‘The Grapes of Wrath’ 75th Anniversary

Self Portrait: Reader

First published 75 years ago in 1939, the Depression-era epic and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck, chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s. It tells the story of an Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Events to commemorate the landmark book are being held this weekend in Sag Harbor, N.Y., and Monterey, California, among other places.

Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma (LOC)

Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936. Photographer: Arthur Rothstein.

The real story was told through a remarkable collection of more than 200,000 photographs, which were gathered over the course of seven years. The Farm Security Administration commissioned this photographic treasure, including the works of talented photographers such as Walker Evans, Russell Lee, John Vachon, Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Walcott, and Dorothea Lange.

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California (LOC)

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, California, 1936. Photographer: Unspecified.

The photographer above is using a Graflex 4×5 single-lens reflex camera.

Floyd Burroughs, cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama (LOC)

Floyd Burroughs, cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama, 1935 or 1936. Photographer: Walker Evans.

Toward Los Angeles, California (LOC)

Toward Los Angeles, California, 1937. Photographer: Dorothea Lange.

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (LOC)

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (Often referred to as “Migrant Mother”), 1936. Photographer: Dorothea Lange.

[Corn planting, Jasper County, Iowa] (LOC)

Corn planting, Jasper County, Iowa, 1940. Photographer: John Vachon.

“And then the dispossessed were drawn west — from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless — restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do — to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut — anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.” ~ John Steinbeck (from “The Grapes of Wrath”)

Dust Bowl

A huge dust storm moves across the land during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Photographer: Unspecified.

Through these amazing photographs, the hardships of displaced farm families, migrant workers, and sharecroppers were brought to the attention of the nation. Since these photos belong to the government, the rights to these photos belong to the people. You can order reproductions of these amazing historical images, and many more, through The Library of Congress.

To experience more hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, visit The Commons.

Photos from Brianna Scott, The Library of Congress, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.