Photos of the Great Depression

Dust Storms of the Great Depression

Arthur Rothstein / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

These Photos Show the Economic Impact of the Great Depression

The Farm Security Administration hired photographers to document the living conditions of the Great Depression. They are a landmark in the history of documentary photography. The photos show the adverse effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Some of the most famous images portray people who were displaced from farms and migrated West or to industrial cities in search of work. These photos can show better than charts and numbers the economic impact of the Great Depression.

Dust storms helped cause The Great Depression. Over-cultivation led to erosion, which was one reason for the huge dust storms. The most important reason, however, was an extended drought. These storms forced family farmers to lose their business, their livelihood and their homes. Families migrated to California or cities to find work that often didn't exist by the time they got there. 

Effect of Dust Bowl

Arthur Rothstein /Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

Dust storms from erosion nearly covered buildings, making them useless. People became very ill from inhaling the dust. 

The Face of the Great Depression

"He worked construction, but when the jobs disappeared he moved the family from Florida to his father's farm in North Georgia. On the farm, they grew a field of corn, many vegetables, apples and other fruit, and they had some livestock."  A true story from a reader.

The Face of the Great Depression

This woman is Florence Thompson, age 32, and the mother of seven children. She was a peapicker in California. When this picture was taken by Dorothea Lange, she had just sold her family's home for money to buy food. The home was a tent. (Source:

"For breakfast they would have cornmeal mush. For dinner, vegetables. For supper, cornbread. And they had milk at every meal. They worked hard and ate light, but they survived." A true story from a reader.

Children of Great Depression

Russell Lee / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

Children of agricultural day laborers camped by the roadside near Spiro, Oklahoma. There were no beds and no protection from the profusion of flies. Russell Lee, June 1939


Thousands of these farmers and other unemployed workers traveled to California to find work. Many ended up living as homeless “hobos” or in shantytowns called “Hoovervilles”, named after then-President Herbert Hoover. Many people felt he caused the Depression by basically doing nothing to stop it. He was more concerned about balancing the budget, and felt the market would sort itself out.

Depression Family

Walker Evans / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection

The Great Depression displaced entire families, who became homeless. The children were most severely impacted. They often had to work to help make ends meet. 

Soup Lines

Soup line during the Great Depression. Men this side of the sign are assured of a five-cent meal. The rest must wait for generous passersby. Buddy, can you spare a dime? Photo taken between 1930 and 1940. There was no Social Security, welfare, or unemployment compensation until FDR and the New Deal. 

Stock Market Crash of 1929

The floor of the New York Stock Exchange right after the stock market crash of 1929. It was a scene of total panic as stockbrokers lost all.