Civil Works Administration

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CWA marker at Breese Stevens Field in Madison, Wisconsin (1934)

The Civil Works Administration (CWA) was a short-lived U.S. job creation program established by the New Deal during the Great Depression to rapidly create manual labor jobs for millions of unemployed workers. The jobs were merely temporary, for the duration of the hard winter of 1933–34. President Franklin D. Roosevelt unveiled the CWA on November 8, 1933, and put Harry L. Hopkins in charge of the short-term agency.

The CWA was a project created under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). The CWA created construction jobs, mainly improving or constructing buildings and bridges. It ended on March 31, 1934, after spending $200 million a month and giving jobs to four million people.


CWA project in Minnesota to straighten a road by removing a solid rock obstruction (c. 1934)
"6,000 Men and a Scenic Boulevard"; San Francisco, California (c. 1934)

The CWA's workers laid 12 million feet of sewer pipe and built or improved 255,000 miles of roads, 40,000 schools, 3,700 playgrounds, and nearly 1,000 airports.[1] The program was praised by Alf Landon, who later ran against Roosevelt in the 1936 election.[1]

Representative of the work are one county's accomplishments in less than five months, from November 1933 to March 1934. Grand Forks County, North Dakota put 2,392 unemployed workers on its payroll at a cost of about $250,000. When the CWA began in eastern Connecticut, it could hire only 480 workers out of 1,500 who registered for jobs. Projects undertaken included work on city utility systems, public buildings, parks, and roads. Rural areas profited, with most labor being directed to roads and community schools. CWA officials gave preference to veterans with dependents, but considerable political favoritism determined which North Dakotans got jobs.[2]


Although the CWA provided much employment, there were critics who said there was nothing of permanent value. Roosevelt told his cabinet that this criticism moved him to end the program and replace it with the WPA which would have long-term value for the society, in addition to short-term benefits for the unemployed.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b Peters, Charles; Noah, Timothy (Jan 26, 2009), "Wrong Harry -- Four million jobs in two years? FDR did it in two months", Slate 
  2. ^ Roger D. Hardaway, "The New Deal at the Local Level: The Civil Works Administration in Grand Forks County, North Dakota," North Dakota History, 1991, Vol. 58 Issue 2, pp 20-30
  3. ^ Harold L. Ickes, Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes: The First Thousand Days 1933-1936 (1953) p. 256

Further reading

  • Bremer, William W. "Along the "American Way": The New Deal's Work Relief Programs for the Unemployed," Journal of American History Vol. 62, No. 3 (Dec., 1975), pp. 636-652 in JSTOR
  • Peters, Charles and Timothy Noah. "Wrong Harry -- Four million jobs in two years? FDR did it in two months" Slate Jan. 26, 2009 online
  • Schwartz, Bonnie Fox. The Civil Works Administration, 1933-1934: The Business of Emergency Employment in the New Deal (1984), a standard scholarly history
  • Walker, Forrest A. The Civil Works Administration: an experiment in Federal work relief, 1933-1934 (1979), a standard scholarly history

Primary sources

  • McJimsey, George, ed. FDR, Harry Hopkins, and the civil works administration (LexisNexis, 2006) 679 pages; vol 30. of the Documentary History of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration
  • "Report on Civil Works Administration of Alabama, Jefferson County Division, Nov. 19, 1933 - Mar. 31, 1934" in the Birmingham Public Library's Digital Collections -Page no longer exists
  • Four million jobs in two years? FDR did it in two months.
  • 1934: A New Deal for Artists" is an exhibition on the artists of the Great Depression at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – Civil Works Administration Photographs 119 images showing work projects in King County, Washington established under the auspices of the Civil Works Administration in 1933-34.
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