Civil Works Administration (CWA) (1933)

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The CWA was created on November 9, 1933 by Executive Order No. 6420B, under the power granted to President Roosevelt by Title II of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 [1]. Harry Hopkins was made head of the CWA.

Like other New Deal emergency employment programs, the CWA was designed to put jobless Americans back to work and to use them on beneficial public projects. More specifically, the CWA was designed to be a short-lived program to help jobless Americans get through the dire winter of 1933-34 [2]. It did just that: Two months after its start, the CWA had 4,263,644 formerly unemployed workers on its payroll [3].

The CWA received funding from the Public Works Administration ($400 million), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration ($89 million), and an appropriation from Congress ($345 million) [4]. At its launch, two million workers came over from FERA and “Nine million people swarmed to the [United States Employment Service] offices to apply for the other two million slots” [5].

The accomplishments of the CWA included 44,000 miles of new roads, 2,000 miles of levees, 1,000 miles of new water mains, 4,000 new or improved schools, and 1,000 new or improved airports [6].

Remarking on the program a few years after its termination, Harry Hopkins wrote: “Long after the workers of CWA are dead and gone and these hard times forgotten, their effort will be remembered by permanent useful works in every county of every state. People will ride over bridges they made, travel on their highways, attend schools they built, navigate waterways they improved, do their public business in courthouses and state capitols which workers from CWA rescued from disrepair. Constantly expanded and diversified to offer use for the special skills and training of different types of workers, the CWA program finally extended its scope to almost every kind of community activity. We had two hundred thousand CWA projects” [7].

The CWA ended in July of 1934 (although most employment ended by March 31, 1934) [8], but its success was so remarkable and its closure so clearly felt that it was recreated in the form of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935; and the WPA was led by some of the same administrative workers from FERA and CWA.

Sources: (1) The American Presidency Project, Franklin D. Roosevelt: 167 – Executive Order No. 6420B, November 9, 1933, University of California Santa Barbara,, accessed February 9, 2015. (2) Harry L. Hopkins, Spending to Save: The Complete Story of Relief, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1936, p. 116. (3) Robert D. Leighninger, Jr., Long-Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2007, p. 47. (4) See note 2 at p. 117. (5) See note 3 at p. 46. (6) Ibid. at 51. (7) See note 2 at p. 120. (8) Works Progress Administration, Analysis of Civil Works Program Statistics, Washington, DC, 1939, p. 6.

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