On this day in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs an executive order creating the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was just one of many Great Depression relief programs created under the auspices of the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, which Roosevelt had signed the month before. The WPA, the Public Works Administration (PWA) and other federal assistance programs put unemployed Americans to work in return for temporary financial assistance. Out of the 10 million jobless men in the United States in 1935, 3 million were helped by WPA jobs alone.
While FDR believed in the elementary principles of justice and fairness, he also expressed disdain for doling out welfare to otherwise able workers. So, in return for monetary aid, WPA workers built highways, schools, hospitals, airports and playgrounds. They restored theaters–such as the Dock Street Theater in Charleston, S.C.–and built the ski lodge at Oregon’s Mt. Hood. The WPA also put actors, writers and other creative arts professionals back to work by sponsoring federally funded plays, art projects, such as murals on public buildings, and literary publications. FDR safeguarded private enterprise from competition with WPA projects by including a provision in the act that placed wage and price controls on federally funded products or services.
Opponents of the New Deal in Congress gradually pared back WPA appropriations in the years leading up to World War II. By 1940, the economy was roaring back to life with a surge in defense-industry production and, in 1943, Congress suspended many of the programs under the ERA Act, including the WPA.