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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: WPA (in Wisconsin)

Definition:

A federally funded program intended to put the unemployed back to work and stimulate the economy during the Great Depression.

The Nation's Problem

The stock market crash of 1929 caused widespread poverty and unemployment as banks folded, businesses went bankrupt, and factories shut down. By 1933 more than 12 million Americans were out of work (about 25% of the labor force). In Wisconsin, by 1933 the majority of the state's banks had closed, retail sales and tax collections plummeted, and nearly 400,000 residents were on welfare or some other kind of relief.

The Government's Solution

To address the crisis, in 1935 Congress authorized the Works Progress Administration to create jobs and stimulate the economy. They funded it with an appropriation of $5 billion ($82 billion in today's dollars). Wisconsin participated eagerly in the WPA, setting up a state administration as soon as funds became available. In 1939, the program's name was changed to Works Projects Administration but the abbreviation remained accurate.

WPA projects were required to have a local sponsor who paid a portion of the cost and to recruit their workers from the ranks of the unemployed and those on relief. In Wisconsin, about three-fourths of the funding went to  construction and engineering projects, and a quarter to professional projects and community service work.

Results of the WPA in Wisconsin

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA construction crews created 22,889 miles of roads, erected 1,456 new buildings, laid 1,588 miles of water pipes and sewers, constructed 504 dams, built 17 airports, and planted 63 million trees in Wisconsin.

Between 1935 and 1940, professional and community service programs taught 9,437 people how to read and write, served 3.1 million hot lunches to school children, gave citizenship classes to 3,611 immigrants, and manufactured or repaired 4.5 million articles of clothing or bedding. Other programs performed work or taught classes in the arts, music, and literature, including the Wisconsin Writers' Project and Arts Project, the Wisconsin Public Records Survey, and the Milwaukee Handicraft Project.

On average, the WPA employed 43,000 people per year in Wisconsin. Wages averaged about 60% of those paid to workers performing the same jobs in the private sector. About $318 million was spent in Wisconsin during the life of the program, $220 million of it going to wages.

The End of the WPA

The WPA was not the only public works initiative undertaken during the Depression. Other federal programs separate from WPA included the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Rural Electrification Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the state of Wisconsin operated its own relief and public works agencies.

In the early 1940s, as World War Two approached, the federal government helped American industry gear up for the war effort. The resulting economic growth and the war itself provided jobs for millions of workers, and the WPA was phased out. It formally ended in 1943 after giving work to more than 8 million Americans during the greatest economic collapse in the nation's history.

[Source: Lackore, James The W.P.A. in Wisconsin (Masters Thesis, Univ. of Wisconsin, 1966); Wisconsin Dept. of Public Welfare, "The W.P.A. in Wisconsin: 1935-43" in Public Welfare Review (first quarter, 1943). ]

172 records found

1888 Bohemian Schoolhouse (Historic Marker)
Abert, George 1817 - 1890
Ameche, Don 1908 - 1993
Bacon, Edward Payson 1834 - 1916
ballast (railroads)
bank (railroads)
Barron, Henry Danforth 1833 - 1882
Bashford, Coles 1816 - 1878
Bay View Rolling Mill (Historic Marker Erected 198
Belgian Settlement in Wisconsin (Historic Marker E
Bluffton, Marquette Co.
bobber (railroads)
boiler (railroads)
boxcar (railroads)
brakeman (railroads)
branch line (railroads)
Brandemuehl, David A. 1931
Breske, Roger M. 1938
broad gauge (railroads)
Brookfield [brief history]
Browne, Edward L. 1830 - 1925
Buffalo City [brief history]
Burnham, George 1816 - 1889
Burnham, Jonathan Levi 1818 - 1891
caboose (railroads)
cant (railroads)
Carhart, John W. 1834 - 1914
Carpenter, Matthew Hale [B. "Carpenter","Decatur M
Civil War: 29th Infantry
Civil War: 43rd Infantry
Civil War: home front
Colby, Gardner 1810 - 1879
Commons, John Rogers 1862 - 1945
conductor (railroads)
Cooper, Henry Allen 1850 - 1931
coupler (railroads)
Crocker, Hans 1815 - 1889
Cross, James B. 1819 - 1876
crummy (railroads)
Davidson, James Henry 1858 - 1918
De Pere [brief history]
dead man's handle (railroads)
Dheinsville Settlement (Historic Marker Erected 19
Doty, James Duane 1799 - 1865
Edgerton, Benjamin Hyde 1811 - 1886
Eldred, Anson 1820 - 1895
Esch, John Jacob 1861 - 1941
express train (railroads)
facing (railroads)
fettle, fettling (railroads)
firebox (railroads)
fireman (railroads)
First Rural Zoning Ordinance (Historic Marker Erec
flatcar (railroads)
floods in Wisconsin
flying junction (railroads)
Fond du Lac [brief history]
Foster, Nathaniel Caldwell 1834 - 1923
four-foot (railroads)
gandy dancer (railroads)
Garland, Hamlin 1860 - 1940
gauge (railroads)
gondola (railroads)
Good Roads Movement
grab bar (railroads)
Granger Movement
Green Bay [brief history]
Guppey, Gen. Joshua J. (1820-1893)
hack (railroads)
Hasenohrl, Donald W. 1935
Hatton, William H. 1856 - 1937
Hayward [brief history]
Highway Marking (Historic Marker Erected 1956)
Hirst, Arthur Roscoe 1881 - 1932
Hoard, William Dempster 1836 - 1918
hogger (railroads)
Holmes, Frederick Lionel 1883 - 1946
Holton, Edward Dwight 1815 - 1892
hotels in Wisconsin
island platform (railroads)
Janesville, Rock Co.
Jefferson, Jefferson Co.
Johnstown Center, Rock Co.
Jones, Burr W. 1846 - 1935
junction (railroads)
Juneau, Solomon 1793 - 1856
Keep, Albert 1826 - 1907
Kenosha [brief history]
Keyes, Elisha Williams 1828 - 1910
Kilbourn, Byron 1801 - 1870
Kincaid, Lloyd H. 1925
Kneeland, Moses 1809 - 1864
La Crosse [brief history]
La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. 1855 - 1925
Lasee, Alan J. 1937
Lawe, George William 1810 - 1895
Lawler, John 1832 - 1891
level junction (railroads)
Lime industry in Wisconsin
local train (railroads)
long lots
Ludington, Harrison 1812 - 1891
Mack, John Givan Davis 1867 - 1924
Madison, Dane Co.
mainline (railroads)
Manitowoc, Manitowoc Co.
Mapes, David Parshall 1798 - 1890
Marin, Paul, 1692-1753
Mcdougal, Milton 1917
meat packing industry
Miller, Roswell 1843 - 1913
Mohrsville [origin of place name]
narrow gauge (railroads)
North Freedom [origin of place name]
Omro, Winnebago Co.
pantograph (railroads)
per diem (railroads)
Pewaukee [brief history]
Philipp, Emanuel Lorenz 1861 - 1925
piston (railroads)
Plache, Kimberly M. 1961
plank road
Potter Law (1874)
Price, William Thompson 1824 - 1886
Putnam, Henry Cleveland 1832 - 1912
quarrying industry in Wisconsin
Racine [brief history]
Racine, Racine Co.
railroads in Wisconsin
Reed, George 1807 - 1883
Rest Areas on the I-Roads (Historic Marker Erected
Ringling [Rungeling], Albert 1852 - 1916
Road gang (logging)
road monkey (logging)
roads in Wisconsin (early)
roads in Wisconsin (modern)
rolling stock (railroads)
Rustic Road (Historic Marker Erected 1976)
Sanders, Col. Horace T. (1820-1865)
Shaw, Daniel 1813 - 1881
Sheboygan, Sheboygan Co.
shoofly (railroads)
siding (railroads)
six-foot (railroads)
standard gauge (railroads)
Stevens Point [brief history]
Stone, Jeff 1961
swamper (logging)
switchman (railroads)
Taylor, William Robert 1820 - 1909
Teasdale, Howard (1855 - 1936)
ten-foot (railroads)
The "Dinky" (Historic Marker Erected 1989)
The Point of Beginning (Historic Marker Erected 19
The Saukville Trails (Historic Marker Erected 1998
The Upper Mississippi (Historic Marker Erected 198
Thompsonville, Racine Co.
through platform (railroads)
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1900 -1999
Tittemore, James Nelson 1864 - 1949
trainman (railroads)
turntable (railroads)
Van Hise Rock (Historic Marker Erected 1997)
Vanderperren, Cletus 1912
Village of Cooksville (Historic Marker Erected 199
Washburn, Gov. Cadwallader Colden (1818-1882)
Watertown, Jefferson Co.
Wauwatosa, Milwaukee Co.
way car (railroads)
wheat cultivation
WPA (in Wisconsin)
yard (railroads)

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