Quartermaster Corps (1775)

The United States Army Quartermaster Corps began in 1775, with the appointment of the first Quartermaster General, Major General Thomas Mifflin.  Over the centuries, its structure and methods have changed but its central mission has not: The movement of supplies, food, and services to support American troops.  And the Quartermaster Corps has taken on additional duties from time to time, such as construction, humanitarian aid, and cemetery management [1].

During the New Deal, the Quartermaster Corps received substantial funding from both the Public Works Administration (PWA) and emergency relief appropriation acts.  During fiscal year 1940, for example, the Quartermaster Corps spent $919,000 in PWA funds and $17.3 million in emergency relief funds (respectively, about $17 million and $320 million in 2019 dollars) [2]. 

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided especially strong support for the Quartermaster Corps.  In June 1939, for instance, there were 42,898 WPA workers employed on Quartermaster projects [3].  Over the whole of its operations (1935-1943), the WPA allocated $50,204,387 for the Quartermaster Corps (nearly $1 billion in 2019 dollars) [4].  On military bases, WPA workers assisted the Quartermaster Corps Construction Division with the building of air fields, living quarters, hospitals, movie theatres, warehouses, radio stations, schools, water lines, telephone lines, and more [5].

An example of the WPA’s assistance to the Quartermaster Corps was reported in The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), in January 1941: “Wednesday’s snowstorm failed to halt construction progress on one of the army’s most important defense units in this area, an anti-tank and anti-aircraft shell loading plant… A total of 867 men are now employed on [various warehouse and armament] construction projects in Ogden and vicinity under supervision of Lieut. Col. Elmer G. Thomas, constructing quartermaster… The total now employed includes 390 men employed by contractors, 269 persons employed directly by the army quartermaster’s corps and 208 WPA workers” [6].

While the PWA and WPA are mostly remembered for domestic projects such as dams, schools, playgrounds and roads, military work was an important part of the their portfolio, especially after 1939, and contributed to America’s victory in World War 2 [7].

In 1941, the Quartermaster Corps supervised the initial construction of the Pentagon, overseeing building design and the hiring of private contractors.  However, according to the National Archives, the Quartermaster’s Construction Division was “Abolished, with functions transferred to Office of the Chief of Engineers, December 16, 1941…” [8]. 

The Quartermaster Corps continues its service today, proudly declaring, “No other branch of the service can begin to rival the Quartermaster Corps for its diversity of tasks and the many functions provided” [9].

Sources: (1) “Quartermaster History,” U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps (accessed June 17, 2020).  (2) Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, fiscal year 1940, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1941, p. 608.  (3) Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947, p. 34.  (4) Ibid., at p. 118.  (5) Federal Works Agency, Report on Progress of the WPA Program, June 30, 1939, pp. 126-127.  (6) “Work Pushed on Ordnance Depot Plant,” The Ogden Standard-Examiner, January 23, 1941, p. 13-A.  (7) Jason Scott Smith, Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933-1956, Cambridge University Press, 2009.  (8) “Records of the Construction Division,” National Archives (accessed June 17, 2020).  (9) See note 1.