The Dust Bowl


The Dust Bowl (2012) chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the wheat boom of the Great Plow-Up, followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s, nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation.

  • Introduction | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    The Dust Bowl was a decade-long natural catastrophe of biblical proportions, and the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. It is the classic tale of humans pushing too hard on nature and nature pushing back, during a period of economic boom and bust in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Boom Time | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    The Great Plains goes through a boom period as land speculators tout the miraculous advantages of farming wheat. Government and private industry encourage the settlement and development of the region.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Modern Machinery | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Modern machinery made farming more profitable and changed the structure of the land for growing wheat. The result was more land speculation, more acreage turned over to wheat farming, and a blind faith that the good times wouldn't end, but warning signs were evident.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Environmental Catastrophe | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    As the Great Depression sets in, farmers on the Great Plains begin to feel its effects. A combination of natural and man-made factors begins to turn the profitable farming land into a vast wasteland. The effect of these factors on individuals and families is documented.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Relief | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Social worker Dorothy Williamson describes her experiences talking with victims of the Dust Bowl. What help there was came from Washington, D.C., with programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), National Youth Administration (NYA), and Works Progress Administration (WPA).

    Grades: 6-12
  • Recovery | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    In 1935, 850 million acres of topsoil are swept off the Great Plains, with more dust storms to come. President Franklin Roosevelt's inner circle does not want the area to turn into an "Arabian Desert."

    Grades: 6-12
  • Reform | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    In the summer of 1936, Roosevelt takes a whistle-stop tour across the Midwest and Northern Plains to see the crisis himself. He inspires the enthusiastic but weary audiences. At the same time, Hugh Bennett, head of the Soil Conservation Service, begins instituting his program of agricultural reform and offering incentives to those farmers who will adopt the new farming methods.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Government Reform Programs | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    By 1937, the Dust Bowl farmers are asking for government help in regulating the land by forcing other farmers to take better care of their soil. They even consider declaring martial law. For many farmers who had previously demonstrated independence and suspicion of government, this is a substantial ideological turnaround.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Okies | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Woody Guthrie sings, "I Ain't Got No Home" and talks of how the migrant families traveling to California inspired him. The migrant population explodes in California as thousands of people move there to find work and a better life. Those from the Dust Bowl, whether they are from Oklahoma or not, are called, "Okies."

    Grades: 6-12
  • Woody Guthrie | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Woody Guthrie moves to Los Angeles in the second half of the 1930s and supports himself with odd jobs. He finally gets a radio show of his own and a newspaper column called, "Woody Sez." He gains a reputation as a radical for sympathizing with the migrants.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Tex Pace | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Tex Pace left the panhandle for CA and convinced his family to follow him. He lived and worked in Visalia, CA in a new work camp. He met his wife Dorothy at a camp talent show and got married at the local movie theater.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Sanora's Return | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Sanora Babb, a journalist from "No Man's Land" returns to her childhood home and is struck by the leveling of social distinction between her old neighbors.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Woody Guthrie: The Great Dust Storm | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    In the introduction to episode two, Woody Guthrie sings, "The Great Dust Storm," as historians and survivors talk about the conditions of living in the Dust Bowl during the Depression.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Recollection | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Meet some of the people who lived in the Great Plains and learn a little about the region.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Mechanized Agriculture | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Modern machinery made wheat farming more efficient and profitable.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Wheat Bubble Burst | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    The stock market crashed on what came to be called Black Tuesday. In response to the lower wheat prices, more wheat was planted.

    Grades: 6-12
  • You Gave Us Beer, Now Give Us Water | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    FDR was greeted with signs along the road saying, "You gave us beer. Now give us water."

    Grades: 6-12
  • Photographers of the Dust Bowl | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    During the Great Depression, FDR's administration sought to document the economic crisis. Roosevelt's Farm Security Administration (FSA) was put in charge of the effort, which employed some of the country's most talented photographers.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Caroline Henderson | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    From the time she was a young girl, Caroline Henderson dreamed of having a piece of land she could call her own. A Mount Holyoke graduate, she moved west in 1907 to Texas Country, Oklahoma.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Sanora Babb | Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

    Sanora Babb was an author, poet, editor, and journalist.

    Grades: 6-12

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