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Retro Photos in the Library of Congress

Craft & Design Education
Retro Photos in the Library of Congress

Image from the Library of Congress

Check out the great photos from the 1930s-40s in Color set at the Library of Congress on Flickr.

These vivid color photos from the Great Depression and World War II capture an era generally seen only in black-and-white. Photographers working for the United States Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) created the images between 1939 and 1944.


Image from the Library of Congress
The project is described on the Library of Congress’ web site.

Photographers working for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) between 1939 and 1944 made approximately 1,600 color photographs that depict life in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The pictures focus on rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working.


Image from the Library of Congress

These photos are pretty neat and could be a fun addition to any hacker space or hands on classroom. The files are pretty high res, so they could be blown up nicely, or they could be used as a derivative work. Most, if not all, are legitimately free and have no known copyright restrictions.

16 thoughts on “Retro Photos in the Library of Congress

  1. imobiliarias santa maria says:

    woman works cool

    imobiliarias santa maria

  2. ke says:

    If you looking for high resolution images, much of this material is available at the Library of Congress’s website and has been for years. Although this morning when I tried to connect it seems perhaps their server was down. Let’s hope they are not going they way of the Smithsonian and trying to make a buck of America’s attic.

  3. Paul says:

    In the last picture the woman is operating what looks like a lathe with no safety goggles and loose tools laying on the bed of the lathe.

    Both of those are very unsafe. Even if it is a posed picture, it sets a bad example for the makezine audience!

  4. fred smythe says:

    I am so easily influenced by a picture-gasp!- that I am gonna throw out all my safety equipment! oh wait…yup my brain is still plugged in, guess I will just have to think for myself

  5. The Oracle says:

    I love that they included the film notches in the corners which identify the typoe of film used. The top and bottom ones appear to be on a Kodak Orthochromatic copying film. Orthochromatic is an old, old form of black and white. The middle image is a panchromatic negative film. Panchromatic is a more modern form of black and white (more modern being 1930’s to 1940’s).

    So, since this is all black and white film and sometimes negative film…why are these color positive images.

    And I do find it funny that I can identify 60 year old films by little notches cut in the corner, yet I still can’t type the makezine captchas.

    1. cjc15153 says:

      You obviously know more about film than I do, but I’m going to guess that this was a 3 negative process like Technicolor.

  6. moonster says:

    To the “how do they do this in B&W?” poster… it isn’t.

    The “WWVV” notches indicate it’s a 4×5 Kodachrome transparency.

    Kodachrome was released in 1935. The other notch pattern might be a different speed of Kodachrome.

    1. The Oracle says:

      I see where they mentioned on flickr that it’s Kodachrome and I don’t doubt you, but out of my own curiousity, does anyone know of a link to kodachrome notch codes?

      I’ve been looking and I just read a lot about Kodachrome, I had no idea the chemistry was so complex and I’ve used Ektachome proces film quite a bit. I never really thought about how dramatic the difference was between the two.

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