Depression Magazines Photo Essay Photojournalist Fortune Home Page Communism Strikebreaking Wards Wool
A $28,000,000 Loss: American Woolen Co.
(Margaret Bourke-White, June 1935)
    . . . is the record of American Woolen Co. since 1923, even though it clothes one American male in every six. Why is the greatest name in woolens one fo the greatest losers in U.S. corporate records as well?
American Woolen Company      The highly artistic industrial photograph was championed and advanced by Fortune's first contracted photographer, Margaret Bourke-White (hired by Luce in 1929 as the only staff photographer Fortune would bill, according to Koudsi). The "Fortune type photograph" mixed an appreciation of industrial forms with a transparent, documentary approach (Sass). These photographs were not merely objective documents because their bias was explicitly pro-capitalism. In other hands, industry might have been portrayed as anti-democratic. Fortune's efforts did not escape condemnation during the 1930's. The Daily Worker criticized Fortune for "romantically attempting to disguise the rapacity and swinishness of American 'Big Business'" (Swanberg). After their worlds were turned upside down by the stock market crash and dust bowl conditions in the middle of the decade, Americans might have been tempted to turn to traditional forms and values. But industry and large-scale production promised to revive America and Fortune's kind lens supplied Americans with images of business's benevolence. Industrial photographs offered innovation and change as the means to escape a failing economy. Industrial photographs restored faith in institutions that were larger than life or the experience of the average American. In a similar way, Bourke-White's photographs of wool production elevate the industry to heroics.

Further Reading