“A picture is worth a thousand words….”
Or so the saying goes. In reality, a photograph only documents a second in time, and as time goes on, it is easy to forget why a particular moment was so important to capture. However, well-captioned photographs can tell us stories; they can give us information about the subject in the photograph that cannot be ascertained simply by looking at the image. In some instances, photo captions give us information about a subject or an event that cannot be found in any other type of record. So, while a photograph itself may be worth a thousand words, those words can be lost with time, making real words – captions – of the utmost importance.
The following photographs are examples of images that, on the surface, may appear unremarkable or uninteresting. It is the caption information attached to the pictures that give the images substance and meaning.
Photo ID: 16-G-87-1-N5526 Original Caption 1: “Ten million men could live on the food Americans waste. Every man, woman, and child is wasting 100 pounds of edible food every year. We must stop this waste! On the farms – we must help harvest; fight blight, rot, disease; kill rodents and food-eating pests. In storage and in transit – we must prevent fires in storage houses; keep perishable food moving to consumer; pack food carefully. On sale – we must handle food gently; use all surpluses. In homes and restaurants – we must buy only what we can use; use it all; clean our plates. Starve the garbage can! Here is an example of persuasion in action. In the United States we waste enough food to feed an army of ten million men. But little Francine Hayworth is not guilty of any part of this national crime. She cleans her plate, and she’s trying her patriotic best to induce her twin sister, Donna Lou, to follow her example. “ Original Caption 2: “The average family in the United States throws away about 400 pounds of good food every year. Of all the food that goes into American kitchens, about one pound of seven is dumped out for the garbage man to carry away. Some of this comes from serving too much on the plate; and some from other causes. Little Francine Hayworth points with pride to her clean plate. Unless her sister, Donna Lou, can be convinced of the error of her ways, the food on her plate and the milk in her glass will become part of the 400 pounds of good food thrown away every year by the average American family. These twins are the children of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Hayworth, of Washington, D.C. “ USDA photograph by Knell. January 1944
Photo ID: 26-G-87-3807 Original Caption: “Brooklyn Coast Guardsman Combat Artist in Atlantic – Coast Guardsman Jacob Lawrence, Specialist Third Class, of 385 Decatur Street, Brooklyn, New York, exhibits one of his drawings to a group of soldiers aboard a coast guard-manned troop transport carrying reinforcements to battle areas across the Atlantic. Lawrence, a combat artist, is making a pictorial records of life aboard his ship. He and his mates are engaged in a vital task – helping to maintain a constant flow of supplies to American fighting men on far-flung fronts.” Official Coast Guard Photo Note: Photographs of Jacob Lawrence and his artwork also appear in records from the Harmon Foundation.
Photo ID: 75-N-SACR-3 Original Caption: “Sacramento. Land, with access to the Pacific Ocean, is being considered by the Government for use of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in California. The Pomos, numbering about 140, are now living on a small tract of land called a rancheria, situated in the California hills several miles from the coast, and 150 miles north of San Francisco. Their present land is totally inadequate for their economic needs, having no water supply; but the land has a certain ceremonial and religious significance to these Indians. Many meetings are being held with all the Pomo Band in attendance, including children, and no steps will be taken until a majority of the group has agreed on one of the proposed sites. Under present-day policies, the Government is compelled to respect the wishes and views of the Indians, so the upshot of these meetings will probably mean that the Indians keeps their present land, while acquiring additional lands for productive purposes. These Indians are under the jurisdiction of the Sacramento Indian Agency, California. Here are shown some of the Indians who attended one of their tribal meetings.” Photo by Werner. 1939. General Photographs of Indians, 1900-1957
Photo ID: 111-SC-94124A Original Caption: “Mickey Free, said to have been Irish-Mexican, also claimed his mother was captured by Apaches and taken for a wife of an Apache and Mickey was born thereof. His mother escaped and came to Tucson. From Tucson she went to Tubac where she had friends or relatives. Was employed in ranches, family named Ward, who lived near Sanita, Arizona. War came into Fort Crittenden one day in fall of ’60s and reported that some of Cochise’s people had stolen Mickey. Lt. Bascom, with company of soldiers, was sent to see Cochise and recover the missing boy. Cochise was camped at Apache Pass, afterwards the site of Fort Bowie. Lt. Bascom went to Cochise’s camp. To that day Cochise was friendly with whites. Bascom demanded Cochise to produce Mickey. Cochise promised to try and locate him among his people. When Cochise returned later he was accompanied by one of his brothers and two sub chiefs. A meeting was held in Cochise’s tent. Cochise informed Bascom his people did not have Mickey. Bascom gave a signal, the tent was surrounded, and Cochise and companions were informed they were prisoners until the boy was returned. Cochise cut a hole in back of the tent and escaped with bayonet wound in leg. He went to where some freighters were camped, captured four of them and brought them within sight of where Bascom was and sent a squaw to him saying he would exchange prisoners for prisoner. Bascom refused and hanged his prisoners in sight of Cochise, wherein Cochise tied up the teamsters and burned them in sight of Bascom. For 12 years thereafter Cochise fought with the military and the whites. Mickey was afterwards recovered from the Warm Spring Apaches. In 1871 a peace pact was effected by General O.O. Howard, that was kept up to the time of Cochise’s death in 1874.”
Photo ID: 111-SC-123751 Original Caption: “Pvt. Roberto Lopez, an Ecuadorian Indian, was born in Monta, Ecuador and lived there until he was nineteen, when he went to work on the ships of the United Fruit Line. Now he is in the United States Army and is stations at Camp Stewart, GA. He is learning English rapidly and is a good soldier and popular with the other men in his battery. The U.S. Army is “okay”, Pvt. Lopez says. This photo shows Pvt. Lopez drilling with a rifle.” Photographer: Lt. Bard. October 1941
Photo ID: 111-SC-275092 Original Caption: “Shown as they arrived at the Nuremberg railroad station on the night of 15th December are the four Polish women, who will be prosecution witnesses in the case of the twenty-three Nazi doctors on trial at Military Court #1, Palace of Justice, Nuremberg, Germany, for conducting experiments on human “guinea pigs.” At the left are the consulting doctors of the trial. From left to right are: Dr. Leo Alexander, Boston psychiatrist, Neurologist Dr. Bell, a French captain, Miss Jadwiga Dzido, Miss Maria Broel-Plater, Maria Kusmierczuk, and Wladislava Karolewska. The women were all operated on while prisoners of the Gestapo at the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.” Note: Additional information about this photograph is available on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial website here.
Photo ID: 111-SC-385031 Original Caption: “France. On the left is PFC. Boyd Horn, age 22, whose wife lives in Lexington, VA. He was a rifleman in the 26th Infantry Division before being captured near Metz. He was a prisoner for six months before being liberated by the 5th Armored Division. In the center is Pvt. James E. Gum, age 27, whose sister, Mrs. Grace Whitehair, lives in Industrial, West Virginia. A former machine gunner in the 1st Division, he was captured in Tunisia and was a prisoner of the Nazis for two years before being liberated by the 83rd Infantry Division. On the right is Pvt. Sherman B. Cox, age 29, of Honaker, Virginia. He was a rifleman in the 82nd Airborne Division before being captured in Italy. He was a prisoner for 20 months before being liberated by the 5th Armored Division.” Photo taken at Camp Lucky Strike. Photographs of American Military Activities
Photo ID: 238-NT-19 Original Caption: “Heinrich Hoffman is the only Nazi employed within the courthouse, and he is kept under constant guard while in the building. There are no conditions under which Nazis can be employed within the building. Hoffman owned one of the largest photo news agencies in Germany, and as early as 1922 tried to get pictures of Hitler but was seemingly not successful until the rise to power, and when they asked him to go on all their trips which started in 1933. This continued until some time in 1938, when Hoffman started with squabbling with Hitlerites and after that his employees made the trips with Hitler and he himself remained in the background. The file of negatives he is now classifying for us includes nearly 500,000 negatives.” Note: The negatives described in the above caption are now in the custody of the NARA Still Picture Branch. The series identifiers are 242-HAP, 242-HAR, 242-HB, 242-HKL, 242-HLB, 242-HLB, 242-HMA, 242-HMC, and 242-MNF.
Photo ID: 238-NT-99 Original Caption: “Lunch for Goering; in foreground is noon meal ready to be taken to the former chief of the Luftwaffe. It consists of three pieces of brown bread (about 150 grams), one cup (and only one) of coffee, about 200 grams of dehydrated eggs, and a goulash (stew) of about 200 grams. Dining equipment consists of a spoon, canteen cup without handle, and a GI meat can. In the background are the mess kits for other prisoners standing trial before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Photographs relating to Major Nuremberg Trials
Photo ID: 286-MP-IRE-510 Original Caption: “Dungenstown, Ireland — Distant cousins of John F. Kennedy still occupy the farm from which the new President’s great-grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1848. Here James Kennedy and his sister Mrs. Mary Ryan are shown in front of the building which was constructed around the ruins of the original dwelling where Patrick Joseph Kennedy had been born and lived. When John Kennedy visited the home of his forebears in 1947, his cousins gave him a piece of stone from the building as a memento.”
Photo ID: 286-MP-YUG-22 Original Caption: “Sergeant John Trypsis of the Alien Police Detachment of Salonika (right), the first Greek soldier to cross the Yugoslav border officially in more than 10 years, shakes hands with Koca Dzilas of the Yugoslav Army at Gevgelij, in Yugoslav Macedonia. Sgt. Trypsis accompanied a group of Greek and American officials who were invited to attend a ceremony marking the arrival of the first trainload of America aid flour shipped to Yugoslavia through Greece. The flour, which was discharged at the Greek Aegean port of Salonika, was shipped on the first regular freight train to traverse the newly-opened Salonika-Belgrade rail route.”
286-MP-YUG-23 Original Caption: “Natives of the Yugoslav village of Gevgelif watching the arrival from Greece of the first trainload of American aid flour to be shipped via Greece….The flour is part of a 6,654 ton shipment which arrived in Salonika from Orange, Texas, 24 hours before. The air is part of an overall $69,000,000 program to drought-stricken Yugoslavia. The shipment will be followed immediately by another 10,000 tons.” Photographs of Marshall Plan Programs, Exhibits, and Personnel, 1948 – 1967
All of the photographs included in this blog post are held and maintained by the NARA Still Picture unit. The images presented within this blog post are free of copyright restrictions and as such, the photographs may be used without permission. Should you wish to use any of the photos included here, we simply ask that the images are cited using our photo ID numbers. The following are examples of preferred credit lines:
National Archives photo no. 286-MP-YUG-23
Credit National Archives (photo no. 238-NT-99 )
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 75-N-SACR-3
National Archives (111-SC-202199)