The New Deal was a massive effort to pull the United States out of the Great Depression on several fronts. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan created the Social Security Administration to financially protect older Americans and used the Agricultural Adjustment Act to help farmers get out of debt. The New Deal has also created new agencies to fund projects across the country that both improve communities and create jobs at a time of high unemployment.
During the 1930s, the Public Works Administration, the Progress Administration (later called the Work Projects Administration) and other New Deal agencies funded projects to build and improve the country’s infrastructure, including roads, dams, schools, airports and parks. Many projects funded by the PWA and WPA are still part of the American landscape. Here are nine projects that show how transformative the New Deal has been for America.
1. Hoover Dam
Although planning for the Hoover Dam, or “Boulder Canyon Project,” began in the 1920s, it was supplemented by an infusion of funds from the PWA and consecrated in 1935. Its official name was changed to “Hoover Dam.” during Herbert Hoover’s presidency, but – possibly due to Hoover’s unpopularity – was still known as “Boulder Canyon Dam” and “Boulder Dam” in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Hoover Dam is located in Colorado’s Black Canyon, on the Nevada-Arizona border. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest dam in the world. Today, it produces enough hydroelectric power per year to serve 1.3 million people.
2. Triborough Bridge
One of the major construction projects the PWA helped fund was New York’s Triborough Bridge (now the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge), which connected Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.
Powerful New York City official Robert Moses led the construction of the bridge, which opened in 1936. At the groundbreaking ceremony, FDR placed the bridge in the larger context of New York’s plans. Deal, saying, “People need and people are demanding up to – date government in place of outdated government, just as they demand and demand Triborough bridges in place of old ferries.
3. Walk on the San Antonio River
In the late 1930s, the city of San Antonio secured funding from the WPA to improve infrastructure along the San Antonio River. The city used this money to build bridges and trails that made the area more accessible on foot and allowed businesses to settle there. Today, the River Walk is a major commercial and tourist hub in the city.
4. LaGuardia Airport
The WPA funded the construction or improvement of about 800 airports, and one of the largest the WPA helped build was LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. When it opened in 1939, it was known as the New York Municipal Airport. The city later changed the name to honor Fiorello La Guardia, who was the mayor of New York when the airport opened.
In addition to buildings and roads, the WPA also funded artwork, including a mural artist James Brooks painted inside the marine terminal.
5. Chickamauga Dam
In 1933, New Deal legislation created a public corporation to improve the Tennessee Valley. One of the largest projects undertaken by this company, the Tennessee Valley Authority, was the Chickamauga Dam, located on the Tennessee River outside of Chattanooga.
Prior to the dam’s completion in 1940, the surrounding area frequently suffered from costly flood damage and mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and yellow fever. By controlling the river’s water levels, the dam prevented billions of dollars in flood damage. It has also helped reduce mosquito populations in order to combat the diseases they spread.
6. Lincoln Tunnel
Another New York City project that the PWA helped fund was the Lincoln Tunnel. The tunnel’s center tube was opened to traffic in 1937, allowing drivers to travel between New York and New Jersey under the Hudson River. Later, workers added two more tubes: the north tube in 1945 and the south tube in 1957.
7. New Orleans Municipal Park
With funding from the WPA, New Orleans improved its city park in the 1930s by building sidewalks, bridges, and an art museum. This construction likely provided work for tens of thousands of people during the Great Depression and also benefited residents by providing them with improved public space.
8. Bay Bridge
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was a project of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, an agency that started under Hoover but has become part of FDR’s New Deal efforts to improve the country’s infrastructure. Construction began in 1933 and the bridge opened in 1936. With its span of eight miles, the Bay Bridge was at the time the longest bridge in the world.
9. Arroyo Seco Parkway
The New Deal was also responsible for the first highway. The PWA and WPA helped fund the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway – now known as the Pasadena Freeway or 110 – which connected Los Angeles to Pasadena. The freeway was opened to traffic between 1938 and 1940 and reduced the trip between Los Angeles and Pasadena from 27 to 12 minutes.