Then and Now

With the continued difficulties in the economy and the comparison often heard to the Great Depression I thought I’d search the Archive for some perspective. While unquestionably there was hardship and suffering, I was heartened to see footage from two places that show daily life.

The first is a series by Ivan Besse of life in Britton, South Dakota. An amazing set of scenes from small town America in the late 1930s show busy people hustling downtown, smiling faces, civic activities and generally what seems to be a tight-knit community that is happy and healthy.

The second from just a year or so later is of San Francisco, home of Internet Archive. In contrast to the Besse film this shows a teeming metropolis full of activity. This film seems more about the scale of enterprise, the high-rise hotels, people hustling to and from businesses, crowds on the Wharf, the early airport and urban life. Less smiling faces but a lively metropolis nonetheless.

During the years these were filmed there was very high unemployment. Yet programs such as the Works Progress Administration were created to provide meaningful employment for many. It was responsible for the creation of many civic projects we continue to enjoy today. Here at Internet Archive we had high hopes that the unemployment extension act that was finally approved by the Senate on Tuesday would help protect the jobs of 140 people who work here. The JobsNow program, originally part of that bill, was cut out at the last minute. So, we all hope that our representatives will find a way to extend the program so that we can continue to expand Internet Archive, a free resource that is intended to provide universal access to all knowledge.

-Jeff Kaplan

10 thoughts on “Then and Now

  1. Daniel

    Notice how slender everybody is. Young, old, it doesn’t matter. They are all slender. There is one lady on the street who stands out as being heavier, and she wouldn’t stand out in a Walmart today. It’s amazing.

  2. Marie Piekarski

    I absolutely agree, people were slimmer, probably fitter and sadly today’s consumerism, fast food, mod cons and lifestyle has certainly not enhanced quality of life from a fittness point of view.

  3. Roger M

    “people were slimmer, probably fitter”

    drawing conclusions from a couple of photos does not indicate much depth in thinking.

    for example; fact; the length of life expectancy was much lower also;

    whether looking at old pics or current presidents…..look beneath the surface, not just what they want you to see or believe.

  4. w. wolf

    ““people were slimmer, probably fitter”

    Probably? Ha ha! They’re too fat now to even waddle around the Walmart without sitting on an electric cart!

    “for example; fact; the length of life expectancy was much lower also”

    Actually the life expectancy for a 45 year old person today is the same as it was in 1776. Infant mortality improvement is what raises the averages.

  5. me

    the internet archive is by far the WORST website i ahve ever seen
    plus it is just impossible to find anything on there
    did you people learn ANYTHING from watching the internet all day????
    this place is a MESS

  6. L. Andrews

    I first watched the Britton, SD footage a couple of years ago and was quite delighted! My family is from the area and chances are quite good that I am related to someone on the film. One of the parades shows good wishes for the Homecoming Football Game to “Beat Clark!”. Clark, SD is where my parents and grandparents lived at the time.

    It was amazing to see men shoveling the streets by hand and by harvesting corn by tossing it up into a wooden horse-drawn wagon. It appeared that at the end of the day, these farm workers were paid in cash…

    I’m grateful to the Besse family for contributing Ivan’s footage to the archive.

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