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


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.

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.