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The American Way

ER Classics Desktop 2022

In January 1937, on behalf of Life Magazine, Margareth Bourke - White reported on the disastrous flooding of the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Without realizing it herself, she took a picture that became an icon in the Great Depression, the (economic) crisis of the 1930s.

The photo shows the difference painfully simple, sharply ironic: African-American victims of the flood are standing in line under a billboard with an image of a happy and radiantly smiling, white family in a car and the text 'World's highest standard of Living'or the world's highest Standard of living to proclaim. Although Bourke - White's photo was the only one, the billboard wasn't. In the United States there were 45.000 scattered throughout the country that year in villages and towns where at least 2.500 people lived. With that, 65 Million people were 'reached' every day. The advertising campaign would last one year and was commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade union founded in 1895 to break the power of the trade unions and to counter government regulations. In the 1930s, NAM sought publicity, with millions of cartoons, newspaper columns, leaflets, films and more promoting the entrepreneurship and bringing the dangers of state intervention to the attention of the public. Some of those billboards in industrial areas where one company after the other died, as text "World's shortest working hoursdue to the collapsing market.


Photo: Margareth Bourke - White's photo illustrates the difference in a painfully simple, sharply ironic way: African-American victims of the flood are standing in line under a billboard with an image of a happy and radiantly smiling, white family in a car and the text 'World's highest standard of Living'

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