After the War
Oregon in the Great Depression
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) gave jobs to thousands
of young Oregonians and left a legacy of public works improvements.
(OSA, Parks and Recreation Department Records, Boardman Collection,
The downward spiral
The chain of events that followed
the crash of the stock market in 1929 seemed unending and unstoppable.
owned stock certificates now
found themselves holding worthless pieces of paper. Prestigious banks
nationwide went bankrupt leaving their depositors' savings wiped out.
Failing banks also led to foreclosures on businesses, homes, and farms,
further eroding both the national and local economies. As money dried
up, so did factory orders. Fewer factory orders meant more layoffs. More
layoffs meant less money to spend in local merchandise shops and cafes
as the downward spiral continued.
Despondent Americans looked for help to stop the spiral. But President
Herbert Hoover, who grew up in Newberg, held the belief that government
was not the solution. While he took some measures to attempt to stem
the bleeding, he shared a strong philosophy with his Republican Party
stalwarts that prevented a large scale government response.
The New Deal
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democratic
Party rival for the 1932 presidential election, was not so encumbered.
in under the
at least some
action would be better than none. Seizing the mandate, Roosevelt unleashed
a whirlwind of federal government action dubbed the "New Deal." Many
of his initiatives were aimed at restoring the battered confidence
taking office, he declared a "bank holiday" in which he closed
financial institutions across the country until federal auditors could
their books and decide on their solvency. Thousands of banks were closed
down, but those that reopened could be trusted, assured Roosevelt.
Civilian Conservation Corps
The president then began
cooking a pot of "alphabet
for economic recovery. Roosevelt recognized that he needed to get the
millions of unemployed Americans back to work, as much for psychological
reasons as for economic ones. While he met substantial political and
legal resistance to his plans for unprecedented expansion of the federal
government, most Americans supported him. The creation of the Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC) yielded far reaching
consequences for Oregon. Not only did it provide employment for thousands
of young Oregonians without jobs, but it left a myriad of functional
and attractive improvements to the state's infrastructure. Bridges,
roads, campgrounds, buildings, ranger stations, guard stations, fire
lookouts, reservoirs, and other projects numbered among the achievements
of the CCC in every part of Oregon.
The Bonneville Dam exemplified the
willingness of President Roosevelt and New Deal
big in an effort to break the grip of the Depression. The
dam, and others like it, transformed the economy of the
region in subsequent decades as the Bonneville Power
the vast potential of the Columbia River. (OSA, Oregon Highway Division Records, Tourism Photographs,
Photo No. 5618)
Works Projects Administration
the Works Projects Administration (WPA) employed many more Oregonians
lawyers, historians, painters,
architects, masons, and in other arts, professions, and trades. Their
work resulted in numerous
books such as the fascinating tour of Oregon entitled "Oregon:
End of the Trail." They also left monuments to the artists and
craftsmen of the day with works such as the magnificent Timberline
Lodge on the flanks of Mount Hood.
And, the WPA, along with other federal agencies such as the Public
Works Administration (PWA), built post
buildings across Oregon. The agencies also commissioned numerous projects
resulting in the creation of murals, furniture, decorative iron work,
and other enduring pieces of
Reshaping the landscape
But the New Deal reshaped
the landscape and the future of the state in other ways as well. Most
government began an
ambitious plan to build dams on the Columbia River. Soon, construction
started on the
massive Bonneville Dam, one of the striking engineering achievements
of the period. The project employed 4,000 laborers directly and created
of other jobs in support industries and services. It would provide
irrigation water for the surrounding arid land, electricity to power
factories and homes, a navigation route for barges carrying grain,
and most of all hope for a brighter future.
These and many other public programs kept Oregon and the rest of the
nation moving forward through the 1930s even as the Depression stubbornly
persisted. While they may not have brought about the end of the economic
problems, they did succeed in providing Americans with jobs and hope.
As the clouds of war gathered in Europe and Asia in the latter years
to supplying materials for another far off war. On December 7, 1941
a reluctant America saw no choice but to turn the pages of history
from the hardships of the Depression to the horrors of the next world
Link Continue the experience by exploring the Web exhibit: "Life on the Home Front: Oregon Responds to World War II."