John Carmody (1881-1963)

From 1933 to 1941, John Carmody was chief engineer for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the Civil Works Administration; served as one of the first members of the National Labor Relations Board; headed the Rural Electrification Administration; and, finally, directed the Federal Works Agency. The latter agency was created in 1939, after a major government reorganization, and gave Carmody supervision over the Work Projects Administration, Public Works Administration, Public Buildings Administration, Public Roads Administration, and United States Housing Authority.

John Michael Carmody was born in Towanda, Pennsylvania in 1881. He attended Elmira Business College in New York, the Lewis Institute in Chicago, and Columbia University. Out of college, Carmody worked both as a bookkeeper and an executive in the steel, garment, and coal industries [1].

During his time as a New Deal administrator, Carmody contributed to or oversaw a tremendous amount of American infrastructure. For example, as head of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), Carmody was instrumental in securing a “Congressional appropriation of $140,000,000 with which to build 115,000 miles of power lines and supply power to 250,000 farm homes” [2]. His Federal Works Agency, through its component units, constructed Washington National Airport (now Reagan National Airport); completed the Santee-Cooper power project in South Carolina; and built roads, highways, post offices, water systems, schools for American Indians, housing for defense workers, and more, across the entire country [3].

Carmody was described as a “warm-hearted,” “open-minded,” and humorous man, yet his administrative style was described as loud and “unconventionally direct—explosive even” [4]. He took his responsibilities to the American people seriously. When rural folks needed electricity, but private companies hesitated due to a lack of profitability, Carmody moved ahead aggressively to extended electric grids into the far corners of the nation. He later said: “Power companies once resented TVA and REA, but evidently now realize the extension of power to rural areas is inevitable. They realize that whether the government or power companies do it, the people insisted it be done” [5].

Like other New Dealers, Carmody was frequently attacked by people suspicious of government activism. In 1938, Congressman Noah Mason (R-Ill.) of the House Un-American Activities Committee accused Carmody of being involved with a communist organization [6]. In 1939, Congressman Andrew May (D-Ky.) said that Carmody and TVA administrator David Lilienthal were leaders of a leftist “wrecking gang” engaged in “Socialist warfare” against the private power industry [7]. Nonetheless, such accusations never hindered Carmody’s work and career.

After the New Deal, Carmody served on the U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II, and he later held several other government positions. He died on November 11, 1963, at the age of 82, survived by his daughter Catherine Carmody, of Chevy Chase, Maryland and his brother James Carmody, of Elmira, New York [8].

Sources: (1) “John M. Carmody Of New Deal Dies,” New York Times, November 12, 1963 and “John Michael Carmody,” New Deal Network,, accessed January 21, 2016. (2) “Relief – Our No. 1 Problem,” New York Times, July 30, 1939. (3) See, e.g., “Second Annual Report, Federal Works Agency, 1941,” Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1941. (4) See note 2, and also note 1, New York Times. (5) “Predicts Cheaper Power,” New York Times, October 1, 1936. (6) See note 1, New York Times. (7) “May Says ‘Leftists’ Plan Utility War,” New York Times, November 21, 1939. (8) See note 1, New York Times.