U.S. Armed Forces and National Defense Industries

On June 16, 1933, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 6174, giving authority to the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (an early name for the Public Works Administration, PWA) to grant up to “$238,000,000 to the Department of the Navy for the construction of certain vessels…” [1]. From these funds (about $4.3 billion in 2014 dollars), the Navy built two aircraft carriers, two gunboats, four submarines, four cruisers, and twenty destroyers [2]. These ships played key roles during World War II; for example, “It was the PWA that funded construction of the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Enterprise whose aircraft were responsible for sinking the four Japanese aircraft carriers [at the Battle of Midway]. No stimulus money, no aircraft carriers and no victory at Midway” [3].

The PWA provided funds to the Coast Guard to build 18 cutters, 9 patrol boats, and 28 patrol planes [4]. In addition, PWA funding enhanced Navy shipyards: “The Bureau of Yards and Docks’ self-history of operations during World War II credits New Deal programs with…improvements at Navy yards during the 1930s. According to that report, the yards would have been ‘critically unprepared’ for World War II without these programs” [5]. Further, these PWA expenditures on the military increased job opportunities for private sector workers, as in the case of the submarines Shark and Tarpon built by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut (called General Dynamics today) [6].

Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers built or repaired armories for the National Guard, built or improved over 50 military airports, and labored on roads and bridges that later supported wartime transportation [7]. At military posts across the country, the WPA worked on all manner of buildings and infrastructure: railroad tracks and roads, gatehouses and storehouses, kitchens and mess halls, administrative buildings and barracks, hangars and boathouses, garages and machine shops, and more [8]. In the midst of the World War, President Roosevelt admiringly wrote of the WPA: “It has added to the national wealth, has repaired the wastage of depression and has strengthened the country to bear the burden of war” [9].

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) provided so much energy for the defense industries of the northwest, particularly aircraft, that President Truman said, “Without Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams it would have been almost impossible to win this war” [10]. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) similarly provided resources for munitions, electricity for aircraft aluminum, and facilities and energy for the production of the atom bomb [11].

The National Youth Administration (NYA) provided education and practical training for young men and women who would later be employed by defense contractors [12]. Many of the young men who had been in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were ready to lead volunteers and draftees. As General Mark Clark, commander of the Allied Fifth Army, recalled: “To my way of thinking the CCC…became a potent factor in enabling us to win WW-II…though we did not realize it at the time, we were training Non-Commissioned Officers” [13].

Though not well-remembered today, the New Deal made an enormous contribution to producing military equipment, improving defense infrastructure, and preparing men and women for the Armed Forces, and thereby to winning the Second World War.

Sources: (1) “Executive Order 6174 on Public Works Administration,” American Presidency Project, University of California – Santa Barbara, accessed September 12, 2015. (2) Federal Works Agency, Millions for Defense, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940, p. 17. (3) Daniel Goure, “The Battle of Midway Was Won With Stimulus Money,” Lexington Institute, April 12, 2010, http://lexingtoninstitute.org/the-battle-of-midway-was-won-with-stimulus-money/, accessed September 12, 2015. (4) See note 2, p. 41. (5) Rodney Watterson, 32 in ’44: Building the Portsmouth Submarine Fleet in World War II, Naval Institute Press, 2011, p. 9. (6) “Lay Keel of Submarine Tomorrow,” The Portsmouth Herald, October 26, 1933, p. 4. (7) See note 2. (8) See, e.g., Public Works of the Navy, Bulletin No. 38, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, May 1937. (9) Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. v. (10) “BPA powered the industry that helped win World War II,” Bonneville Power Administration, October 31, 2012, http://www.bpa.gov/news/newsroom/Pages/BPA-powered-the-industry-that-helped-win-World-War-II.aspx, accessed September 13, 2015. (11) “TVA Goes to War,” Tennessee Valley Authority, http://www.tva.com/heritage/war/index.htm, accessed September 13, 2015. (12) See, e.g., oral history of Eva Vassar, at “Rosie the Riveter WWII American Homefront Project, University of California Berkeley Library, http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/rosie/, accessed September 13, 2015, and Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, 1936-1943, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944. (13) Charles E. Heller, “The U.S. Army, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Leadership for World War II, 1933-1942,” Armed Forces & Society, April 2010, vol. 36, no. 3, 439-453.

New Deal Maps

Check out our latest 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.

Take a look at our previous guides, equally comprehensive, covering key New Deal sites in San Francisco and New York City.