1998 32¢ Celebrate the Century - 1930s: FDR's New Deal
US #3185e honors several New Deal programs, including the WPA.

On May 6, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 7034, establishing the Works Progress Administration.

Roosevelt won a resounding presidential victory in 1932 with his contagious optimism and promise of a “new deal.” On Roosevelt’s Inauguration Day, 25% of the workforce was unemployed, farm prices and industrial production had dropped by more than half, and two million people were homeless. The nation was in the midst of a bank panic, fueled largely by speculation, which led FDR to proclaim, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

2017 WPA Posters
US #5180-89 – Complete set of 10 WPA poster stamps

Roosevelt moved quickly, implementing several drastic policies in his first hundred days in office. Under his leadership, Congress passed a series of landmark bills that expanded the role of the federal government and placed it in both the economy and people’s lives. Among these programs was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which provided direct assistance to Americans.

2017 WPA Posters Complete set of 10 WPA posters First Day Cover
US #5180-89 – Complete set of 10 WPA posters First Day Cover

By 1935, Roosevelt wanted to move away from direct assistance and toward providing new jobs for the unemployed. In January, he stated, “The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief. I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further sapped by the giving of cash, of market baskets, of a few hours of weekly work cutting grass, raking leaves or picking up papers in public parks. We must preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destruction but also their self-respect, their self-reliance and courage, and determination.”

On January 21, Congress introduced a joint resolution, called the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. Roosevelt signed it into law on April 8 and established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) through Executive Order 7034 on May 6, 1935. The WPA replaced the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and would begin providing aid through public works programs rather than direct assistance.

2017 $23.75 Gateway Arch, Express Mail
US #5157 – The WPA was involved in the early stages of the Gateway Arch.

The WPA was made up of several different divisions, including the Division of Engineering and Construction, which built airports, dams, highways, and sanitation systems. There was also the Division of Professional Service Projects, which handled white-collar projects such as education and recreation programs as well as art projects. Other divisions included Finance, Information, Investigation, Statistics, Project Control, Employment, Safety, Supply, and Training and Reemployment.

2014 49¢ War of 1812: Fort McHenry
US #4921 – The WPA oversaw the restoration of Fort McHenry.

Among these ambitious programs was Federal Project Number One. Federal Project Number One was a $27 million program aimed at creating jobs for thousands of artists, musicians, actors, and writers. The largest of these projects was the Federal Art Project. Out-of-work artists were paid about $23 a week to create murals, paintings, sculptures, photographs, theater set designs, and other art forms. These artists also created over 100 community art centers to both display and teach their craft. A number of now-famous artists were able to survive the Depression thanks to this program, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Arshile Gorky. In all, the Federal Art Project employed some 10,000 artists and yielded over 200,000 separate works of art. These artists also produced thousands of posters to promote WPA projects (as pictured on the US stamps above).

1959 4¢ Oregon Statehood
US #1124 – The WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood.

Over the course of eight years, WPA projects employed 8.5 million people. As a result of these projects, nearly every community in the country had a new park, bridge, or school. In all, there were 40,000 new and 85,000 improved buildings. The WPA was dissolved in June 1943 as World War II created many more jobs.

Click here for a neat website that has info about nearly every New Deal and WPA project.

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10 Comments

  1. Thanks for including Scott #1124. I did not realize that it pictures Mount Hood! Love all these little details about our United States postage stamps. -jws

  2. I am just (83) old enough to remember a few memories of the Great Depression: The long trip from Iowa to Spokane, my Dad shirtless in the heat, the wart on his back; my three older sister sisters teasing me as we crossed Nebraska, the Rockies growing from hazy grey blue to majestic mountains; the portrait of FDR in a place of reverence in my Uncle Emil’s (he had worked on the Grand Coulee Dam project) living room; my Dad, working two and three jobs to put food on the table, etc. Then WWII, Sunday dinners with several GI’s joining us (from the USO dances). eventually marrying my sisters, etc.

  3. I never noticed the star on the left side of the stamp before. Start representing admission to the US

  4. I remember being told by some of those who lived through the Depression that they watched some of the “workers” leaning on their shovels instead of working. As a result, they referred to the WPA as “We Piddle Around.”

  5. ANOTHER great update and informing opportunity to know more about our U.S. history. Thanks, Mystic !

  6. The Timberline Lodge just had a fire on April 18, 2024, which damaged parts of the original roof and attic built by the WPA. Fortunately, the fire was contained quickly despite its distance from any fire station nearby (Hoodland is the nearest, but Clackamas Fire responded) and the lodge reopened a few days later. I hope the burned parts of the lodge will soon be restored to its glory.

  7. There is a sidewalk in Madera California with an inscription, “WPA 1940.” Imagin that…the workers who paved that sidewalk are all gone now, but people walk up and down probably never looking down, and that sidewalk is still there 84 after years. Some years ago, I saw a stone table at a campground in California’s Sierra Nevada. On the base, there was an inscription, “CCC 1938” (CCC stood for the Civilian Conservation Corps). Again, the boys and young men who constructed that table are all gone now, but it is still in use by campers.

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