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American Innovations: The New Deal and Putting America to Work


Written By: Christine Dantz

February 2016

Not all American innovations come with physical parameters; innovations are also in new ideas that advance society. That's the case with the "New Deal," a plan implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt through a series of legislative bills and Executive Orders beginning in 1933 with his first term. The president believed that in perilous times, it was the responsibility of the government to help the people, to which the New Deal was born.

The Works Progress Administration:  

The largest agency created by the New Deal was the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (1935-1943). This agency built the America you know today. For an average of $41.57 a month, these employees built the country's airports, bridges, public buildings, parks, and roads.



Works Progress Administration's Work  Program

(A 1935 poster promoting the Works Progress Administration's Work Program)



The WPA was expensive; in fact, it cost more to fund the WPA than it would to provide relief payments to the unemployed Americans. But the Director, Harry Hopkins, believed strongly in the program and its benefits, "Give a man a dole, and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit."



FDR and Director Hopkins, September 1938

(FDR and Director Hopkins, September 1938)



Many of the large products, such as the construction of dams, bridges, and lock systems were overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and any worker doing skilled labor had previous experience in that field.



Bonneville Power Lock and Dam Construction, October 1938

(Bonneville Power Lock and Dam Construction, October 1938)




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The Bonneville Lock and Dam on the Columbia River in Oregon was a WPA project. In 1987, it was named a National Historic Landmark.



Bonneville Dam operating

(The Bonneville Power Lock and Dam, September 1938)



WPA approved the Boise High School Gym

(In 1936, the WPA approved the Boise High School Gym in Idaho)



Costilla, New Mexico teaches a WPA worker how to weave rag  rugs in 1939

(A woman in Costilla, New Mexico teaches a WPA worker how to weave rag rugs in 1939)




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One way the WPA integrated its programs into the lives of those struggling with unemployment was to utilized a variety of skilled talents, such as hiring unemployed teachers to teach free adult education programs, which helped improve skills needed for employment.



Free Adult Education program provided by the WPA

(Free Adult Education program provided by the WPA)



The National Youth Administration: June 26, 1935 to 1939:

The National Youth Administration (NYA) was overseen by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of a plan under the New Deal to improve the vocational skills of unemployed youths that were no longer in school. In the 1930s, only 30 percent of students completed high school.



Women in 1937 work to improve their typing skills

(Young Women in 1937 work to improve their typing skills; a talent that is a necessity today)



With the unemployment rate so high, both U.S. Conservatives and Liberals were concerned about the damage being done to the country's future with the down and out young people living through the first Great Depression. They lacked jobs, education, and hope. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, worked closely to establish the NYA and once told the New York Times, "I live in real terror when I think we may be losing this generation. We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary."



Poster for the NYA

(Poster for the NYA in Illinois, 1937)



With the push from his wife for developing a program to benefit America's youth, FDR signed the Executive Order establishing the NYA. They provided the first work study programs for high school and college students. The NYA paid for their education in exchange for work.



NYA Inaugural Parade Float in 1937 promoting 7,000 projects for  out-of-school youths

(NYA Inaugural Parade Float in 1937 promoting 7,000 projects for out-of-school youths that employ 182,000 young men and women)



Young  men working with heavy machinery in 1938 under the  supervision of the NYA

(Young men working with heavy machinery in 1938 under the supervision of the NYA)



It's true, not everyone agreed with FDR's aggressive plan to save America; the New Deal is still controversial to this day. All the efforts to quash the New Deal were finally settled during the 1936 general election when the public voted for FDR with 27 million votes…while his opponent received 16 million, which represented 37-percent of the American voters.

For FDR, this represented a landslide victory; yet 16 million Americans clearly did not agree with the New Deal.

Whether or not you agree that the New Deal was a success, certainly no one can argue that it helped millions of Americans find, once again, the dignity that comes with work and the ability to feed their families during one of the harshest periods of American history.



Photo of farm with sign opposing the New Deal


(Photo of farm with sign opposing the New Deal)

 

References
48223669(89)/Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. (1938, September 2). Retrieved from Franklin: Access to the FDR Library's Digital Collection.
48223864(94)/Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. (1938). Retrieved from Franklin: Access to the FDR Library's Digital Collections.
Building Strong at Beonneville Lock and Dam. (n.d.). Retrieved from NWP, US Army Corps of Engineers.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. (1937). NYA typing class.gif. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
General Article: The New Deal. (n.d.). Retrieved from PBS: American Experience.
General Article: The Works Progress Administration (WPA). (n.d.). Retrieved from PBS: American Experience.
Leonhardt, D. (2010, May 7). Students of the Great Recession. Retrieved from The New York Times Magazine.
New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress); Associated Press Photographs. (1938). FDR-Hopkins-September-1938.jpg. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
NYA Inaugural Parade Float 1937.jpg. (1937, January 20). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
NYA Poster Illinois 1937.jpg. (1937, August 28). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Public Works Administration Project, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Benneville Power and Navigation Dam in Oregan...-NARA-195806.tif. (1936, October 24). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Rothstein, A. (1935-1942). This farmer is not on government relief.jpg. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
SoggenDaz. (2008). Boise High School Gymnasium.jpg. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary: National youth Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved from gwu.edu.
unknown. (1935-1943). WPAAdultEducation.gif. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
WPA. (1939). Women Working for the WPA.jpg. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Wpa1.jpg. (1935). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

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Other Articles of Interest:

The Early Days of Amputation in America

The Amazingly Long History of Bowling

Vintage Lysol: All-Purpose Disinfectant and Feminine Hygiene Product?

Elizabeth Jennings Graham: The Rosa Parks of 1855
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