‘This Land is Your Land’ Inspired by Trek from Pittsburgh to NYC

Woody Guthrie’s enduring folk anthem has surprising origins.

Photo via Flickr


Three things will surprise you about “This Land is Your Land,” one of America’s most omnipresent patriotic anthems:

1. The artist who wrote it, Woody Guthrie, was originally inspired by America’s poverty and injustice.

2. Guthrie recorded it and then forgot about the song completely for four years.

3. He wrote the song after walking and hitchhiking from Pittsburgh to New York City during a snowstorm in 1940.

All along the 370-mile journey, Guthrie was haunted by the unrelenting radio hit “God Bless America” by Katie Smith booming from jukeboxes and radios. The positivity didn’t quite match the hardship and hunger of post-Great Depression towns that he passed through. When Guthrie finally made it to New York City, he penned a sarcastic response to Smith’s hit called “God Blessed America.”

The song eventually morphed into a more subtle (and positive) portrait of American life with a new hook: “This land was made for you and me.”

The original recording contained this final verse, which references Guthrie’s trek from Pittsburgh to Manhattan.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

When the song was rewritten at the height of World War II, that verse was cut.

You can learn more about Guthrie's complicated anthem at Slate.

Or even more in John Shaw’s book This Land That I Love.”


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