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Works Progress Administration: The Works Progress Administration

History of the WPA

The Works Progress Administration was created by the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was funded by Congress through the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in April of 1935. The Works Progress Administration was renamed the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1939 and was the largest agency in the New Deal, employing millions to construct public buildings and roads, and operate arts and literacy projects. Almost every community in the United States had a public building, road or bridge created by the WPA.

The approximate total amount spent from 1936 to 1943 was over $11 billion which especially benefited rural and western populations.

During the Great Depression the WPA provided some skills training and almost 8 million jobs to the unemployed. These jobs, however, were limited to one person per household. Approximately 15 percent of the households were headed by women. The average age of the workers was 40 years old.

Libraries benefited greatly from the WPA. Construction and renovation projects on libraries alone employed over 27,000 people by 1940 (1).

(1) Standford, Edward. 1944. Library Extension Under the WPA: An Appraisal of an Experiment in Federal Aid. University of Chicago Press. Chicago. p. 1.

Posters from the WPA era


 The WPA created posters to advertise their array of programs available to the public. They were displayed in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, and were made possible by one of the first U.S. Government programs designed to support the arts.(2)

 Federal Dance Theatre presents Salut au monde : adapted from a poem of that name by Walt Whitman.
Richard Halls. [1936 or 1937]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-5156.

Posters exhibition : Executed under Federal Art Project poster division.
Richard Floethe. [between 1936 and 1941]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC2-973.


(2) Library of Congress. 2000. "By the people, For the people: Posters of the WPA." Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Last updated August, 31, 2000.

Video: Benefits of the WPA

Be sure to check your volume--this video has sound.