Color Photos That’ll Make You Glad You Didn’t Live Through The Great Depression

Published August 8, 2017
Updated May 23, 2020

History didn't happen in black and white — experience one of the country's greatest hardships in all its heartbreaking color.

Girl With Doll
A young girl stands by a fence, a doll in her hand.

Location unspecified. Circa 1941-1942.
Library of Congress

Railroad Worker
A railroad worker covered in dirt and soot after a long, hard day of work.

Chicago, Illinois. December 1942.
Library of Congress

Live Fish For Sale
A store advertises that it has live fish for sale.

Natchitoches, Louisiana. July 1940.
Library of Congress

Dust Storm In Texas
A dust storm moves in on a family living in the Dust Bowl.

Stratford, Texas. April 18, 1935.
Wikimedia Commons

Homesteader Family
Jack Whinery and his family. They are homesteaders, who live in a half-underground dugout home, living off of what they grow.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

African American Family
A family of planters at an FSA cooperative sit on the porch of their home.

Natchitoches, Louisiana. August 1940.
Library of Congress

Homesteader Jim Norris
Jim Norris, a homesteader living off the land.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Sharecroppers Chopping Cotton
Sharecroppers chop up cotton under the hot Georgia sun.

Greene County, Georgia. June 1941.
Library of Congress

Migrant Mother Dorothea Lange
A migrant worker traveling around America to pick peas sits with her children.

Nipomo, California. 1936.
Wikimedia Commons

Migratory Worker Shack
A broken down shack that serves as home for an African-American family of migrant workers.

Belle Glade, Florida. February 1941.
Library of Congress

Great Depression Labor Camp
Boys sitting on a truck in a migrant worker camp.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Little Boy Picking Cotton
A little boy helps his mother pick cotton.

Clarksdale, Mississippi. November 1939.
Library of Congress

Children On The Porch
A little girl and her mother sit on the porch of their home.

Natchitoches, Louisiana. August 1940.
Library of Congress

Roundhouse Railroad Yard
The light slips into the roundhouse of a railroad yard.

Chicago, Illinois. December 1942.
Library of Congress

Distributing Surplus Commodities
People share some of their surplus with each other.

St. Johns, Arizona. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Distributing Surplus Commodities Scavengers
Crowds scavenge through the surplus, looking for something that they can use.

St. Johns, Arizona. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Eating Dinner In Dugout
A family eats dinner inside of their dugout home.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Dustbowl Migrant Family
A family travels toward California in search of work after their life in Missouri was devastated by drought.

Tracy, California. February 1937.
Wikimedia Commons

Making A Model Airplane
A boy in a migrant work camp makes a model airplane while the girl next to him watches.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Migrant Worker Child
A young girl leans against the barbwire fence around the migrant worker camp where she lives.

Yakima Valley, Washington. August 1939.
Wikimedia Commons

Migratory Worker Juke Joint
The living quarters and the "juke joint" in a migrant worker camp.

Belle Glade, Florida. February 1941.
Library of Congress

Mother And Children Colorized
A family stands in front of their home, a shack on the outskirts of town.

Klamath Falls, Oregon. September 1939.
Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Migrant Workers
Migrant workers on the back of a truck, headed to the next job.

Mississippi. Circa 1940.
Library of Congress

Resettled Farm Child
The child of migrant workers sits in her new home, struggling to adjust to her changing life.

New Mexico. December 1935
Wikimedia Commons

Cajun Children Fishing
Boys fishing in the bayou.

Schriever, Louisiana. June 1940.
Library of Congress

Children Playing With Sticks
Small children play with sticks, pretending they are guns.

Washington, D.C. Circa 1941-1942.
Library of Congress

Great Depression Tenement Children
Children stand in front of their tenement home.

Brockton, Massachusetts. December 1940.
Library of Congress

Children In The Street
Four children cross the streets.

Washington, D.C. Circa 1941-1942.
Library of Congress

Dorothea Lange Arnold Children
A young boy shows off a bike he bought with his own money.

Michigan Hill, Washington. August 1939.
Wikimedia Commons

Working On Locomotive Boiler
Men at work on the boiler of a train.

Chicago, Illinois. December 1942.
Library of Congress

Homesteader With Work Burros
A homesteader stands in front of his home.

Pie Town, New Mexico. September 1940.
Library of Congress

Great Depression Canning Goods
Jim Norris' wife cans food for the winter.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Children Playing By Road
Children play near the schoolhouse.

Kansas. Circa 1942-1943.
Library of Congress

School Children Singing
School children singing.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Jack Whinery Dugout Home
The dugout home of Jack Whinery and his family, who live off of what they grow in their garden.

Pie Town, New Mexico. September 1940.
Library of Congress

Great Depressionsquare Dance
A square dance held inside a rural home.

McIntosh County, Oklahoma. Circa 1939-1940.
Library of Congress

Children Sleeping In Bed
Four children sleep sharing a single bed.

McIntosh County, Oklahoma. Circa 1939-1940.
Library of Congress

Juke Join In Melrose
A bar and a gas station in a town of sharecroppers and plantations.

Melrose, Louisiana. June 1940.
Library of Congress

Migratory Worker Shelters
A migrant worker camp in Texas.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Great Depression Migratory Shelters
The shelters inside the migrant worker camp.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Labor Camp Community Laundry
A young woman does the laundry in a communal tub, shared with the other members of her camp.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Great Depression Playing Marbles
Boys gather around to play marbles in the camp.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Boy In Cabbage Crop
A child sits in the cabbage patch, helping his parents work on the farm.

Robstown, Texas. January 1942.
Library of Congress

Farm Bureau School
Children line up to go to school, which, in their town, is held in the Farm Bureau administrative office.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

Family Eating Barbeque
Children sit on the ground to eat barbeque with their parents.

Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940.
Library of Congress

In the 1930s, the U.S. Farm Security Administration (F.S.A.) sent out a group of America's best photographers to document the Great Depression. They took some incredible photographs that revealed how the people of America were living through one of the darkest periods in the country's history.

These photos captured every part of daily life, showing families at home, at work, and at church. Every hardship of the era was brought to light.

Photographers in the prairies captured the areas where sandstorms tore farmlands apart and left people to starve through harsh droughts. Likewise, these photographers captured the homesteaders, those who lived in dugouts, mostly-underground homes and had turned to living solely off of what they could grow.

Then there were the sharecroppers: poor tenants, most of them black, who were forced to live on rented properties where they had no choice about what they could grow. These people were forced into a life that wasn't altogether different from slavery in order to pay off their heavy debts.

But not only were these F.S.A. photographs documents of hardship, they were also works of art that, today, stand as some of the best-known photos in American history.

In the gallery above, these Great Depression photos come to life in vivid color.

Pulled out of a black-and-white wash that makes the 1930s seem like some distant past world unconnected to our own, these color images (some originally in color, others colorized later) shine with all the vibrancy of real-life and give the feeling of what it was like to actually live through the Great Depression.


After seeing these Great Depression pictures, check out these photographs of the era for New York and African-Americans. Then, have a look at some of the most incredible World War II photos in their original full color.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.