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Family Guy: 1936

Family Guy: 1936

December 1936. "Marcus Miller and family in shack that he built himself. Spencer, Iowa. This is half the house. Miller is a hired hand who has managed to save enough to make a part payment on seven and a half acres of land. However, he is most anxious to get steady work or to operate a farm." View full size. Medium format nitrate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration.


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That a radio?

On the shelf in the upper right. Expensive?

Well to do for sure

That jacket above Dad's head there wasn't cheap, even back in the 1930s. An original one like that in good condition these days will fetch in the $1000 to $2000 range.

TV tables

I was 4 years young in 1936 but twist ties came many years later. There was no TV then either so I imagine the TV table had yet to be invented! They look like a hard working, relatively prosperous farm family, as were many that we knew back then.

["TV table" in the comment below means a dining table with nobody seated on the camera side -- the standard seating arrangement for meals on 1950s television shows. - Dave]

Family Guy Mother

I think Mother was sitting in the position with her back to where the photographer is, and she moved so she could be in the photograph.

As a patient ironer, I closely looked at the pretty dresses hung up, those dresses are meticulously ironed and starched. What a neat and tidy household!

Bread Wrappers

While cellophane was available in 1936, I believe the bread on the Miller's table is wrapped in a thin waxed paper wrapper, as the previous commentator noted. The wrapped loaf was sealed with a sticky label on each end. Many whole rolls of these waxed paper wrappers have survived and, as you might suspect, are available on eBay. You can see an assortment of wax paper bread wrappers here.

Twist ties

The bread would have been wrapped in wax paper. Plastic bread bags didn't come along till about the 60's.

[Cellophane was invented in 1908. Below, a 1941 ad for same. - Dave]

The Millers

Wow, the mom and daughter look so very alike. And as a redhead myself, I am always amazed when i can spot another redhead even in a black and white photo. The Dad would've made a colorful Kodachrome for sure.

Hickory Stripes

The father's "hickory stripe" overalls bring back fond memories of my grandfather the carpenter and my great uncle the farmer...they both wore only hickories when working. My sister & I were both thrilled to each get our own pair one year for Christmas.

The boy's holding...

The boy is holding a string bean, snatched before Dad finished grace.


Even though this family hasn't got much, you can tell that they take pride in what they do have. Everything about the place (as well as everyone in it) is neat and clean. I'm willing to bet you could eat off the floor. A good lesson that many people in this day and age could do to learn - just because you're "poor" doesn't mean you have to live in squalor.

Not sure what the boy has in his hand either, though I do have a guess. There's an open bag of bread on the table. Did they put twist-ties on bread back then? Maybe that's what he's holding? Or, it looks like a piece of paper rolled up, or possibly a twig? If he's like most boys, it's probably just one of dozens of objects he's got stashed in his pockets.

Miller Family

The children are sitting on what appears to be a single or double bed/cot. Once the other bed is lowered they would have had essentially wall-to-wall bedding. That could have been a bit, um, awkward.

I too hope this family endured, prospered and had a happy life. I like them!

Re: Saltshaker

I think the salt shaker is actually a pepper shaker and it does have pepper in it.

Can't identify what the boy is holding; zooming in doesn't help.

The Fourth Wall

What the boy is holding caught my eye too. The dad is looking at him. The girl looks like she knows something. Zoomed in. The dad's legs are there, crowding everyone. Then I noticed the plates. It's a TV table. The mom has moved over to the side for the photographer.

Still can't figure out what the boy is holding.

Promising young couple

They must have married quite early as they still look very young compared to their kids.

Indeed looks like the father is a hard worker who is living the "American Dream" and is spoiling (if such a word can be used in this context) his family with little luxury items like a very fancy box-spring bed, a nice radio, multiple dresses, nice leather jackets and a shiny new plastic tablecloth!

I hope this family made it and got to live their life comfortably.


They seem to be all out of salt.

Garrett Dash Nelson

Iowa Family

This photo is reminiscent of one of the Pie Town photos featuring a family at mealtime, although the Pie Town family seemed to have a bit more to eat.

The father seems to be a hard-working, resourceful man doing his best to provide for his family. The "shack" he built by hand is wallpapered; no newspapers on the walls here. And they seem to be making efficient use of the limited space. Clean, ironed clothing; a table which might fold up to be replaced by the bed; and a radio on a wall shelf.

But I can't tell what the little boy is holding in his hand.

From need to greed

There is dignity and strength reflected in the faces of these picture. Note the box-spring/mattress turned on side to allow a tiny bit more room to move around in shack till bedtime. These days Americans want big everything. Enough is never enough. Many are just starting to think about the downside of those huge houses. Heating and cooling costs are rising quickly and energy costs will continue to soar.

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