreclosed on the farm. More »

Okies Driving to California during the Great Depression.
Okies on the road to California, circa 1935. Picture from FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The vast migration that occurred as the result of the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains and the farm foreclosures of the Midwest has been dramatized in movies and books so that many Americans of later generations are familiar with this story. One of the most famous of these is the novel "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, which tells the story of the Joad family and their long trek from Oklahoma's Dust Bowl to California during the Great Depression. The book, published in 1939, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie in 1940 that starred Henry Fonda. More »

Unemployed men standing in the streets, unable to find jobs during the Great Depression.
Everywhere the unemployed stood in the streets, unable to find jobs and wondering how they could feed their families. This photo was taken circa 1935. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

In 1929, before the crash of the stock market that marked the beginning of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate in the United States was 3.14 percent. In 1933, in the depths of the Depression, 24.75 percent of the labor force was unemployed. Despite the significant attempts at economic recovery by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, real change only came with World War II. More »

An unemployed man eating soup at a soup kitchen during the Great Depression.
Unemployed men eating in Volunteers of America Soup Kitchen in Washington, June 1936. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Because so many were unemployed, charitable organizations opened soup kitchens and breadlines to feed the many hungry families brought to their knees by the Great Depression. More »

Members of the Civilian Conservatin Corp (CCC) planting during the Great Depression.
Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps planting, circa 1933. Picture from the FDR Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was part of FDR's New Deal. It was formed in March 1933 and promoted environmental conservation as it gave work and meaning to many who were unemployed. Members of the corps planted trees, dug canals and ditches, built wildlife shelters, restored historic battlefields and stocked lakes and rivers with fish, More »