Memories    [back to]

From the Great Depression to World War II - photos from the American Memory collection

The American Memory collection contains more than 162,000 images taken between 1935 and 1944 by government-hired photographers. If you were to look at 100 of them per day, every day, you'd need more than four years to view them all. As a photographer, I consider these images nothing short of wondrous. This blog showcases some of them.

January 15, 2009

Pearl Harbor

The caption accompanying this photo reads:

"Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A small boat rescues a seaman from the 31,800 ton USS West Virginia burning in the foreground. Smoke rolling out amidship shows where the most extensive damage occurred. Note the two men in the superstructure. The USS Tennessee is inboard."

On the morning of Sunday, Dec 7th, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack against the United States - killing 2,400 and wounding a further 1,300.

188 American aircraft were destroyed, as were four battleships.

[photographer unidentified]

[American Memory link]

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January 14, 2009


It isn't clear whether young people would normally be recruited for such tasks in heavily agricultural 1940s American - or whether labor was in short supply due to the war.

At any rate, this series of photos shows hundreds of co-ed high-school students being trucked into Idaho pea fields to help with the harvest.

Photo by Russell Lee, 1941.

[American Memory link]

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December 14, 2008

Ford Fighter Planes

to locate this image on the American Memory website use search terms OUTER WING PANEL Ford's Willow Run, Michigan bomber plant. Outer wing assembly, 1942.

Photo by Ann Rosener.

to locate this image, use search terms: outer, wing, panel

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December 12, 2008

Gonna Soak Up the Sun

to locate this image on the American Memory website use search terms ARLINGTON and SUNBATHERS Occupants of a wartime women's residence in Arlington, Virginia sunbathe behind their building.

Photo by Esther Bubley, 1943.

to locate this image, use search terms: Arlington, sunbathers

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December 6, 2008


locate this image on the American Memory website by using the search terms PLENTY and MUSCLE Members of the Coast Guard at Fort Story, Virginia, cleaning a large gun/cannon after it was fired.

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1942.

to locate this image, use search term: plenty of muscle

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November 12, 2008

Bloom of Youth

to locate this image on the American Memory website use search terms RECRUITING MARINESSometimes it's necessary to go to war.

But armed conflict should never be undertaken lightly. As this photo makes clear, it is a country's young men - barely out of boyhood - who are sacrificed.

Photo taken by John Collier at a San Francisco marines recruiting office, 1941.

[American Memory link]
to locate this image, use search terms: recruiting, marines

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November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

to find this image on the American Memory website use search terms MILITARY FUNERAL ALASKA A military funeral in Alaska, held sometime between 1942 and 1945. The photo caption reads: "Here atop a hill are the remains of seven soldiers, mainly pilots who lost their lives in action."

(Photo is attributed to the United States Signal Corps.)
to locate this image, use search terms: military, funeral, Alaska


October 23, 2008

Arms Inspector

to locate this image on the American Memory website, use search terms BERTHA and KENTUCKYIdentified as 21-year-old Bertha Stallworth, this young woman inspected artillery cartridges as part of her job. Hundreds of similar photos in this collection show women performing non-traditional tasks while men served in the armed forces during World War II.

Taken in Frankfort, Kentucky in Jan. 1943.

(photographer: Howard R. Hollem)

to locate this image, use search terms: Bertha, Kentucky

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October 16, 2008

Treasure Trove

Oh, my. Having recently learned that this awesome collection is available online, I'm smitten.

At the moment, its interface is neither pretty nor user-friendly. And, on any given day, one is likely to be advised that a previously bookmarked image is temporarily unavailable from the server.

But poke around a little and you'll discover amazing things. Poignant shots of ordinary people going about their lives. Breathtaking scenery. Vintage cars. Retro fashions.

At a time in which America was experiencing heartache and turmoil, in which its resources were strained and its cares many, visionary individuals in the US government nevertheless dispatched photographers far and wide. The American Memory collection is the result.

It is a gift. It is a time-capsule of stupendous depth and breadth. And, thanks to the power of the Internet, it is now available to all of us.

[American Memory link]

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