Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No WPA to help clean up after Hurricane Sandy

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On NBC Nightly News, on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, in a flooded underground train station, anchor Brian Williams was shown interviewing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Williams states (30 seconds into the video): "So, let's talk infrastructure governor. Short of a WPA, short of a Rooseveltian undertaking to rebuild our cities, how do we rebuild our cities, because we can't have this?"

The rest of the interview highlights the notion that natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, are likely to become more frequent due to climate change. It seems to me that now is a great time to institute a new and permanent WPA to help prepare for natural disasters, help clean up after natural disasters, and help those affected by natural disasters...just like the old WPA did. Why not give the long-term unemployed meaningful and important work opportunities in this age of job outsourcing and high un- and under-employment?

Happy Halloween

A WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

1938 New England Hurricane

Interesting 11-minute video of the WPA responding to a powerful hurricane in New England in 1938.  Video produced by the WPA, provided courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Different Times, Same Cruelty

Here's an observation from the Great Depression that reminds me of today's cruelty towards the unemployed:

"The very employers who had thought highly enough of workers to use their services for four, eight, twelve or sixteen years, now began to talk of them openly as lazy fellows or spongers, willing to accept the taxpayers' money. The same persons who had once been moved to sympathy by the pitiful predicament of workers whom they had seen dislodged from regular jobs, now began to lump them all into a general category of the undeserving."

--Harry Hopkins, in "Spending to Save," p. 110, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1936.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Waltons and the New Deal

The TV show "The Waltons" had numerous references and set designs related to the New Deal. Here, we see a WPA sign as John Boy, Grandpa, and the Baldwin sisters walk to a movie theater.

(Image is from the episode "The Reunion," air date December 14, 1972, Warner Brothers Television, series created by Earl Hamner, Jr.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The New Deal In Color!

This picture is from the Great Depression Color Photograph collection at the Library of Congress ( The caption reads: "Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic at the Naval Air Base, in the Assembly and Repair Department, Corpus Christi, Texas." The photo was taken by Howard R. Hollem in 1942.

Notice the National Youth Administration logo on Ms. Peaks' uniform (click on image to enlarge).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Big New Deal Buildings

The Hagerstown City Hall (Maryland)--one of the many monumental building projects funded by the Public Works Administration.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

An NYA Cabin

A cabin built by the National Youth Administration, in 1936, in Federalsburg, Maryland.

(Photo by Brent McKee. Information from a report on file at the Maryland Historical Trust)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Need a culvert put in or fixed? The WPA did that.

The WPA put in (or improved) 1,178,933 culverts. Were these projects boondoggles, or were they useful projects to help prevent roads from getting washed out?

(Photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistic from the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," p. 135)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fire Towers

The CCC built many fire towers across the nation to help protect our forests. This one is at Lost River State Park in West Virginia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Depression's Silver Lining

"If the depression that began in 1929 can be compared with a dark cloud, then the work done under WPA is its silver lining. For the major projects undertaken in Maryland and other States have been of a kind to be of lasting value to the communities involved."

--Francis H. Dryden, Maryland WPA Administrator (and later, acting national administrator). Quote found in the Baltimore Sun, March 26, 1939, p. 14.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Deal Signs

(Image courtesy of WP Clip Art)

Across the country, the WPA erected 937,282 traffic signs. (From the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," p. 131)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The New Deal Made Us Healthier!

(WPA Poster)

New Deal agencies built hospitals, gave immunizations, performed dental work for children, offered health care training, and more. The New Deal was instrumental in helping America become a healthier nation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Post Office Mural: Oakland, Maryland

According to the New Deal Art Registry, this mural--in the Oakland (Maryland) Post Office--was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury in 1942, and painted by Robert F. Gates. It is titled "Buckwheat Harvest."

(Image used for educational, non-commercial, and non-profit making purposes.  Copyright, United States Postal Service.  All rights reserved)  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

CCC camps for young women?

The CCC was created for young men in their late teens and early twenties (with some exceptions made for older men). But if a new CCC were ever created, it would certainly be open to young women, and perhaps there would also be some co-ed camps. This is hardly surprising, given America's cultural changes over the last 80 years.

But it might surprise some people to learn that female CCC camps were frequently contemplated during the New Deal. These hoped-for camps came to be known as "She-She-She" camps. Unfortunately, the CCC was disbanded before such camps could be realized.

(Information found in "The WPA and Federal Relief Policy," by Donald S. Howard, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, p. 282 (in footnote).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Historic Preservation Corps

The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, in Colorado, has a Historic Preservation Corps program that "provides employment opportunities for local young adults in a crew-based format...members train and work under the supervision of a HPC crew leader and a local contractor, learning valuable construction and historic preservation techniques while completing priority projects." (Click here)

If a new WPA were ever created, historic preservation projects could make up a good chunk of the work projects. People of all ages could teach history, restore old buildings, perform & transcribe oral histories, write histories for small towns, and so on.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

FDR Quote

Someone sent me this FDR quote:

"No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order....I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed. On the contrary, we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then to take wise measures against its return."


Saturday, October 6, 2012

October is a good month to read

One of the hundreds of cool posters created by WPA artists. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Friday, October 5, 2012

We Need More Of These

I've only seen a few state historical markers like the ones above. It would be good if there were more, so Americans could know about all the New Deal era projects that surround them, and all the New Deal era projects that they utilize and enjoy. If you know of a project/site that should receive some recognition, contact your state historical office and see what the application process is for a marker (it might be easier than you think). Photos by Brent McKee.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The WPA, the CCC, and mosquitoes

(Image provided courtesy of WPClipart)

A recent Reuters article reports that 2012 is turning out to be a very bad year for the West Nile virus (click here). As part of their efforts to combat the spread of disease, the Centers for Disease Control helps the states "develop and carry out improved mosquito prevention and control programs," and suggests various mosquito population control measures (see, e.g.,

During the Great Depression, both the WPA and CCC worked on mosquito control projects. Today, we have a mosquito problem and about 5 million long-term unemployed Americans.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think we used to be a lot better at connecting the dots?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A CCC Statue

A statue to honor the work of the CCC boys, in Gambrill State Park, Frederick County, Maryland. Photo by Brent McKee.

New Deal Archaeology

Here's an interesting website, designed "to promote the study of archaeology conducted under the auspices of federal work relief funding during the Great Depression, and to promote research using field records and archaeological collections generated as part of these New Deal-funded archaeological investigations."

Roosevelt & Reagan liked the WPA, so why don't we?

(FDR image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Reagan image courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

In his autobiography--"Ronald Reagan: An American Life"--Reagan wrote: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

In the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," FDR wrote: "(The WPA) has added to the national wealth, has repaired the wastage of depression and has strengthened country to bear the burden of war."

Question: If one of the main Democrat/Progressive heroes (FDR) liked the WPA, and one of the main Republican/Conservative heroes (Reagan) liked the WPA, then why don't we have a new WPA to address our persistently high unemployment rates? (There is/was a "21st Century WPA Act," but it appears to have either died in committee, or has been collecting dust for the past year. See:

The WPA's Jurassic Park

Did you know that the WPA helped create Dinosaur Park in South Dakota?

(Image is in the public domain, courtesy of Minnesota Jones and wikipedia)

The WPA Orchestra Lives On!...well, sort of

The website of the Utah Symphony states: "Previous to its official founding, the Utah Symphony's first incarnation was as a Works Progress Administration Orchestra from 1935 to 1940." (, accessed 10-3-2012).

Behind a lot of the WPA's recreation, theater, music, and art projects, was a hope that local communities would continue--in some way--the cultural activities that the WPA had initiated. So, it's nice to see the spirit of the WPA lives on in the Utah Symphony.