The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was an American New Deal agency, employing millions of job-seekers (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of highways and parks. It was established on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order 7034.
The WPA was a key part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression, as he put millions of Americans to work on projects designed to improve the infrastructure of the country. The WPA continued to operate until 1943, when it was replaced by the War Manpower Commission.
The WPA was an alphabet soup of federal agencies, with each state having its own set of initials. In addition to the WPA, there was the PWA (Public Works Administration), the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), the NYA (National Youth Administration), and the FSA (Farm Security Administration).
The WPA was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing more than 8.5 million people at its peak. On average, each worker earned $41.57 per month, which was enough to keep a family of four out of poverty.
The WPA built more than 650,000 miles of roads, 75,000 bridges, 8,500 parks, and 12,000 playgrounds. In addition, the WPA constructed or upgraded 1 million homes, 4,000 hospitals, and 5,000 schools.
While the WPA is best known for its construction projects, it also operated programs in the arts, education, and recreation. The WPA’s Federal Theatre Project produced live theater performances across the country, while the Federal Music Project provided jobs for musicians. The Federal Art Project employed artists to create murals and other works of art.