Striking Color Photos of the Great Depression and WWII

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The most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II, from Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother to V-J Day in Times Square , like most of the period’s photos, are in black and white. But, as Photo District News reminds us, color photography did exist back then, and the US government’s Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information dispatched several photographers between 1939 and 1945 to capture everything from rural farmers to WWII machinists in vibrant color. In fact, the Library Congress has cataloged thousands of these images. We spent the morning browsing their archives; page through a gallery of our favorite photos from the collection after the jump.

Jack Whinery and his family, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. Photo credit: Lee Russell. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-585

Homesteader and his children eating barbeque at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair, 1940. Photo credit: Lee Russell. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-362

Negro boy near Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo credit: John Vachon. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-276

School children singing, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. Photo credit: Lee Russell. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-373

Painting the American insignia on airplane wings is a job that Mrs. Irma Lee McElroy, a former office worker, does with precision and patriotic zeal. Mrs. McElroy is a civil service employee at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Her husband is a flight instructor. Photo credit: Howard R. Hollem. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW36-387

Boy looking at store window display of toys, 1941-42. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-550

Mrs. Virginia Davis, a riveter in the assembly and repair department of the Naval Air Base, supervises Chas. Potter, a NYA trainee from Michigan; Corpus Christi, Texas, 1942. Photo credit: Howard R. Hollem. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW36-48

FSA borrower who is a member of a sugar cooperative, vicinity of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, 1942. Photo credit: Jack Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-441

Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Miss., 1939. Photo credit: Marion Post Wolcott. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-158

Sailor and girl at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, D.C., 1943. Photo credit: John Collier. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW36-726

On the ferris wheel at the Vermont state fair, Rutland, 1941. Photo credit: Jack Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-48

At Beecher Street School, whose student body consists of half Americans of Italian descent and half of Americans of Polish descent, Southington, Conn. The Queen of the May was Emily Schwak, of Polish extraction; the King, Philip D’Agostino, of Italian, 1942. Photo credit: Fenno Jacobs. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW36-804

Orchestra at square dance in McIntosh County, Oklahoma, 1939 or 1940. Photo credit: Lee Russell. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF35-312