Jack Delano’s Color Photos of Chicago’s Rail Yards in the 1940s

I wanted to share this article I found from The Atlantic, which contains a collection of 21 high resolution color photographs taken by Jack Delano (1914 – 1997), a photographer who traveled through America’s countryside in the early 1940s, hoping to achieve his goal of “introducing America to Americans” with his photography of people and places. In particular, the photographs displayed in the article provide viewers with an intimate look into the lives of rail yard workers in Chicago during the years of 1942 and 1943. Viewing these rare photographs in color is possible due to the fact that they were made on Kodachrome color transparencies. They are also currently well preserved in the Library of Congress. 

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“A switchman throwing a switch at Chicago and North Western Railroad’s Proviso yard in April 1943” (Credit: Jack Delano / Library of Congress)

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“Mike Evans, a welder, at the rip tracks at the Proviso yard, photographed in April 1943” (Credit: Jack Delano / Library of Congress)

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“A long-exposure view of lantern lights in a departure yard in Chicago and North Western Railroad’s Proviso yard at twilight in December 1942” (Credit: Jack Delano / Library of Congress)

As someone who is fascinated by historical documents, I found it very interesting get such a clear look at a piece of history from about 75 years in the past, especially with the context that they were taken against the backdrop of World War II. I believe that digitization and providing accessibility to more photographs or archives like this is a highly effective way to disseminate knowledge among researchers, scholars, students, and more. There is a lot to learn from preserved documents, and it’s also helpful for getting people in the general public to take a greater interest in events that have shaped their country, as well as understanding its implications for the future. 

If you are interested in seeing more of Jack Delano’s photography, you can find other archived works here. 

–Tami Chen (INFO 653-01)

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by Hugh McLeod

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Pratt Institute School of Information
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