World War II

Posted by Ellen

The main street of Creede, Colorado, led to the mouth of an important lead and zinc mine in 1942, when the picture above--part of a small series of color photos commissioned by government agencies in the 1930s and 1940s--was taken for the Office of War Information. The mine remained active until 1985 and has recently been reopened; in fact, it is currently advertising for mechanics to troubleshoot and maintain lead mining equipment.

Back in the late nineteenth century, silver was extracted from Creede ore, and more than ten thousand people crowded into the area. But ever since the silver panic of 1897, local mines have produced mostly lead, and fewer than a thousand people have lived here; the 2010 census counted 290.

A Western based on the Lone Ranger story and starring Johnny Depp will feature scenes shot in and around Creede. It is set for release in 2013.

Below is Creede's Main Street as it looked in 2005.

Posted by Ellen

Another sample from the Library of Congress's small collection of color photos from the 1930s and 1940s, this one shows a woman working with aerial photos to develop camouflaging for airfields and critical factories during World War II.

Camouflage experts at New York University would use the aerial photos to build a model of an area that included the facility to be camouflaged. Then they would paint over the facility on the model until it blended in with its surroundings. Aircraft plants on the West Coast were covered with acres of canvas and plywood painted and sculpted to resemble suburban subdivisions. Airstrips were painted to look like small-town streets and farmland from the air.

Not everything was so easy to camouflage; ships at sea, for example, proved impossible to hide no matter how they were painted. A completely different approach, known as dazzle camouflage, was devised for ships; they were painted with crazy stripes at jagged angles, visible from afar but very different to interpret as to size, direction, and speed of movement.

Some fighter planes were painted pale pink, a color that was thought to show up as white or grayish, like clouds, at high angles of intense sunlight.

This photo looks posed, and the woman may be a model rather than a serious camouflage authority; she is holding the aerial photo more or less upside down with respect to the model she's supposedly painting.

Posted by Ellen

In February 1943, this unnamed woman was at work in the Vultree aircraft plant in Nashville, Tennessee, building a Vengeance Dive-Bomber.

Among the hundreds of thousands of photos commissioned by the government in the 1930s and early 1940s to document economic-recovery programs and the war effort, only a handful, including this one, were in color. After three-quarters of a century, the color images seem to suggest a world that is much more familiar to us today, much less shadowy and distant than the  shades-of-gray America that is portrayed so dramatically in the more famous black and white works of the era.

Aircraft parts–fuselage panels, wings, and doors–are still manufactured today at the Vultree site in Nashville, which is now operated as part of the Vought subdivision of Triumph Aerostructures.

Posted by Ellen

In 1940, Nick chose to black out one word on the sign in front of his Greek restaurant in Paris, Kentucky, the word that came between "real" and "spaghetti." Mussolini's Fascist regime had just invaded Greece, and the now-missing word, of course, must have been "Italian."

Posted by Ellen

In 1942 in the Melrose Park Buick plant outside Chicago, "vital cogs in America's war machine"--that's Office of War Information talk for airplane-engine gears--are being inspected for defects. Dorothy Miller, at left, checks a vital cog with aid of a tiny flashlight in her right hand. Sylvia Dreiser, at right, thinks about whatever it is she's thinking about, which may not be cogs at all. I'd rather ride in an airplane powered by Dorothy's cogs.

If you click on this photo to get the large version and look at it closely, you may be able to see that both women's hands are slathered in oil. In fact, you have to wonder how many times a day did that penlight squirt right out of Dorothy's slippery fingers. Also, for what it's worth, Dorothy is wearing a hairnet and Sylvia isn't.