Tuesday, May 10, 2022

How the New Deal paved the way for the modern computer and Internet


Above: This image is from the report, The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F.E.R.A., April 1, 1934 to July 1, 1935, p. 23, and a full description of this groundbreaking differential analyzer can be found on pp. 25-26 (available on Hathitrust here).


Above: Part of an article from The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pennsylvania), April 4, 1934, p. 10. Image from newspapers.com, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

The New Deal's Computer-Makers

In 1934, with leftover funds from the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and many skilled relief workers in the newly-formed Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania created a "differential analyzer" - an early, giant-sized, mechanical computer. At the time, engineers said "the differential analyzer can do in 10 minutes the work that would take a dozen expert mathematicians a week to complete" ("Three Ton Machine Will Think For 12 Experts," United Press article, in the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune (Chillicothe, Missouri), July 16, 1934, p. 4). 

The University of Pennsylvania Archives & Records Center explains the significance of this New Deal-funded and staffed project:

"In 1935 the Moore School completed the Differential Analyzer – the world’s largest mechanical computation machine. The reliability of the Analyzer resulted in contract work for various University departments, private companies, and government agencies. In the early 1940s the Army Ballistic Research Laboratory contracted the Differential Analyzer to calculate artillery firing tables. From this work came the contract for the school to design and construct ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) in 1943. The Moore School would go on to design EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer) in 1946 and MSAC (Moore School Automatic Computer) in 1950."

And the University of Pennsylvania Engineering Department points out that ENIAC (which the New Deal-funded differential analyzer led to), "was the first general-purpose electronic computer... Today, it is difficult to imagine how we could manage without the myriad electronic devices that we utilize each day. From our smartphones, touch screens, and tiny cameras to our automobiles, airplanes and medical equipment and devices, electronics is the engine driving us forward. And it was here at the University of Pennsylvania that it all began."

Isn't it ironic that so many Americans, today, furiously type out--on their computer keyboards & smartphone keypads--all manner of insults directed at the poor and the unemployed... and all manner of warnings about the "evils" of progressive ideas and government... without the slightest knowledge that it was the poor, the unemployed, and progressive ideas and government (i.e., the New Deal) that paved the way for their ability to type out such foolishness?

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

WPA Cardinal


Above: "Cardinal," a watercolor painting by Gilbert Boese, created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1940. Image from the Minnesota Historical Society.


Above: A WPA poster. Image from the Broward County Library.


Above: This photo was taken by the American Museum of Natural History, and is in the WPA book, Birds of the World: An Illustrated Natural History (Albert Whitman & Co., 1938; 1949 edition, p. 193). The description for it reads: "CARDINAL (Cardinalis Cardinalis). Length: 8 inches. Range: Eastern North America. This black-faced finch is familiar to many as the 'red bird.' Its brilliant cardinal red provides the fields and woodlands with startling patches of moving color." Image used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.


Above: A cardinal in West Virginia, during a recent winter. Photo by Brent McKee.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

"America's Locomotive," courtesy of the New Deal


Above: Boston & Maine Locomotive No. 3713, also called The Constitution and "America's Locomotive." Photo by the National Park Service.


Above: Part of the home page of the Project3713 website. Project3713 is a preservation partnership between the National Park Service and the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railway Historical Society. Image used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

America's Locomotive

In 1934, the Boston & Maine Railroad utilized a loan from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) to make a large purchase of locomotives and train cars (“B. & M. Orders Rolling Stock,” The Boston Globe, May 11, 1934, p. 25). One of those locomotives was a Pacific-type 4-6-2 engine, No. 3713, soon named The Constitution (1937), and more recently dubbed "America's Locomotive" by Project3713.

The Constitution pulled passengers in the northeast from 1934 to 1956, and also served as a troop transport during World War II. Today, she is being restored at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania. You can read more about her history and restoration at Project3713.

Many New Deal locomotives and streamline trains have become legendary among railroad enthusiasts, but references to their New Deal origins are almost entirely absent on the Internet and in books. One must scan through newspaper archives and government reports (for example, reports from the PWA and the Interstate Commerce Commission) to locate the "New Deal information." That's a shame, because the New Deal's contribution to locomotive, train, and railroad history is significant; and that history shows that a government that is truly of, by, and for the people can make all sorts of good stuff happen.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Here are all the railroads the PWA helped save and improve


Above: For the railroads, the period between the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the New Deal (1933) was a dismal one - financial troubles, layoffs, and dwindling ridership. But with over $200 million in loans from the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) in 1933-1934 (and slightly earlier loans from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation) the mid-to-late 1930s became an exciting era for rail transportation, as the ad above shows - using an image of a PWA-financed Milwaukee Road locomotive. The New Deal helped usher in bigger locomotives, faster locomotives, streamliner trains, significant progress towards a national electric railroad system, and more. Ad above from an unknown source, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

The New Deal's Vitamin Injection for the Railroads

Here are all the railroads that the New Deal helped save (or, at the very least, repair and modernize) with PWA financing. Loan totals are shown in parenthesis. Monies were used for bridge repairs, equipment repairs, new track, new locomotives, and more. See source and note at the end of this list.

1. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad ($7,534,840)

2. Boston & Maine Railroad ($7,618,084)

3. Central of Georgia Railway ($120,000)

4. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway ($16,876,480)

5. Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railway ($251,300)

6. Chicago & North Western Railway ($3,461,913)

7. Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railroad ($404,673)

8. Chicago Great Western Railroad ($1,200,000)

9. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad ($10,456,133)

10. Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad ($253,577)  

11. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad ($4,736,000)

12. Erie Railroad ($14,518,060)

13. Escanaba, Iron Mountain & Western Railroad ($2,600,000)

14. Grand Trunk Western Railroad ($227,697)

15. Great Northern Railway ($5,976,880)

16. Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad ($1,255,000)

17. Illinois Central Railroad ($10,000,000)

18. Interstate Railroad ($250,000)

19. Kansas, Oklahoma & Gulf Railroad ($290,834)

20. Lehigh & New England Railroad ($1,211,669)

21. Lehigh Valley Railroad ($5,467,186)

22. Maine Central Railroad ($318,423)

23. Midland Continental Railroad ($52,000)

24. Missouri Southern Railroad ($54,000)

25. New York Central Railroad ($2,500,000)

26. New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad ($5,028, 208)

27. New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad ($7,150,000)

28. New York, Ontario & Western Railway ($235,000)

29. Nezperce & Idaho Railroad ($6,400)

30. Northern Pacific Railway ($1,220,000)

31. Pennsylvania Railroad ($80,650,000)

32. Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway ($378,500)

33. Seaboard Air Line Railway ($3,500,000)

34. Southern Pacific ($12,970,735)

35. Wabash Railway ($1,489,803)

36. Wisconsin Central Railway ($115,000)  

The information above comes from the Interstate Commerce Commission's (ICC) annual report for 1934. Loans from the PWA to the railroads had to receive a certificate of approval from the ICC. The ICC lists 36 railroad companies approved for PWA loans, totaling about $208 million. Other sources report 32 railroads, and closer to $200 million in loans; so its possible that some of the railroads listed by the ICC ultimately decided against taking the loans, or perhaps went belly-up before receiving the loans, or maybe other sources are wrong and there were indeed 36 railroads that received PWA loans. In any event, it is clear that the New Deal played a major role in saving and improving America's railroads during the 1930s.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Meet Rose Farmer: WPA Pack Horse Librarian... and Great American


Above: Rose Farmer, WPA Pack Horse Librarian, checks out books to a colleague in Leslie County, Kentucky, ca. 1935-1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: A closer view of Rose, from the previous photo.


Above: Here we see Rose, managing a WPA Pack Horse Librarian exhibit in Indianapolis, ca. 1935-1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.


Above: A closer look at a section of Rose's exhibit, which includes the photo from the top of this blog post.


Above: An announcement that Rose had arrived in England, for Red Cross wartime service. From The Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), December 29, 1944, p. 5. Image from newspapers.com, and used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.


Above: From Rose's obituary in the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Kentucky), April 27, 2005, p. 21. Image from newspapers.com, and used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Rose Farmer (February 3, 1910 - April 25, 2005)

I wasn't able to find out a lot about Rose's life, but we know that she attended Pikeville College and Berea College (both in Kentucky; see the "Arrived Overseas" announcement image above), and from her obituary we learn that she was a Pack Horse Librarian (thus verifying the photos) and worked for the Red Cross--both during and after World War II--for 37 years, serving at various posts around the world.

The obituary also tells us that her father was Felix Farmer (1877-1931) and her mother was Mollie Farmer (1885-1960) (see their Find a Grave web pages here and here, but note that the family information on these pages is incomplete, e.g, it shows Rose's sisters, Wanda and Anna, but not her brothers, Rex, Ed, and Bill). Rose's obituary does not mention a husband or children, but she has an additional surname "Rose Farmer Thomas," so we might assume that she was married at one time.

Rose died at the Mary Breckenridge Hospital (Hyden, Kentucky) and visitation services were held at the Dwayne Walker Funeral Home (also in Hyden). I don't know if she was buried or cremated, but it's possible she rests at the Brewer Cemetery where other family members are (I couldn't find her on Find a Grave, but I'm not sure if Brewer Cemetery has been completely inventoried).

Rose Farmer seems to have lived a life devoted to others, and in my book that makes her a great American. Let's remember her.

Friday, April 8, 2022

New Deal Art: "Surveyors"


Above: "Surveyors," an artwork by Joseph Meert (1905-1989), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1933-1934. Meert also created several Post Office murals. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Monday, March 28, 2022

New Deal Art: "Refugees"


Above: "Refugees," a lithograph by Joseph Leboit (1907-2002), created while he was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.