The US entered the Great Depression – one of history’s great financial calamities – in the late 1920s, and the country spent most of the 1930s mired in a debilitating economic malaise.
It ultimately took the outbreak of World War II to help the US wrench itself out of the protracted slump.
Photos of America during the Depression, much like the mood of the country, are often bleak, available only in black and white.
But the photos below, produced using color transparencies taken by various photographers between 1939 and 1941 and compiled by the Library of Congress, show the period and the people who endured it in vivid color – offering a new way to look at one of America’s most studied historical eras.
Trucks outside of a starch factory, in Caribou, Aroostook County, Maine, in late 1940. There were almost 50 trucks in the line. Some had been waiting for 24 hours for the potatoes to be graded and weighed.
Boys fishing in a bayou, in Schriever, Louisiana, in summer 1940. Cajun children in a bayou near a school in Terrebonne, a US Farm Security Administration project.
Hauling crates of peaches from the orchard to the shipping shed, Delta County, Colorado, in late 1940.
- Russell Lee/Library of Congress
Faro and Doris Caudill, homesteaders, in Pie Town, New Mexico, in late 1940.
The Caudill family eating dinner in their dugout, in Pie Town, New Mexico, in late 1940.
Harvesting new corn from the field of Jim Norris, in Pie Town, New Mexico, in late 1940.
At the Vermont state fair in Rutland, Vermont, in late 1941.
Jim Norris, homesteader, Pie Town, New Mexico, in late 1940.
Distributing surplus commodities in St. Johns, Arizona, in late 1940.
“Backstage” at the “girlie” show at the Vermont state fair in Rutland, Vermont, in late 1941.
Tying a ribbon on a calf’s tail was one of the feature attractions at the rodeo at the Pie Town, New Mexico, fair in late 1940.
Day laborers picking cotton near Clarksdale, Mississippi, in late 1939.
Living quarters and a “juke joint” for migratory workers during a slack season, in Belle Glade, Florida, taken in early 1941.
Men reading headlines posted on the street corner of the Brockton Enterprise newspaper office, in Brockton, Massachusetts, in late 1940.
A horse-and-cart team pulling a car out of the mud on a road near Pie Town, New Mexico, in late 1940.
Barker at the grounds at the Vermont state fair in Rutland, Vermont, in late 1941.
Delta County Fair in Colorado, in late 1940.
Houses with factories seen in the background, taken sometime between 1941 and 1942.
- Library of Congress