Washington As It Was, 1923-1959, features Washington, D.C. as a developing urban center. The images highlight the architecture of government, industrial, commercial, and residential buildings and chronicle Washington's social and cultural life through photographs of its events, clubs, organizations, embassies, museums, galleries, and libraries.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
- The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
- Postwar United States, 1945-early 1970s
Related Collections and Exhibits
- American Life Histories, 1936-1940
- Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America, 1935-1955
- FSA/OWI Photographs, 1935-1945
- Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929
- Taking the Long View, 1851-1991
- Temple of Liberty: Building the Capitol for a New Nation
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection
For help with search words, go to the Washington As It Was Subject Index.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
Theodor Horydczak was a commercial photographer who worked in Washington, D.C., from the early 1920s until he retired in 1959. He produced photographs for commercial clients, such as Potomac Electric Power Company, and scenes that were used on postcards and calendars, as well as for other commercial purposes. There are a large number of architectural photographs, including the monuments, memorials, and outdoor sculpture of Washington, D.C.
Washington As It Was, 1923-1959 can be used to give students a sense of the city of Washington, D.C. during a particular time. The topics listed below provide fruitful areas of exploration.
As a commercial photographer, Horydczak's clients included several real estate firms. There are numerous photographs of apartment buildings and houses, both exteriors and interiors. These photographs include the many housing developments that sprang up in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia to accommodate the expansion of the government which began during the New Deal era of the 1930s.
Search on housing developments for these urban residential views.
Search kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms to compare these interiors and contrast them with modern rooms in middle class homes today. Some areas students could compare are the types of appliances in the kitchen, the style of furniture in the living room, the apparent purpose of a room, or the social significance of the piano and fireplace (and lack of a television). Students might also discuss the decorations and what leisure activities seem to be expected for the use of the room.
2) Consumer Goods
Horydczak photographed trade shows, store windows, and floor displays that showed the year's models of cars, refrigerators, stoves, and other products.
Search on automobiles, or specific car names such as Studebaker, Cadillac, or jeep to see different models from this era. How do they compare with today's popular models?
Horydczak took numerous photos of home appliances, many for the Potomac Electric Power Company. Students might find photographs of a chosen appliance and list ways they have changed over the years. Students might also arrange photographs in a montage to compare the design of appliances.
Search on refrigerator, percolator, toaster, and washing machine for examples.
3) Washington Landmarks
Horydczak photographed many monuments in the city of Washington. In fact, there are over 300 photographs of the Washington Monument in this collection. Students might discuss why monuments are built, and pick a specific one to study, using images from the collection to illustrate their work.
Search on monuments, memorials, statues, and on specific monuments names such as Washington Monument or Jefferson Memorial. For example, by searching on Washington Monument, students will find a number of photographs, including an unusual image showing Horydczak on Top of Washington Monument.
4) Workaday Washington
Washington As It Was, 1923-1950 contains images that document workers and the kinds of jobs they found in Washington, D.C. during that period. The federal government was a major employer in Washington during Horydczak's professional life. Horydczak photographed a number of people in the government, mostly the civil servants who kept the day-to-day work of the government moving.
Search government employees and government officials to find images of these workers, many of them on the job.
1) Chronological Thinking
Each of the decades that are covered in Washington As It Was, 1923-1959 has its own distinct flavor: the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression of the 30s, World War II in the 40s, and the prosperity of the 50s. Although the collection is not organized chronologically, it can be used both to evoke the atmosphere of an era and some of the changes within the era.
Students can find photographs of people on the job. Search on switchboard operators and secretary to find photographs which show working women, as well as the equipment they used and the types of clothes they wore during that period.
Because Theodor Horydczak was a commercial photographer, the collection contains many images of consumer goods. Using Washington As It Was, 1923-1959 as a starting point, students can research a specific item and study the changes of its design and function over time.
For example, students might choose to study a specific kitchen appliance. Search on stove, range, and electrical appliances to find photographs showing different designs and models.
2) Historical Comprehension
Washington As It Was, 1923-1959 is filled with objects and events of everyday life in Washington, D.C., between 1920 and 1960. Students can read the photographs as indications of societal values.
Students may be asked to look at photographs and graphic materials that were used in advertising and discuss the ideals they convey. This could also be a starting point for a project looking at the history of advertising.
Search on advertisement and merchandise displays to find ads related to many different types of goods.
There are images in the collection that suggest the kinds of activities people participated in for entertainment. Students can look at these photographs and compare forms of these entertainments with activities that people are engaged in today. What activities are the same? What activities would be less popular today? What forms of entertainment do we enjoy today that did not exist or were in their infancy then?
To start, search on dancers, radio broadcasting, television broadcasting, and games.
3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Students might analyze images in the collection by asking a series of questions:
- What do you think was the purpose of the photograph?
- What does the photograph tell about place and time?
- What is not represented in the photograph?
For example, students could search on miners to find a series of photographs of West Virginia coal miners. Looking carefully at these images, students might be asked to assess labor/management relations in the 1930s. Students could then research the issue and report back to the class on their findings.
4) Historical Research Capabilities
The collection contains a wide variety of photographs that could contribute to research topics. Three subject areas are strongly represented in Washington As It Was, 1923-1959: architecture; transportation; and technology. Use the questions and search words below as starting points. What are some other areas students might research?
1. Architecture and Suburban Development
- What designs were popular and why?
- What causes contributed to suburban growth during the period?
Search on housing development, houses, and home interiors.
- What modes of transportation are included in the collection?
- Are changes evident in the design of cars or planes?
- What changes occurred in the time span of the photographs?
Search on automobile, airplane, trains, and locomotives.
- What changes in technology are shown within the photographs?
- What appliances do we have now that were not available then?
- What appliances available then are no longer in use?
Search on telephone, appliances, and office equipment.
Arts & Humanities
Have students search on particular types of people and professions, such as soldier, office worker, legislator, legislators' spouses, teacher, nurse, and businessman.
After looking carefully at these images and conducting further research, students can create journal entries for these individuals.
For example, searching on legislators' spouses yields several photographs of Mrs. Goff, including images of her in Flying Gear and a Formal Gown. Students can use these photographs as an impetus for finding out more information, and inventing a journal that details this person's life.
In 1932, Horydczak photographed veterans of World War I who demonstrated in Washington in hopes of receiving financial assistance from the government. Using the images of these veterans as a starting point, students can write an imaginary interview with these veterans and their responses in regards to this episode in history.
Search on bonus veterans for pictures of the veterans' camps and some of their activities.
3) Comparison and Contrast: Classrooms across decades
Students can prepare an exhibition comparing and contrasting instructional methods during the Horydczak years and now. Students might ask these questions:
- What is the same?
- What is different?
- They might consider how they learn in school today: Listening to lectures? Using computer technology? Sitting in rows? Sitting in groups or alone?
Students might write the exhibition text from the point of view of today's student visiting a classroom of yesterday, or vice versa.
Search on class, teacher, classroom and home economics to find images of students in school settings.