As part of the New Deal, the Farm Security Administration (FSI) was launched to help relieve crippling poverty in rural communities. As small part of that mission, the organization documented life in the the communities in which it worked. These photos naturally included many road scenes, as the Great Depression had plunged rural America into a great migratory frenzy.
The photographs taken by FSA photographers under the direction of economist Roy Stryker have come to form the basis for the popular image of the Great Depression, among them Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother.
But I’m sure you familiar with that photo. What I want to share with you are some of the more striking images of cars and roadside life that also make up part of the collection, which the Library of Congress has digitized and made available on Flickr.
These photos capture a country on the move, attempting to make its way out of the worst financial crisis it had ever seen and into a productive future. This is intentional, of course. The photographs were intended to “introduce America to Americans” and instill pride in the country as it shook itself out of the depression. Among the ways it could do so is show how Americans took to the roads to find new opportunities, just like the Joad family in Steinbeck’s perennial Depression novel The Grapes of Wrath.
I think these photos are really impressive in their depth and ability to lend color and realness to a period of history that can seem far more distant than the 80 years that now separate us from it. Seeing how Americans once related to automobiles and the landscape of the open road is a touchstone that means even more to me as someone who loves cars as much as I do, too. I think you’ll really enjoy these photos as well as the rest of the collection, which is available on Flickr here.