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Dust Bowl: Topics in Chronicling America

A guide for researching the topic of the Dust Bowl in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Writer and Cameraman Brace Dust Storms to Picture Horror of Ravaged Southwest Bowl." March 18, 1936. The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, ND), Image 7. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

The drought-stricken Midwestern and Southern Plains regions of the United States suffer severe dust storms during the 1930s, earning the name the Dust Bowl. High winds and choking dust sweeps the region from Texas to Nebraska, leading to failed crops and the death of people and livestock. The Dust Bowl intensifies the crushing economic impact of the Great Depression and drives many farming families on a desperate migration in search of work and better living conditions. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1931 Severe drought hits the Midwestern and Southern Plains. As the crops die, dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed land begins to blow.
1932 The number of dust storms increases. Fourteen are reported in 1932; the next year there are thirty-eight.
March 9, 1933 Congress enacts the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, which stabilizes the banking industry by putting the federal government behind it.
May 12, 1933 The Emergency Farm Mortgage Act allots $200 million for refinancing mortgages to help farmers facing foreclosure. The Farm Credit Act of 1933 establishes a local bank and sets up local credit associations.
June 18, 1933 The Civilian Conservation Corps opens the first soil erosion control camp in Clayton County, Alabama. By September there are 161 soil erosion camps.
October 1933 In September, over 6 million young pigs are slaughtered to stabilize prices. With most of the meat going to waste, public outcry leads to the creation of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, which diverts agricultural commodities to relief organizations.
October 4, 1933 In California's San Joaquin Valley, where many farmers fleeing the plains have gone seeking migrant farm work, the largest agricultural strike in America's history begins.
May 1934 Great dust storms spread across the Dust Bowl area. The drought covers more than 75% of the country and severely affects 27 states.
June 28, 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of his New Deal efforts, signs the Taylor Grazing Act, which allows him to take up to 140 million acres federally and establish grazing districts that will be carefully monitored. This same day, the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act is approved, which restricts the ability of banks to dispossess farmers in times of distress.
January 15, 1935 The federal government forms a Drought Relief Service to coordinate relief activities.
April 8, 1935 FDR approves the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which provides $525 million for drought relief, and authorizes the creation of the Works Progress Administration, which will employ 8.5 million people.
April 14, 1935 Known as Black Sunday, the worst "black blizzard" of the Dust Bowl occurs.
April 27, 1935 Congress declares soil erosion "a national menace" in an act establishing the Soil Conservation Service within the Department of Agriculture.
February 1936 Los Angeles Police Chief James E. Davis sends 125 policemen to patrol the borders of Arizona and Oregon to keep "undesirables" out. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union sues the city.
January 20, 1937 Franklin Roosevelt states in his second inaugural address, "I see one-third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished...the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
March 1937 Franklin Roosevelt's Shelterbelt Project begins, which calls for a large-scale planting of trees across the Great Plains.
1939 In the fall, the rain comes, finally bringing an end to the drought.