The CCC: Another Day, Another Dollar

If it was up to Herbert Hoover, the Great Depression might have never ended. Hoover believed that Civil Society (churches, charities, etc) was responsible for helping to end the poverty, despair, and disaster that had swept across the nation during his presidency. The last institution that needed to get involved, according to Hoover, was the Government. With unemployment approaching 25% in 1932, Americans disagreed with Hoover. That November, the American public elected Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt said shortly after taking office…

I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal 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.

Less than a month after taking office, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6101 establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the program aimed to help conserve the land for future generations. The program developed and improved many state parks throughout the country. In Illinois, around 20 park projects took place from paving trails to building cabins to building lodges, shelters, and cabins from the Shawnee National Forest all the way north to the White Pines State Park. 6,600 men in 33 camps in Illinois redid the parks along with levees and erosion control

It is estimated upward of 3 million men worked in the CCC. To join the CCC, one had to be at least 18 years of age but no more than 24. They would plant three billion trees and start close to 800 parks. Most workers kept around $5 a month and sent the rest home. Communities where the CCC camps benefited economically from having a camp nearby.

The Herald Journal of Logan, Utah said:

“One of the most completely successful of all the items on the New Deal program seems to be the forestry work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. . . So well is the project working out that a person is inclined to wonder if it might not be a good thing to make this forest army a permanent affair. . . All of this of course would be pretty expensive but it might be money well spent. . . certainly the question deserves serious consideration. This forest army is too good an outfit to be discarded off-hand.”

The CCC may have been the most popular with the public. It created places for recreation. My wife and I went to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The Caves had walking paths paved by the CCC. It is estimated that the CCC paved 24 miles in those caves alone.

The CCC did not end the depression. Nor was it supposed to. It’s aim was to put people to work. What the CCC did for America was to jump start the conservation movement. The sheer numbers of men who worked the land then went home. Many would serve in World War II, but their children would ignite the movement in the 1960s and 1970s. What had begun with Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and the eloquent John Muir was reborn in the CCC.

There is nothing my wife and I like more than to go to state or national park in the summer. Thanks to the CCC, they have conserved, and preserved, many of our national and local treasures. The CCC became the model for all service corps that have sprung up since the end of World War II. It  is not amazing to me what all they accompllished, but it is amazing that it all still stands today.

To see what CCC projects are done near you, go to:

To hear the recollections of four men in the CCC, PBS recently broadcast this wonderful documentary on the CCC. Go here.


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