Bust to Boom

Documentary Photographs of Kansas, 1936-1949

Edited by Constance B. Schulz

"I was supposed to be taking pictures to show that this was a great country and I was finding out it really was. . . . I didn't know it at the time, but I was having a last look at America as it used to be."—John Vachon

Kansans of the 1930s and 1940s lived through more sweeping changes than any other generation past or present. Destructive forces of nature, an economy gone awry, and a devastating—and ironically, economically renewing—war left the world irrevocably altered. In this captivating collection, some of America's best-known documentary photographers provide a valuable glimpse into that tumultuous time.

“Carefully researched and written, beautifully designed, and well printed, Bust to Boom takes its place among the finest in a growing list of books that have brought to us, state by state, the best work of the FSA and other documentary photography projects.

—Great Plains Quarterly

“An excellent collection of black-and-white photographs that depict the economic, environmental, and social conditions of the Depression, World War II, and the immediate postwar period of the late 1940s.

—Journal of the West

Constance Schulz has brought together a diverse array of photographs from three extensive documentary projects: the Farm Security Administration, the Office of War Information, and Standard Oil of New Jersey. The result is a unique visual record of American life by photographers Arthur Rothstein, John Vachon, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, Edwin and Louise Rosskam, and Charles Rotkin. Collectively, their work has immortalized the faces and emotions of FSA-aided farmers and the harsh lives of coal miners, dust-bowl debris and tumbleweeds, a failed bank and a thriving stockyard, locomotives and Mexican-American railroad workers, oil derricks, wheat country, black cavalry troops, and 4-H Club fairs.

In his enlightening introduction, environmental historian Donald Worster provides historical context for the images. Examining state, national, and international events from 1930 to 1950, he explores the agricultural, business, social, political, and environmental climates as well as the composition of the state's population and its inevitable shift away from rural life toward urbanization and industrialization. Schulz also supplies fundamental information on the photographers and the photographic projects.

Originally created as a means to promote government and business programs, the FSA, OWI, and Standard Oil photographs—most never before published—are an excellent source for individuals and communities searching for a visual record of their local heritage during two of the most crucial decades in American history.