The Brilliant Way FDR Got America Back to Work—While Beautifying the Country and Protecting Our Environment

Rain Noe | January 26 2017 | Core77

The New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration got us back on track

We’re currently working up an entry on a very cool toolbox of historical significance. But before we can get to it, we have to give you this brief history lesson to provide some context. We hope you’ll find it interesting on its own merits.

In 1933 America was doing poorly; the Great Depression meant millions of people were starving and out of work. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in January of 1933, he brought with him a couple of brilliant ways to improve the lives of citizens while boosting the long-term health of the country. Two of the New Deal programs he used to do this were the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, as the name suggests, was focused on conservation. The CCC took hundreds of thousands, then millions, of young, unemployed men and sent them to camps. (I know that doesn’t sound promising, stick with me here!)

At the camps these men were provided food, shelter, free medical care and a living wage. They were trained in how to build, fix and grow things, and then they were put to work in teams.

They renovated America’s national parks. They created trails and built roads. They did landscaping to control erosion, dug ditches to contain flooding. They built public camping grounds, picnic grounds and service buildings. They planted nearly three billion trees, strengthening America’s forests.

“This type of work,” President Roosevelt told Congress, “is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss, but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

Additionally, getting these men–70% of whom were malnourished at the CCC’s start in 1933–fed and having them perform physical labor improved their physical health and well-being.

Morale was raised through the performance of important, meaningful work. The training and experience gave them marketable skills they could use to find work after the economy improved. Education programs in the camps taught the illiterate to read.

The Works Progress Administration was similar to the CCC, but focused on public works, building roads, bridges, schools, libraries, courthouses, police and fire stations, hospitals, museums, community centers, playgrounds, et cetera. They also laid crucial infrastructure, installing water mains, sewage and electricity to areas that previously had none.

The WPA also had a subsidiary project called Federal Project Number One, where they employed thousands of artists, designers, musicians and writers.

You can see more of the graphic design work that came out of this program here.

By the time World War II obviated the need for both of these programs, 8.5 million people had participated in the WPA and a further three million had participated in the CCC. As a country, we came out of these programs stronger, smarter, more skilled and with money in our pockets. We also had better roads and infrastructure, more usable national parks and beautiful new municipal buildings.

Okay, history lesson over. Stay tuned for the toolbox story.