The Elmer Thomas family, loaded up and headed for California from Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1939. Google says it’s about 1,500 miles from Muskogee to Los Angeles, but that’s over modern roads and interstates. I wonder how long it took them to get there, and if they even made it.

Elmer Thomas and his son top off the radiator before setting out. (Shorpy)
Elmer Thomas and his son top off the radiator before setting out. (Shorpy)

These pictures, and thousands of others like them, were taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration, a Depression-era department created as part of the New Deal to combat rural poverty.

The FSA is famous for its small but highly influential photography program, 1935–44, that portrayed the challenges of rural poverty. The photographs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed for most of its existence by Roy E. Stryker, who guided the effort in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). The collection also includes photographs acquired from other governmental and non-governmental sources, including the News Bureau at the Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), various branches of the military, and industrial corporations.

In total, the black-and-white portion of the collection consists of about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time. Color transparencies also made by the FSA/OWI are available in a separate section of the catalog: FSA/OWI Color Photographs.


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