Franklin Roosevelt

Having been born one year before Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, I lived through the entire 12 years of his administration of our national life. The great depression began in earnest just before he took office and the Germans took WWII to new levels just before he was elected to a third term. In his first term he took office with the same verve as his cousin Theodore had when he succeeded the assassinated William McKinley. Theodore was very interested in saving the forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife that were being decimated for profit and Franklin picked up where he left off. Restoring and preserving America’s wildlife and natural world was made easier this time because it provided jobs and Congressmen were anxious to put their many unemployed constituents to work.

Perhaps the most visible program that he put together with Congress on board from the beginning, was the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works relief program from 1933 to 1942. It was designed to provide manual labor jobs to conserve and develop natural resources in areas owned by various levels of government. The young men (unmarried) it took in were unskilled and mostly out of work. In the nine years it was in operation about 3 million young men participated in the program. They were put together in groups of around 50 with about 300,000 working around the country at any one time. They were paid $30 (in the value of that day) a month, of which $25 had to be sent home. Clothing, and shelter, which they often had to build, were provided . The food was good and plentiful and the outdoor work built muscles.

Their projects were on all three levels of government and built post offices and dirt roads, cleared swamps, planted trees, and made land habitable for declining species. The participants planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, upgraded most state parks, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas. For example, one young man planted trees, dug wells, surveyed, dug drainage, built trails and roads and a variety of other construction skills.

One of the unintended benefits of this program was that when World War II came to our shores, we had a reserve of young men who knew how to work together, take directions (orders) and deployed a great variety of skills necessary for military goals.

President Roosevelt travelled the country doing his own surveying of the work being done seeing other types of projects that might be tackled. He visited and ate with “the boys”. For a man with paralyzed legs this took a lot of effort and showed real passion for the young men and the work they were doing for the country.

One of the best treatments of this aspect of Roosevelt’s CCC program is:
Rightful Heritage, by Douglas Brinkley

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