This selection of images, spanning the years 1870 through to the 1940s, highlights the important roles of agriculture, industry, and immigration in Southern California’s growth and development. The arrival of the railroads in the 1870s and 1880s touched off population booms, but it was in the decades that followed that economic expansion and infrastructure building took place. On the abundant available land, citrus and other produce industries flourished even as the region lacked other resources, such as water, fuel, and a deep-water harbor. Construction of oil wells, an aqueduct, and the world’s largest human-made port enabled rapid growth.
From the docks to the valleys, this selection of photographs shows women and men of a range of ethnicities laboring in fields and factories—underscoring how the region’s economy was built on the backs of workers.