Throwback Thursday: A Look Back at the New Deal

The New Deal, carried out during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, fostered growth, put people work to work and touched lives during one of the darkest times of our nation’s history. The files for many of these New Deal projects survive at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Most of the documents relate to the siting, design and construction of buildings, and the often intense competition to secure government work. For example in response to the solicitation for the construction of the Border Inspection Station in remote Noyes, Minnesota, a relatively modest 15,000 square foot building, 42 construction companies went through the effort to bid on the $60,000 project.

US Custom House in Philadelphia
US Custom House in Philadelphia

There are also telling glimpses of what this work meant to those people most impacted by it—the people who lived in the locations where the projects occurred. In 1930 in Miami, Florida, one woman wrote to then President Herbert Hoover urging immediate construction of the Post Office and Courthouse (now the David W. Dyer U.S. Courthouse), because of the terrible calamities that had befallen the city including “hurricanes, drouth (sic), boom collapse, fruit fly, floods, etc.” beseeching him to lead the country “out of the unemployment crisis.”  In 1933 in New Bern, North Carolina, a man wrote to his local Congressman that “the storm devastated our county…it left myself, father, and mother almost entirely destitute.  I wish you to assist me in procuring employment for myself.”  And in 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the construction of the U.S. Custom House, a young boy wrote President Roosevelt asking him to let his daddy have a newsstand outside the new building because he was “unable to do heavy work because of his bad stomach.”  Letters such as these tell the very human effect the government programs had during the Depression.

John A. Campbell US Courthouse Mobile, AL
John A. Campbell US Courthouse Mobile, AL

Not all parties were so forthright and imploring in their requests for assistance, however. During the planning of the new courthouse in Mobile, Alabama in 1932, the President of a local bank wrote: “Dear Sir:  While we are very much opposed to expenditure of monies by the government for any purpose which is not absolutely essential to its conduct, we are informed that there is an appropriation of $100,000,000.00 for Public Buildings. If it is really necesary (sic) that the Government spend this money (and we hope it is not) we naturally hope that a portion of it will be spent for a Federal Building in Mobile, for if any city in the United States needs a Federal Building (which we doubt) it is Mobile.” GSA is now beginning a project to renovate and construct an annex to the 1935 building.