If you’ve traveled the nation’s highways, flown into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, strolled San Antonio’s River Walk, or seen the Pacific Ocean from the Beach Chalet in San Francisco, you have experienced some part of the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—one of the enduring cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
When President Roosevelt took the oath of office in March 1933, he was facing a devastated nation. Four years into the Great Depression, a staggering 13 million American workers were jobless and many millions more of their family members were equally in need. Desperation ruled the land.
What people wanted were jobs, not handouts: the pride of earning a paycheck; and in 1935, after a variety of temporary relief measures, a permanent nationwide jobs program was created. This was the Works Progress Administration, and it would forever change the physical landscape and the social policies of the United States.
The WPA lasted for eight years, spent $11 billion, employed 8½ million men and women, and gave the country not only a renewed spirit but a fresh face. Under its colorful head, Harry Hopkins, the agency’s remarkable accomplishment was to combine the urgency of putting people back to work with its vision of physically rebuilding America. Its workers laid roads, erected dams, bridges, tunnels, and airports. They stocked rivers, made toys, sewed clothes, served millions of hot school lunches. When disasters struck, they were there by the thousands to rescue the stranded. And all across the country the WPA’s arts programs performed concerts, staged plays, painted murals, delighted children with circuses, created invaluable guidebooks. Even today, more than sixty years after the WPA ceased to exist, there is almost no area in America that does not bear some visible mark of its presence.
Politically controversial, the WPA was staffed by passionate believers and hated by conservatives; its critics called its projects make-work and wags said it stood for We Piddle Around. The contrary was true. We have only to look about us today to discover its lasting presence.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Nick Taylor is the author of seven nonfiction books and collaborated with John Glenn on his memoir. He lives in New York City.
Praise for American-Made…
“A must-read for history buffs and government wonks.... Taylor is at his best in describing the different projects and the lives of the people who worked on them. “—USA Today
“Brisk…. Taylor's American-Made is bigger than its title suggests; he provides a succinct survey of the Great Depression and particularly its consequences for workers…. he interweaves personal stories with explanations of policy.”—Washington Post Book World
“Vividly rendered—a near-definitive account of one of the most massive government interventions into domestic affairs on American history…. The book is filled with plucky, fast-talking characters who by dint of charm and grit pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to participate.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Eloquent and balanced…. A splendid appreciation of the WPA.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A paean to the WPA ... balanced and engaging.”—Boston Globe
"An immensely detailed book telling the epic story of an equally immense agency, American-Made does an incomparable job of chronicling an important chapter in American history, one which many of us only know from the classroom and some of us know all too well."—New Hampshire Business Review
“A quick read … engagingly written…. There is something here for everyone to learn.”—San Francisco Chronicle
"Well-written and helpfully structured.... Taylor intersperses individual stories to give body to stark statisticsan admiring, as well as admirable, history of FDR's main job-creation program."—Chicago Sun-Times
"A lively 'people's history' of the WPA."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Vastly informative, popular history at its finest…. A straightforward, relentlessly chronological, clearly written account.”—Dallas Morning News
"Chock-full of facts.... Taylor captures the drama and idealism of the program's early years."—Time Out New York
“[Taylor] has produced what is likely the most complete account yet of the much-written-about agency, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the New Deal.”—Milwaukee Express
"A lively and uplifting look at hard times—and a government program that worked."—Arizona Republic
“American-Made might be one of the most empathetic stories ever told…. It also is among the greatest.”—Miami Sun Post
“Pertinent and timely…. Filled with both insight and wisdom. It is highly readable, absolutely terrific and highly recommended.”—Tucson Citizen
“Taylor’s book is both a paean to American resourcefulness and a staunch defense of the New Deal.”—New Yorker