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Public Works Administration

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 8 years, 8 months ago



What were some of the biggest construction projects of the Thirties?

The 1930s witnessed major construction projects from coast to coast. The Triborough Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, and La Guardia Airport transformed the transportation network in New York City, and that city's Empire State Building reigned as the world's tallest building from 1931 to 1973.

But the South and the West, regions that had not already experienced development of their infrastructure as had the Northeast, were the principal beneficiaries of 1930s development. In the South, the Overseas Highway linked the Florida Keys, and the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority brought electricity and flood control to the Valley. Major projects in the West included Shasta Dam in California, Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, the nation's first freeway in Los Angeles, and both the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.


Why was there so much big building going on?

Several circumstances contributed to this phenomenon. The building of the Panama Canal in the early years of the century was an engineering triumph that led the nation to consider other projects of comparable scale; but World War I intervened before plans could be carried out. For example, planning for Hoover Dam began after the war in the early 1920s, even though construction didn't begin until 1931.  The growth of the West in the postwar years led to the demand for projects there that strengthened the infrastructure. Disastrous floods on the Mississippi River inspired flood control projects. The federal programs of the New Deal provided funds, organizational structure, and workers necessary to complete projects on a grand scale.

Recent decades have witnessed major construction projects that gained status similar to the magnificent achievements of the Thirties. The construction of sports stadiums comes to mind, although with the Astrodome abandoned, and the Seattle Superdome imploded, the monuments of the Thirties gain stature. The Fifties -- with the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the largest construction project ever undertaken, and the St. Lawrence Seaway -- offer competition in terms of scale, if not monumental stature.



Did the federal government play a role in any of the projects?

The federal government's role was indispensable to most of these projects, and this includes more than the New Deal programs initiated in the Thirties. The Bureau of Reclamation began planning in the 1920s for major dams, and supervised their construction in the 1930s. President Hoover's Reconstruction Finance Corporation remained a vehicle for financing projects under the Roosevelt administration. President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, of course, were crucial, in particular the Public Works Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority.


What was the Public Works Administration, and who was Harold Ickes?

The Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) was the New Deal's premier agency for the construction of big projects, and Harold Ickes was its administrator. The P.W.A., created under the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, received $3.3 billion in funding. In addition to its big projects, the P.W.A. built schools, courthouses, city halls, and hospitals.

Ickes served as secretary of the interior throughout Roosevelt's presidency, and became a competitor of Roosevelt adviser Harry Hopkins. Ickes advocated large public works projects to attack the Depression, while Hopkins, who headed the Works Progress Administration, argued for smaller projects meant to have the dual purpose of creating jobs and providing socially useful results. Ickes, often criticized at the time for being too cautious in implementing his projects and thus delaying the creation of jobs, nonetheless developed a reputation for incorruptible management of the P.W.A., and the historian William Leuchtenburg praised him as "a builder to rival Cheops" -- the Egyptian pharaoh whose tomb is the Great Pyramid.

Who found work through the New Deal, and what kinds of jobs did they do?

Millions of people found work through New Deal programs. The Civilian Conservation Corps alone employed two million men (women were ineligible for employment in this agency), and the Civil Works Administration employed twice as many people (of which about ten percent were women). They performed virtually any job imaginable. The P.W.A., of course, offered mainly construction jobs, but other agencies provided diverse opportunities. Perhaps the agency with the widest range of job possibilities was the Works Progress Administration, which included under its umbrella the Federal Theater Project, Federal Writers Project, and Federal Artists Project.




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