Engineers started serving in the American Army in 1775 and became known as the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers. The “Army Corps of Engineers” (hereafter, the Corps) was officially established in 1802  and has operated as a civil works branch of government ever since. Today, its mission is to “Deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters” . In terms of public works, the Corps is best known for two things: navigation improvements on the nation’s rivers and coastal waterways, including ship canals and harbors, and flood control works, such as dams, levees and channelizations.
During the New Deal era, the Corps utilized funding from the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and federal emergency relief appropriations . The Corps also worked with other agencies, as in reviewing plans for small Works Progress Administration (WPA) dam construction and river improvements  and partnering with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on several projects . In undertaking its works, the Corps hired relief labor, contracted with private construction firms, and stimulated overall job creation . For example, in 1936, with both regular and emergency relief appropriations, the Corps “provided direct employment for approximately 75,000 men…and for the indirect employment of at least that many more…” .
The Corps was an integral part of the New Deal public works effort, working all across the country. It participated in three major hydroelectric power projects: Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project in Maine, Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, and Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River . It carried out harbor improvements at Honolulu, San Juan, San Francisco, Miami and Galveston. It worked on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, the Cape Cod Canal and the Ocean City Inlet (MD). It built and expanded the enormous flood control works along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers (an effort triggered by major floods in 1927 and 1937), as well as dams on smaller rivers such as the Rio Grande, Salmon (AL) and Canadian (NM). And it turned the Los Angeles River into the cement causeway famous from Hollywood films .
During the New Deal years, the Corps utilized about half-a-billion dollars of New Deal funding – $258 million from NIRA, $97 million from PWA, and $162 million from federal emergency relief appropriations (in total, about $8.3 billion in 2014 dollars) . The Corps expanded to such a degree that in 1936 Congress “authorized the appointment of an additional Assistant Chief of Engineers, with rank of brigadier general, and an increase of 180 officers in its personnel” .
Four different officers served as the Chief of Engineers during the New Deal and World War II years: Major General Lytle Brown (1933), Major General Edward Murphy Markham (1933-1937), Major General Julian Larcombe Schley (1937-1941), and Lieutenant General Eugene Reybold (1941-1945) .
Sources: (1) “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: A Brief History,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, http://www.usace.army.mil/About/History/BriefHistoryoftheCorps/Introduction.aspx, accessed July 19, 2015, and “Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers,” National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/077.html, accessed July 19, 2015. (2) “Mission & Vision,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, http://www.usace.army.mil/About/MissionandVision.aspx, accessed July 19, 2015. (3) See, e.g., “Report of the Chief of Engineers,” 1936, pp. 6-9. (4) Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 48. (5) See, e.g., “The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/ccc/salmond/chap7.htm, accessed July 19, 2015. (6) See, e.g., “Gateways to Commerce: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 9-Foot Channel Project on the Upper Mississippi River,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/rmr/2/chap6.htm, accessed July 19, 2015. (7) “Report of the Chief of Engineers,” 1936, p. 4. (8) See http://www.usace.army.mil/About/History/BriefHistoryoftheCorps/MultipurposeWaterwayDevelopment.aspx, accessed July 19, 2015. (9) Reports of the Chief of Engineers, 1934-1939. . (10) “Report of the Chief of Engineers,” 1944, pp. 13-14. (12) “Commanders of the Corps of Engineers,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, http://www.usace.army.mil/About/History/Commanders.aspx, accessed July 19, 2015. (11) “Report of the Chief of Engineers,” 1936, p. 5
(Reports of the Chief of Engineers can be found on the Corps’ digital library website: http://cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/search/collection/p16021coll6/searchterm/%20Chief%2527s%20annual%20reports/field/all/mode/exact/conn/and/order/title.)
Check out our new map and guide to the work of the New Deal in Washington, D.C. It includes 500 New Deal sites in the District alone, highlighting 34 notable sites, and includes an inset map of the area around the National Mall which can be used for self-guided walking tours.