Naval Observatory Improvements – Washington DC


Works Progress Administration (WPA) project cards for 1938 at the National Archives indicate that the WPA was charged with making improvements to the grounds, buildings, and distribution systems at the U.S. Naval Observatory.  Photograph cards on file at the archives show a storage shed overhauled by the WPA and that WPA workers also led tours of the observatory at the time.

The Navy’s Bulletin #38 notes that, “At the Naval Observatory only limited funds have been available and they have been expended for repairs to buildings including the modernization of dangerous electric wiring. The available funds have also been used for the necessary extension of distributing systems and for the improvement of storage facilities for valuable equipment.”

In 1942, a Washington Post article noted that WPA workers were building a fence around the observatory, which would be completed despite imminent cuts to WPA funding.

At the time, the Naval Observatory was an important site in the development of the earliest computers and computing techniques. 

Source notes

National Archives, Record Group 69, “Microfilmed Index to WPA Projects” and Record Group 69-N

U.S. Navy, Public Works of the Navy, Bulletin No. 38, May 1937, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937, p. 46 (Hathitrust, accessed May 29, 2021).

“Reduction in WPA hits war projects,” Washington Post, July 30, 1942, p. 7

Dick, Steven, Sky and Ocean Joined: The U.S. Naval Observatory, 1830-2000, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on June 18, 2013.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

3450 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20392

Coordinates: 38.9219, -77.0664

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