The Works Progress Administration

The Works Progress Administration

The Works Progress Administration: A New Deal Legacy

Relief for Millions During the Great Depression

Amidst the turmoil of the 1930s, the U.S. Federal Government unveiled its most ambitious New Deal project: the Works Progress Administration (WPA), later renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939. Under the guidance of Harry Hopkins, the WPA aimed to bring relief to the millions of unemployed Americans struggling through the Great Depression. At its zenith in 1938, the WPA provided paid work for over three million men, women, and youth across the nation, through the National Youth Administration.

Transforming America's Landscape

The WPA left a lasting mark on America's landscape, constructing countless public buildings, regional airports, and roads. Nearly every U.S. community saw the birth of a new park, bridge, or school during this era. Initially funded with $4.9 billion, the WPA eventually spent a staggering $13.4 billion on various projects.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's Vision for the WPA

A Vital Part of the New Deal Plan

On May 6, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the WPA with an executive order. It served as a vital part of his New Deal plan to lift the country out of the Great Depression by reforming the financial system and restoring the economy to pre-Depression levels. The unemployment rate in 1935 was a shocking 20 percent, and the WPA was designed to provide relief for the unemployed by offering jobs and income to millions of Americans. At its height in late 1938, more than 3.3 million Americans worked for the WPA.

Public Works Infrastructure Projects

Primarily employing unskilled men, the WPA undertook vast public works infrastructure projects. They built over 4,000 new school buildings, 130 new hospitals, 29,000 new bridges, 150 new airfields, and paved or repaired 280,000 miles of roads. Furthermore, they laid approximately 9,000 miles of storm drains and sanitary sewer lines and planted 24 million trees.

The WPA's Cultural Impact: Federal Project Number One

Supporting the Arts during the Great Depression

Federal Art Project

But the WPA's influence extended beyond infrastructure – it also reached into the world of art. Under the banner of Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors, and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. These creative minds produced thousands of poster designs for public exhibits, community activities, theatrical productions, health, safety and educational programs, and nature and travel.

The Federal Art Project and Its Lasting Influence

The WPA's Federal Art Project (FAP) was one of the largest and most ambitious art programs ever created by the US government. It employed thousands of artists, including painters, sculptors, photographers, and graphic designers to create public works of art that could be enjoyed by all Americans. They taught art classes to an estimated 50,000 children and adults. They established more than 100 art centers around the country, serving an estimated eight million individuals. The WPA arts programs ultimately led to the creation of the National Foundation of the Arts.

The Legacy of the Works Progress Administration

Notable Artists and National Park Posters

Many notable artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Lee Krasner, found employment with the WPA before they became world-renowned. These artists, along with others, would go on to form the New 

Jackson Pollack

York School, an avant-garde art movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The WPA also designed posters for America's National Parks, encouraging citizens to explore the nation's natural treasures. By the end of the WPA era, only 26 National Parks had been established, and just 14 national park posters had been created.

Criticisms and Achievements

However, the WPA faced criticism from some politicians for inefficiencies and high costs, as well as from unions for not offering wages on par with the private sector. The term "boondoggling" was coined to describe government projects deemed wasteful or pointless, and the WPA's arts programs faced frequent backlash from Congress and the general public.

Despite these criticisms, the WPA is celebrated today for the employment it provided to millions during the darkest days of the Great Depression, as well as for its enduring legacy of intelligently designed, well-built schools, dams, roads, bridges, and other structures – many of which remain in use today.

A Model for Rebuilding America's Economy and Infrastructure

As a successor to previous New Deal programs like Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), National Youth Administration (NYA), Public Works Administration (PWA), etc., WPA played an essential role in rebuilding America's economy and infrastructure while also supporting artists' creative endeavors. Its legacy continues today as a reminder that even during difficult times, we can come together as a nation to support one another and build a brighter future.

National Park Posters: Reviving the WPA's Artistic Style

Rob Decker's Modern Take on WPA-Era Posters

Building on the legacy of the WPA, Rob Decker, a passionate photographer, artist, and craftsman is preserving the nostalgic style of the WPA-era by creating a new collection of National Park poster art for the modern generation. Each limited-edition poster, artist proof, and postcard is printed in the USA on 100% recycled, domestically produced "Conservation" stock using soy-based inks. They are printed by one of the greenest printers in America, located in Colorado.

Independent Project Honoring the WPA's Spirit

These posters, while not officially endorsed or sponsored by the National Park Service or the Department of the Interior, capture the spirit and essence of the WPA's style from the 1930s and 1940s. National Park Posters is an independent project, unaffiliated with the National Park Service or the Department of the Interior.

Explore America's National Parks

Discover more about the artist, Robert B. Decker, and his limited-edition National Park Posters at Embark on your own journey to explore America's National Parks today!

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