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Street Life: 1941

June 1941. "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

June 1941. "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Tough Life.

When this photograph was taken, the Great Depression had dragged on for a decade. That Model A was very reliable and cheap and it got a lot of people through the Depression. (What make is the other car?)

I wonder how that young lad felt. He would only have known the Depression all his life. He lived in a cramped neighbourhood. In a few months the U.S. would be at war and his father or uncle or older brother might be serving. My generation had grandparents who went through all of that and they talked about it to us. Life was tough and I see that in photos like this.

Safety first

The fatality rate in 1931 when the "old" car was built was 14.79 per billion miles traveled. In 1941, when the picture was taken, it had fallen to 11.43 -- a 23 percent decline in just one decade. In 2018 it had fallen by more than another factor of ten, to 1.13. (Mileage and performance have likewise drastically improved.)

You might say that cars today are boring in a good way.

Not Sad

I grew up in several Pittsburgh neighborhoods similar to this one. They were communities, where neighbors talked to and depended on each other and we kids played with the other kids. We were poor together. We went to school together. We walked and talked together. There were vacant lots for make up baseball games. We didn't need the streets for stickball. They were for sledding in the winter. I was happier in these neighborhoods than when my mother moved us to the suburbs, where none of those activities existed, or exist to this day. Please don't be tempted to impose modern values on the past. There aren't that many of us left to defend it.

Not that old

Model A Ford, the radiator shell type and the silver Ford emblem would make it a 1931 model. So it's only a 10-year-old car.

That old car

The old car to the right is a 1930 Model A Ford Coupe. But your point is well-taken. An 11 year-old car today is hardly noticeable, due to the bland styling of modern automakers. But much of that seeming lack of imagination is the result of complying with much stricter rules about safety and fuel efficiency.

Dealer, I've Got 3 of a Kind

-- along with a 9 and a Joker!

Sad View

What a misrable vista. That would be a poor area for a kid to grow up on. Can't see all of it but it looks like there is no room even for a street stickball game.

Is that old car so old?

I just realized that, if the two newer cars in this picture were from roughly 1941, and the old car was from the mid-1920s, the old car is as "old" as my own car is to 2020 cars. But, compare 'em. The old and new cars in the picture are dramatically different. My car? You need to know cars to know it's "old".

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