Monday, February 20, 2012

America in the 1940s-50s in Colour: The Charles Cushman Collection

Everybody knows that the world prior to the 1960s was black and white—at least, that’s what the photographic evidence suggests.
No longer, now that Charles Cushman’s photos are available online. Cushman, who lived from 1896 to1972, was an amateur photographer who photographed the U.S. (and some other countries) of the 1940s-60s in living color. 

During his vacation travels across the U.S., Cushman took Kodachrome colour slides. His photos show America during that time in vivid colour.
Why mention it on this blog? Anyone who models the transition era, and who wonders what buildings and cities looked like back then, will appreciate the 14,500 slides that have been digitized and made available for free on the Indiana University website.

Take the photo of buildings in a Pennsylvania coal and industrial town (above). What colour are the boards on the building in the foreground? Black, basically. The soot and smoke in the air put grime on everything. Cushman’s photo reveals that in all its reality. (At the same time, the building beside it looks freshly painted, showing that you could have a deeply weathered building and like-new building side-by-side and be prototyptical.)

The collection includes scenes of everyday life in places like New York, New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco, and everywhere in between. It’s a snapshot, if you will, of a lost America before interstate highways, urban renewal, chain stores, and suburban development—a world of hand-painted signs, state fairs, ramshackle shops, small town living and bustling urban scenes.
He also took photos of trains!

Cushman’s remarkable collection can be found at the Charles W.Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University.


  1. Very nice post...thanks for sharing info about the Charles Cushman Collection.
    Absolutely stunning photographs. I would love to transplant myself into many of those photos. Maybe I should have been born 20 yrs
    Thanks again.

  2. Not sure I would want to live then, healthcare not as good etc., but travel back and visit would be something to imagine happening.

    Thank you for the link.