Virgin Islands Company (1934)

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The Virgin Islands Company (VIC) was established by the Colonial Council of St. Thomas and St. John on April 16, 1934, to rehabilitate the Virgin Islands’ sugar and rum industries, “and to promote the general welfare of their people” [1].  The VIC’s initial funding of $1 million came from the Public Works Administration (PWA).  PWA Administrator and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was one of the first incorporators of the company [2].  The VIC’s first president was Boyd Brown, who served c. 1934-1940 [3].

By 1930, Danish investors had pulled out of the sugar industry of St. Croix Island.  This departure, coming on top of the Great Depression, had devastated the Virgin Islands’ rum industry and added to the high unemployment rate.  Over the next several years, attempts were made to attract American capital, to no avail [4].  In early 1934, Charles Taussig, a businessman in the molasses industry and an early associate of President Roosevelt’s “Brains Trust,” went to the Virgin Islands as FDR’s personal representative.  From this trip came the idea of the VIC [5].

The VIC experienced great initial success.  At the close of fiscal year 1936, for example, the governor of the Virgin Islands reported: “While furnishing relief employment to the great majority of unemployed workers of the island [about 1,000 – 1,500], the company has accumulated large inventories of growing sugar cane and a large supply of rum of the finest quality.  It has rehabilitated fields and factories.  It is providing adequate and comfortable housing for its laborers.  It has increased labor wages by 50 percent since its inception” [6].  During the next fiscal year, the VIC was cultivating 2,200 acres of sugar cane and preparing to add 900 more.  It also “manufactured 93,000 gallons of pure cane juice rum which was placed in charred oak barrels to be aged” [7].  In addition, the VIC managed a poultry farm, operated a rock-crushing business and repair shop, rented tractors and farm equipment, and sold cattle, milk, and tomatoes [8].  Furthermore, a homesteading program associated with the VIC was selling farm land (with 20-year, low-interest mortgages) to Virgin Islanders willing to work the land and produce sugar cane [9].  During its formative years, the VIC received at least $3.4 million in New Deal funding (about $58 million in 2015 dollars) [10]

After this promising beginning, the VIC began to experience problems.  Between 1938 and 1945, persistent drought hit the cane fields and attacks by German U-boats took their toll on shipping and trade [11].  Fortunately, other New Deal programs, like the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and National Youth Administration, along with national defense activities, alleviated some of the resulting unemployment [12].  After the war, the VIC prospered again and came to play an even larger role in the economy of the islands.  In 1949, Congress restructured the VIC into the “Virgin Islands Corporation” [13], and its operations eventually expanded to include a credit program for small farmers, a loan program for soil and water conservation, dam building, tourism promotion, supplying electric power to both St. Croix and St. Thomas islands, and more [14].  In 1955, the Department of the Interior highlighted just how important the VIC had become, calling it “the backbone of the economy of the Island of St. Croix” [15].  After 30 years of assisting the economy of the islands, the VIC was closed on June 30, 1965 [16].

Sources: (NOTE: Annual Reports the Department of the Interior, and Annual Reports of the Governor of the Virgin Islands (embedded within the Department of Interior reports), can be found at www.hathitrust.org.)  (1) Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands, fiscal year 1940, p. 16.  (2) Luther Harris Evans, The Virgin Islands: From Navy Base To New Deal, Ann Arbor, MI: J.W. Edwards, 1945, p. 303.  The other incorporators were Oscar  L. Chapman, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and Paul M. Pearson, governor of the Virgin Islands.  (3) “Boyd Brown, 79, Former Official Of Virgin Islands,” Washington Post, July 20, 1977.  (4) Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands, fiscal year 1936, p. 7.  (5) “Virgin Islands to Create Rum Monopoly; Profits Will Go To Public Welfare Work,” New York Times, March 8, 1934.  (6) See note 4.  (7) Annual Report of the Department of the Interior, fiscal year 1937, pp. 314-315.  (8) Annual Report of the Department of the Interior, fiscal year 1939, pp. xv and 349-350.  (9) See note 5; and also Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands, fiscal year 1937, p. 8.  (10) Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands, fiscal year 1940, pp. 16 and 61.  (11) See, e.g., Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal years 1942 and 1943, pp. 270 and 139,  respectively. (12) See, e.g., Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal year 1942, p. 270.  (13) Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal year 1949, pp. 372 and 379-380.  [14] See, e.g., Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal years 1951 and 1956, pp. 405-407 and 351-352, respectively.  (15) Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal year 1955, p. 378.  (16) “Dissolution of Virgin Islands Corporation,” in U.S. Code, 2000 edition, Title 1—General Provisions to Title 5—Government Organization and Employees, §§ 101-9510,” U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 576.  Final liquidation of the VIC was completed on June 30, 1969 – see, Comptroller General of the United States, “Examination of Final Statements, Virgin Islands Corporation (In Final Liquidation) Fiscal Year 1969,” p. 1, available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/200/195332.pdf (accessed April 12, 2016).

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