Dust storm in Texas during Dust Bowl, 1935
What is the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl was a period when severe drought and dust storms struck parts of the American Great Plains. Because it spanned the 1930s, the Dust Bowl is sometimes called the “Dirty Thirties.” The term “Dust Bowl” may also be used to collectively refer to the states hit hardest by the event: Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and New Mexico.
What Caused the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl was triggered by a variety of natural and man-made causes. Decades of poor land management and overcultivation in the Great Plains eliminated the native grasses that held the topsoil in place. When a drought struck the area beginning in the early 1930s, many crops failed, leaving the topsoil exposed and vulnerable to being blown away in the windstorms that ripped through the region.
Dust Storms and Black Blizzards
The dust storms, also called “black blizzards,” could be massive, sometimes blowing millions of tons of topsoil to the East Coast and into the Atlantic. The most notorious of these dust storms occurred on April 14, 1935, and is known as “Black Sunday.” Dust storms could kill crops, people, and livestock. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people died from “dust pneumonia” after breathing the dirty air.
Migration during the Dirty Thirties
The Dust Bowl overlapped with the Great Depression, which made conditions for farmers even harder. Many had to abandon their homes and farms. An estimated 2.5 million people migrated from the Dust Bowl states to other parts of the United States during the 1930s.
Many traveled to California in hopes of a better life, but most only found poorly paid jobs as migrant farm laborers. Refugees from Oklahoma became derogatorily known as “Okies,” and the term eventually came to describe anyone displaced by the Dust Bowl.
The End of the Dust Bowl
In response to wind erosion and other hardships caused by the Dust Bowl, the government (under President Franklin D. Roosevelt) implemented measures to try to lessen the impact. These included restoring grasslands, hiring local farmers to plant trees as windbreaks, and introducing new farming techniques.
The Dust Bowl lasted for about a decade, ending when rain returned to the region in 1939. But the economic and social effects of the disaster lasted for decades to come.
Learn more about the Dust Bowl through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the Dust Bowl
Newspaper article about big dust storm in 1934; blows dirt to East Coast and kills cattle Fri, May 11, 1934 – Page 1 · Pittston Gazette (Pittston, Luzerne, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comMap of May 1934 dust storm Mon, May 14, 1934 – Page 10 · The Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comPhoto of Dust Bowl dust storm that blew dust through Chicago in 1934, blocking skyscrapers Mon, May 14, 1934 – Page 1 · The Waco News-Tribune (Waco, McLennan, Texas) · Newspapers.comResults of the 1934 dust storms in the Dust Bowl; Experts warn Midwest may turn to desert Sun, Jul 1, 1934 – 67 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.comMap of "worst drought" in the history of America, 1934 Sun, Aug 19, 1934 – 12 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.comDid Americans cause the Dust Bowl? 1934 article proposes solution Tue, Sep 4, 1934 – Page 6 · The Republic (Columbus, Bartholomew, Indiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.comBig dust storms in Kansas kill and injure residents while destroying landscape Sun, Mar 17, 1935 – Page 2 · The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California) · Newspapers.comImages of the effects of the dust storms in the Dust Bowl Thu, Mar 21, 1935 – Page 4 · The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Polk, Iowa, United States of America) · Newspapers.comLocal stories from Texas about the 1935 wind and dust storms during the Dust Bowl Wed, Mar 27, 1935 – Page 1 · Corsicana Daily Sun (Corsicana, Navarro, Texas) · Newspapers.comNewspaper article about the Black Sunday dust storm of April 14, 1935 Mon, Apr 15, 1935 – 1 · Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Benton, Oregon, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPrimary source account of conditions in Oklahoma during Black Sunday dust storm, 1935 Tue, Apr 16, 1935 – Page 6 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comDust Pneumonia becomes prevalent in the Dust Bowl; Red Cross urges use of respirator masks Sat, Apr 27, 1935 – Page 9 · The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune (Chillicothe, Livingston, Missouri) · Newspapers.com"Estimate Crop Damages in Dust Storm Area $30,000,000; Farmers Hope for Rain" Fri, Apr 19, 1935 – 1 · The News-Chronicle (Shippensburg, Cumberland, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.com"20 Persons Have Died in 2 Weeks in Dust Bowl" Wed, May 1, 1935 – Page 1 · The Jacksonville Daily Journal (Jacksonville, Morgan, Illinois) · Newspapers.comRain during the Dust Bowl settles dust clouds in Kansas in 1935 Mon, May 20, 1935 – Page 3 · The Greenville News (Greenville, Greenville, South Carolina, United States of America) · Newspapers.comDrought and floods leave scars of destruction as Dust Bowl areas start to recover, 1935 Mon, Jul 22, 1935 – Page 14 · The Oshkosh Northwestern (Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, United States of America) · Newspapers.comBoth men and animals hurt during horrifying dust storms Tue, Jul 7, 1936 – 8 · Chillicothe Gazette (Chillicothe, Ross, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.comEnemies of the Earth: What dust storms and floods mean to America Sat, Jul 18, 1936 – 3 · Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPhotos of "black blizzard" dust storm and people wearing dust masks during Dust Bowl Thu, Feb 18, 1937 – Page 1 · The Alexandria Times-Tribune (Alexandria, Madison, Indiana) · Newspapers.com"Dust Turns Day into Night, Closes Schools, Blocks Roads" Thu, Feb 18, 1937 – Page 1 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.comDust Bowl areas considered nation's biggest problem; Some residents stay while others leave Tue, May 4, 1937 – Page 4 · The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Polk, Iowa, United States of America) · Newspapers.comIllustrated explanation of how dust storms form as a result of bad farming techniques Fri, Jun 11, 1937 – Page 6 · Daily Press (Newport News, Newport News, Virginia, United States of America) · Newspapers.comFormer farmers from Dust Bowl areas are now migrants in California and need aid, 1938 Fri, Apr 8, 1938 – Page 21 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Alameda, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com"Fugitives from Dust Bowls Find Meager Living on Coast" Tue, Jun 7, 1938 – Page 5 · Pampa Daily News (Pampa, Gray, Texas) · Newspapers.comRains in 1940 shrink the Dust Bowl creating ‘Miracle’ harvests Tue, Aug 6, 1940 – Page 3 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States of America) · Newspapers.com