Thursday, May 25, 2017

New Deal Workplace Safety

"All works projects shall be conducted in accordance with safe working conditions, and every effort shall be made for the prevention of accidents."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, 1935, Executive Order No. 7046

Above: A safety trophy awarded to the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A first aid vehicle for WPA workers on a project in Mobile, Alabama, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A nurse checks a WPA worker at the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster promoting workplace safety. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The New Deal helped improve workplace safety in America. Here are just a few examples:

Public Works Administration (PWA): Reporting on its oversight of the thousands of large construction projects it funded, the PWA noted that, "Failure of contractors and owners to maintain proper safety devices for workers has also been subject to investigation," and gave an example of workers getting the bends because a contractor tried to save money by using faulty decompression chambers. (America Builds: The Record of PWA, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, p. 88.)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): A member of the CCC recalled decades later: "There was an intensive safety program in the CCCs. We were taught how to carry and use tools safely in all phases of our work. The forester in charge of our safety program did an excellent job in making us safety conscious in the way we worked and lived. This safety training has never left me. This was over 45 years ago when most businesses had not recognized the value of safety programs." (Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Montpelier, VT, 1981, p. 56.)

Civil Works Administration (CWA): "With four million employees on its rolls working on a hundred different types of projects, the Civil Works Administration was early forced to follow the example of other large employers of labor and set up an extensive Safety Program... As it developed finally, this program proved to be the most extensive ever undertaken in the United States... More than one thousand eight hundred safety directors gave their full time to the work..." (Henry Alsberg (ed.), America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration, New York: Coward-McCann, 1934, p. 16.) 

Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA, or ERA): "The ERA safety program continued the methods initiated by the CWA, which had established a record low accident-frequency rate for construction work... Those responsible for safety were empowered to remove workers from any project on which unsafe conditions persisted. Safe practice rules were brought vividly to the attention of the workers through safety bulletins. Goggles, safety-belts, first-aid materials and other safety supplies were specified for various projects, and checked by inspection. Thousands of foremen and workers were given training in first aid through the cooperation of the American Red Cross, the U.S.Bureau of Mines, and similar  organizations." (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F.E.R.A., April 1, 1934  - July 1, 1935, p. 15.)

Works Progress Administration (WPA): "The WPA safety program reached all projects and activities by means of an intensive and continuous education campaign which was intended to stimulate interest in accident prevention at each level of supervision and among the project workers themselves. Conferences and meetings were held to instruct supervisors and foremen in safe methods and safety procedures, and workers were taught safe practices by their foremen on the jobs. Appropriate safety posters were prepared and distributed for display on all work projects, and a Nation-wide safety contest was conducted to stimulate and measure improvements in accident trends." (Federal Works Agency, Final on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 75.)

National Youth Administration (NYA): With respect to resident work centers (where unemployed youth could train, work, and live together), "Safety regulations were rigorous, and no resident project could be 
started until the physical facilities had been inspected and approved by a representative of the State safety consultant of the WPA. These embraced water supply, sewage and sanitation, and structural condition 
of buildings." (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years, 1936-1943, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944, p. 182.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

WPA Broomball

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads: "Broomball is popular with girls at Nicollet Field [Minneapolis, Minnesota], where Henry Sampson and Mrs. Martha Bates are the WPA Supervisors. In this picture, Shirley Elvig has taken a tumble in the midst of a play with Jean McDonald and Elizabeth Evans." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Another scene from the WPA Broomball game. During the New Deal era, the WPA helped run thousands of adult recreation projects for men and women. Wouldn't it be great if we did the same thing today, especially considering the tremendous problems of obesity and type 2 diabetes that America is struggling with today? (See the CDC's notes about both at "Adult Obesity Facts"). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Broomball seems to be a fairly popular sport today, and USA Broomball describes the history of the game: "While the history of broomball is rather vague, a few main facts have been widely reported. Broomball as we know it was first played in Canada in the early 1900's by street car workers using a small soccer ball and corn brooms. The sport evolved and was brought down to the United States. The first games were reportedly played in Minnesota, the birthplace of USA Broomball, beginning in the 1930's. Leagues, however did not blossom until the 1960's..." 

USA Broomball also describes how the game is played today: "Broomball is a winter sport played in ice arenas and community parks throughout the country. It is a game very similar to hockey in its formation and rules, but also incorporates some soccer strategies. The game is played on a hockey rink with two teams consisting of six players on each side (a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards). Similar to hockey and soccer, the object of the game is to score more goals than the opposing team. A player uses a stick (a shaft with a molded broom-shaped head) to maneuver a six-inch diameter ball up and down the ice. Instead of skates, players wear spongy-soled shoes to gain traction when running on the slippery surface."

Notice that the game began to gain popularity in the United States "beginning in the 1930s." Could the WPA have played a vital role in the establishment of this new sport?

"But it seems pretty clear that we must plan for, and help to bring about, an expanded economy which will result in more security, in more employment, in more recreation..."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, "Excerpts from the Press Conference, December 28, 1943

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Deal Bridge Art (5/5): "The Bridge" (plus, the New Deal's 200,000+ bridge projects)

Above: "The Bridge," an oil painting by Raymond Breinin (1908-2000), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, Breinin "was known for painting with a dark, brooding palate during the Great Depression, a time when contemporary work from many American artists evoked optimistic images... Breinin didn't set his hand to major works until the advent of the the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. But once involved in the program, he began making a name for himself... He died while painting a theater curtain being drawn back from a stage. On the curtain is the image of a prince on horseback; in the background, the play is beginning ("Painter Raymond Breinin," April 8, 2000). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: Some of the bridges built during the New Deal were large, like the Triborough Bridge in New York City; others were small, like the bridge you see above, near Frostburg, Maryland. During the 1930s, an enormous investment in bridges was made. Here are the approximate number of bridge projects for the major New Deal work & construction programs, between 1933 and 1943: PWA - 388 (usually, very large bridge projects); CCC - 57,424; CWA - 7,000; FERA Work Division - 16,590; WPA - 124,011; NYA - 9,973. This totals a little over 215,000 bridge projects. Some were horse bridges, or foot bridges, or vehicle bridges. Some were new constructions, or repairs, or improvements. Some were overlaps where, for example, a project begun by the CWA was completed by the FERA Work Division. But one thing was consistent: a commitment to American infrastructure - a commitment that, unfortunately, has been replaced in the modern era with endless & fruitless military adventures, as well as gigantic & wasteful tax cuts for the rich. So, is it any wonder that our bridges have consistently scored poorly on the report cards of the American Society of Civil Engineers? Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

Friday, May 19, 2017

New Deal Bridge Art (4/5): Manhattan Bridge(s)

Above: "Manhattan Bridge," a gelatin silver print photograph by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project (FAP), 1936. According to the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, "In February of 1935, Abbott sent a [photography] proposal to the FAP, a division of the Works Progress Administration that financially assisted certain art projects... Finally in September she received funding for her Changing New York project. She was approved $145 per month, total artistic freedom and was given a 1930 Ford Roadster" (Abbot most likely made her proposal in conjunction with a museum, school, or government agency; or perhaps a history, art, or civic organization). Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Manhattan Bridge," a lithograph by Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Lozowick's "preferred medium was lithography. He made nearly 300 prints, using this method. 'He was making prints when they weren't popular,' Mrs. Lozowick said. 'He liked the bold and powerful black and white effects of the lithograph'" ("The Urban Legacy of Louis Lozowick," New York Times, November 15, 1981). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Deal Bridge Art (3/5): Harlem Bridges

Above: "Bridges Over Harlem River," a lithograph by Moses Oley (1898-1978), created while he was in one of the New Deal art programs, ca. 1934-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Harlem River Bridges," a screenprint by Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project. According to her Wikipedia biography, "From 1935 until the early 1940s, Olds was a nonrelief employee for the Works Progress Administration-Federal Art Project (WPA-FAP) in the Graphic Arts Division in New York, where she helped younger artists in the silkscreen unit." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Deal Bridge Art (2/5): "Bridge Over River"

Above: "Bridge Over River," a watercolor by Dong Kingman (1911-2000), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936. A biography of Kingman can be found on Wikipedia. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New Deal Bridge Art (1/5): "Ogden Avenue Viaduct"

Above: "Ogden Avenue Viaduct," a gouache painting by Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992), created while he was in the WPA's art program, 1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.