Friday, November 30, 2012

Something good out of something bad

"Every time I go over to central park, I walk into the Children's Zoo. This was built during the Depression by WPA workers. It's an absolutely lovely place. I go into the park often. And I cannot help remembering--look, this came out of the Depression. Because men were out of work, because they were given a way to earn money, good things were created."

--Herman Shumlin, Broadway Producer & Director, from the book Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The WPA & American Education

(A WPA art class, at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Exact date unknown)

A recent Huffington Post article reports, "The United States places 17th (out of 40) in the developed world for education, according to a global report by the education firm Pearson."

During the New Deal era, the WPA built & repaired schools, hired unemployed teachers, and offered a multitude of educational and training classes to children and adults.

Like our infrastructure, our educational system is sagging. Meanwhile, we have about 5 million citizens who are described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as long-term unemployed. Some of these unemployed citizens could be hired as teachers in a public works program. Others could benefit from the free classes and training that such a public works program would provide. But we're not going to do this. Why?

(Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tolliver Falls

Tolliver Falls in Swallow Falls State Park (Garrett County, Maryland). Swallow Falls State Park--in my opinion--is one of the most beautiful state parks in the country. It is one of hundreds that the CCC helped create.

(Photo by Brent McKee)  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

WPA wartime posters

The WPA made many interesting posters to promote the war effort. This one was made between 1941 and 1943.

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The New Deal uncovers the past

Here's a recent blog post (from someone who is researching archaeology in the United States during the New Deal era) about CCC- and WPA-assisted archaeology in Maryland:

Friday, November 23, 2012

American Infrastructure

Above: WPA workers building a bridge in Harford County, Maryland, in June of 1936.

According to this article/op-ed, the World Economic Forum recently lowered America's infrastructure ranking from 8th to 25th in the world, and the American Society of Civil Engineers gives a D+ letter grade to our infrastructure. And, according to this article, "Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country."

During the Great Depression, the services of contractors and the unemployed were utilized to modernize American infrastructure. The PWA funded colossal structures like the Hoover Dam, the CCC developed state and national parks for eager tourists and vacationers, the WPA performed enough roadwork to circle the Earth 26 times, and other work projects were carried out by agencies like the CWA, NYA, and U.S. Treasury.

Today, we seem to have a more lackadaisical attitude about our deteriorating infrastructure, and there seems to be more calls from our political leaders to drug test the unemployed than to give them meaningful & important work opportunities.


(Photo by the WPA, courtesy of the University of College Park Maryland Archives)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Workers at a WPA food distribution project. This picture reminds me of when I was handing out turkeys to families in need, shortly before Thanksgiving 2003, while in Americorps.

(Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jobs, not drug tests

WPA workers made thousands of sidewalks across the nation. Today, some politicians want to drug test the unemployed. During the Great Depression, they wanted to give them jobs.  

(Photo by the WPA, courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Monday, November 19, 2012

WPA Theater Productions

Another neat WPA poster. This one advertises for one of the many theater plays produced by the WPA. Instead of breadlines, unemployed actors had opportunities to work and to entertain.    

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Germany & Savage River

The CCC helped develop New Germany State Park and Savage River State Forest in Maryland.  Their work included fire prevention, tree planting, construction of a new dam, ski trails, roads, and many structures (see here for more information).  Today, the park and forest offer an array of recreational opportunities.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alf Landon and the New Deal

The following was an exchange between Studs Terkel and Alf Landon, many years after Landon ran against FDR in 1936 as the Republican candidate:

Terkel: "Do you feel the New Deal saved our society?"

Landon: "By and large? (Pause.) Yes."

(From the book "Hard Times: An Oral History of Great Depression," by Studs Terkel.  New York: Random House, 1970 (p. 336 of New Press paperback edition, 2000))

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Our infrastructure, and our unemployed, wasting away

(WPA workers installing a water line, near Annapolis, Maryland, in April of 1938. Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives).

On November 12, 2012, the following was reported in the Baltimore Sun:

"For the second time in six days, Baltimore's aging water system ruptured, affecting service to dozens of businesses and homes downtown and in Essex, including two hospitals, while snarling traffic and providing yet another unpleasant reminder of the regions crumbling infrastructure." (Mary Gale Hare, City's infrastructure problems continue with two water main breaks Monday: Fractures join list of several this month in Baltimore City, Baltimore Sun, November 12, 2012,,0,2213225.story, accessed November 14, 2012)

During the New Deal, via the WPA, America offered work opportunities to the unemployed, and the unemployed embraced those opportunities.  Among their many accomplishments, WPA workers installed 124 miles of new water lines in Maryland, and 16,121 miles of new water lines across the country. (Statistics from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 136. Federal Works Agency, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946)

According to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 5 million Americans who are considered long-term unemployed. (, accessed November 14, 2012).

Our infrastructure deteriorates, our unemployed lose hope, and year after year we refuse to connect the dots. Why?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Herrington Manor State Park

The beach, lake, and dam at Herrington Manor State Park in Garrett County, Maryland.

When I visited the park, there was a sign on one of the outdoor bulletin boards that read: "Building Herrington Manor Lake: The Herrington Manor Dam was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1934 and 1942. Two hundred young men between the ages of 18 to 25 worked for $30 a month--and were very glad to have the work. Families were limited to one person per family working for the CCC. During the period the CCCs also constructed the lake Concession Building, ten of the rental cabins at Herrington Manor, and the pavilions at Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls State Parks. In addition, they planted trees to reforest the area."

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Let's remember our veterans--those who served and those who died.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Coopers Rock State Forest

(Scenic overlook at Coopers Rock State Forest, photo by Brent McKee)

The CCC did extensive work at Coopers Rock State Forest, near Morgantown, West Virginia.  A plaque at the park reads: "In recognition of their historic significance, the Coopers Rock facilities, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps 1936-1942, have been placed in the National Register of Historic Places, by the U.S. Department of the Interior."  (Plaque created by the Coopers Rock Foundation)

Coopers Rock is just one of the hundreds of parks that the CCC helped develop in America.

Friday, November 9, 2012

300 Million Dollars of New Deal

The Tygart Dam, near Grafton, West Virginia.

According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce: "Construction of Tygart Dam started in 1935 and was completed in 1938.  It was one of the first Public Works Administration (PWA) projects initiated to reduce unemployment through the construction of massive, labor intensive projects.  Veterans, as well as men from (local) counties were given employment preference...Tygart Dam is currently operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The dam overlook area is open to the public from sunrise to sunset and free public tours are available Fridays in June, July & August" (, accessed November 9, 2012).

The cost to construct the dam was about $18 million, or about $300 million in today's dollars (, accessed November 9, 2012)

Photo by Brent McKee. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Forging Ahead

One of my favorite WPA posters.  (Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sissy Spacek and the WPA

In The Waltons television series, in the episode "The Odyssey" (1973), actress Sissy Spacek plays the character Sarah Jane Simmons.  John Boy, in attempt to find some peace and quiet, happens upon Sarah Jane in an abandoned cabin.  The following exchange occurs:

John Boy (upon learning of Sarah Jane's pregnancy): "Where's your husband?"

Sarah Jane: "Oh, he's in Norfolk.  See, he got laid off from his job, so he went to go look for work in a WPA project..."

I always find it interesting when the WPA is mentioned in popular media.  Here, the WPA is portrayed as a safety net.  When someone was laid off, the WPA offered the possibility of re-employment.  It was an agency that offered some hope.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The WPA paints a boat!

The WPA is primarily remembered for its construction of roads, bridges, buildings, etc.  But the variety of the work they performed is actually much greater.  Here, WPA workers are seen painting a municipal icebreaker (probably in Baltimore).

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A new WPA and CCC could help with future disasters

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

In an article on the Huffington Post today, Staten Island residents claim that Hurricane Sandy relief efforts have been insufficient: "Official help has arrived in the last couple of days, but many residents say it's not enough and poorly organized" (click here for full article).

There are certainly many good and competent professionals who respond to natural disasters.  Victims of Hurricane Sandy would be in a much more horrific situation without them.  But could it be that manpower levels are simply inadequate for these larger types of natural disasters?

The WPA and CCC responded to many natural disasters during the New Deal era. Officials frequently complimented these agencies for the swiftness of their response.

According to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are still about 5 million Americans who are considered "long-term unemployed." Natural disasters, however frequent and whatever their cause, will continue to harm the nation.  Why not connect the dots?  Why not supplement our current volume of rescue workers with newly trained rescue workers from the ranks of the long-term unemployed?  They could fill support roles, or serve directly on the front lines, responding to wild fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, etc.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Let's remember the Civil Works Administration

(Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Harry Hopkins wrote: "Long after the workers of CWA are dead and gone and these hard times forgotten, their effort will be remembered by permanent useful works in every county of every state. People will ride over bridges they made, travel on their highways, attend schools they built, navigate waterways they improved, do their public business in courthouses and state capitols which workers from CWA rescued from disrepair. Constantly expanded and diversified to offer use for the special skills and training of different types of workers, the CWA program finally extended its scope to almost every kind of community activity. We had two hundred thousand CWA projects." (In "Spending to Save," p. 120, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1936)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Flood walls, courtesy of the unemployed

The unemployed built flood walls across the nation to help protect cities & towns from loss of life & property.  This flood wall was constructed in Midland, Maryland, in 1937.

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The WPA cleans up after a flood

WPA workers cleaning up debris in Cumberland, Maryland, after the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936.  The WPA--as well as other New Deal agencies--responded to a multitude of natural disasters across America.

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)