Civilian Conservation Corps

Poster by Albert M. Bender, Illinois WPA Art Project Chicago (1935)

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried, men from relief families as part of the New Deal. Originally for young men ages 18–25, it was eventually expanded to young men ages 17–28. [1] Robert Fechner was the first director of the agency, succeeded by James McEntee following Fechner's death. The CCC was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men, and to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States. At the same time, it implemented a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000. Over the course of its nine years in operation, 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of $30 (about $547 in 2015 [2]) a month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families). [3]

CCC-built bridge across Rock Creek in Little Rock, Arkansas

The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs. [4] Sources written at the time claimed [5] an individual's enrollment in the CCC led to improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. The CCC also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation's natural resources, and the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for the protection and development of natural resources. [6]

During the time of the CCC, enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed trails, lodges and related facilities in more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas. [7]

CCC workers constructing a road, 1933.
154th Co.. CCC, Eagle Lake Camp NP-1-Me. Bar harbor Maine, February, 1940
CCC camps in Michigan; the tents were soon replaced by barracks built by Army contractors for the enrollees. [8]

The CCC operated separate programs for veterans and Native Americans. Approximately 15,000 Native Americans participated in the program, helping them weather the Great Depression. [9]

Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation and funding to operate. By 1942, with World War II and the draft in operation, the need for work relief declined, and Congress voted to close the program. [10]

Founding

As governor of New York, Roosevelt had run a similar program on a much smaller scale. Long interested in conservation, [11] as president, he proposed to Congress a full-scale national program on March 21, 1933: [12]

I propose to create [the CCC] to be used in complex work, not interfering with abnormal employment and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.

He promised this law would provide 250,000 young men with meals, housing, uniforms, and medical care for working in the national forests and other government properties. The Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) Act was introduced to Congress the same day and enacted by voice vote on March 31. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6101 on April 5, 1933, which established the CCC organization and appointed a director, Robert Fechner, a former labor union official who served until 1939. The organization and administration of the CCC was a new experiment in operations for a federal government agency. The order indicated that the program was to be supervised jointly by four government departments: Labor, which recruited the young men, War, which operated the camps, and Agriculture and Interior, which organized and supervised the work projects. A CCC Advisory Council was composed of a representative from each of the supervising departments. In addition, the Office of Education and Veterans Administration participated in the program. To end the opposition from labor unions (which wanted no training programs started when so many of their men were unemployed) [13] Roosevelt chose Robert Fechner, vice president of the American Machinists Union, as director of the corps. William Green, head of the American Federation of Labor, was taken to the first camp to demonstrate that there would be no job training involved beyond simple manual labor. [14]