Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (Library of Congress) photographs

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photographs

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What sort of living conditions did the rural poor have?
  • How did Depression era schools look?
  • Where can I get photos of lumber mills?


From the website,

“The images in the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection are among the most famous documentary photographs ever produced. Created by a group of U.S. government photographers, the images show Americans in every part of the nation. In the early years, the project emphasized rural life and the negative impact of the Great Depression, farm mechanization, and the Dust Bowl. In later years, the photographers turned their attention to the mobilization effort for World War II. The core of the collection consists of about 164,000 black-and-white photographs. This release provides access to over 160,000 of these images; future additions will expand the black-and-white offering. The FSA-OWI photographers also produced about 1600 color photographs during the latter days of the project. ”


According to the Rights and Reproductions page for this collection, it is likely that these images are reusable without cost and most fall into the public domain. But be sure to read the page for some cautions and realize that in addition to copyright, publicity and privacy issues could apply.

2013 Update – Since I first wrote this entry, the color photos have been posted to Flickr. This makes the photos easier to use than ever.

2014 Update – This collection was taken off American Memory and split into two collections with similar functionality. The search tips below still apply.

Search Tips/Story Ideas:

I recommend using geographic terms in your searches.  Check out the photos from taken in Hollywood to see fashion trends including cotton stockings. Photos might also alert you to events you might not have been aware of. Consider the photograph with the LC call number, LC-USE6- D-008372, “Hollywood enlists its typewriters for war” with the following caption:

“Hollywood enlists its typewriters for war. Hollywood studios have answered the nation’s call for typewriters for the armed services. Picture shows a load of machines released by 20th Century Fox studies to two Uncle Sam’s Waves. The schools and private owners to sell one out of every four machines to obtain 600,000 typewriters urgently needed by the armed services. New production ceased October 31. Typewriter manufacturers are now producing war materials.”

I knew about many kinds of rationing, but typewriters? How about you? How did people feel about giving up those typewriters? How did a Wave feel when she first started typing away at something that could have wrote the movie she went to last year? How many other potential vignettes are sleeping silently in these files waiting for a writer to give them life?


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