An ambitious young photographer captured the chaos and beauty of Greyhound buses in 1943

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In 1942, Esther Bubley, a fresh graduate of the photography program at the Minneapolis School of Art, landed a job as a darkroom assistant at the Office of War Information (OWI) in Washington, D.C.

The OWI had recently absorbed the famed photographic unit of the Farm Security Administration and shifted the photographers' assignments from rural poverty to various facets of the war effort, including aircraft factories and broader aspects of American infrastructure such as railroads.

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The chaos and beauty of Greyhound buses in 1943
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The chaos and beauty of Greyhound buses in 1943
A Greyhound bus from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh.

(Library of Congress)

Passengers wait to board a Greyhound bus at a small town in Pennsylvania.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

The Greyhound terminal in Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A Greyhound bus in Columbus, Ohio.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Greyhound drivers kill time between runs at the station in Columbus, Ohio.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A Greyhound station in Indianapolis.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A woman waits for a bus at the Greyhound terminal in Pittsburgh

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A soldier sleeps in a luggage rack on a bus from Cincinnati to Louisville.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

At the Greyhound terminal in Cincinnati.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A soldier sleeps in a luggage rack on a bus from Cincinnati to Louisville.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Sailors purchase Greyhound tickets in Chicago.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A daily student commuter on a Greyhound bus from Louisville to Memphis.


(Photo: Library of Congress)

The Greyhound station in Rome, Georgia.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers on a bus from Louisville to Nashville.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers board Greyhound buses in Cincinnati.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Porters load luggage on a bus in Chattanooga.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers board buses at the Memphis Greyhound station.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A Greyhound driver checks tickets in Columbus, Ohio.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A bus departs from Knoxville, Tennessee for Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A Memphis-Chattanooga Greyhound bus.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers tell jokes on the way from Pittsburgh to St. Louis.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A bus en route from Knoxville, Tennessee to Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A pillow girl at the Greyhound terminal in Chicago.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A mother and daughter who sell pillows to travelers in Knoxville.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers wait for a bus at the Memphis terminal.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A student waits for the bus in a small town in Tennessee.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A schedule at a bus depot in Ohio.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Men buy Greyhound tickets in Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A woman waits for a pickup between Louisville and Memphis.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

The Greyhound station in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A woman hails a Macon-bound bus on a highway in Georgia.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A young passenger on a Tennessee Coach Company bus in Knoxville.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A sailor and child wait for a Greyhound in Memphis.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers wait to board a bus from Knoxville, Tennessee to Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

The Greyhound terminal in Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

Passengers wait to board a bus from Knoxville, Tennessee to Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A worker who cleans buses at the Greyhound garage in Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A worker mops a bus at the Greyhound garage in Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A worker cleans the windshield of a bus at the Greyhound garage in Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

A passenger watches luggage being unloaded from a bus that broke down in a small town in Pennsylvania.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

On the road from Columbus to Cincinnati.

(Photo: Library of Congress)

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Bubley's talents were quickly recognized by the photographers and program director Roy Stryker, who transferred her out of the darkroom and into the field.

Her biggest assignment was a study of bus travel in the Midwest and South, which had dramatically increased with wartime rationing of rubber and gasoline.

Over four weeks in 1943, Bubley rode crowded Greyhounds and other buses through major cities and dusty backroads, capturing the passengers, drivers, porters, mechanics and cleaners of the system in elegant and empathetic images.

After leaving the OWI to work for Standard Oil, Bubley later revisited the sphere of interstate travel in her award-winning 1947 photo essay Bus Story.

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