New Deal History



©1999 Duane R. Chartier


The stock market crash of October 1929 was effectively the beginning of a very new and important era for the United States and for the world. The global economic recession that followed was most strongly felt in the United States. By 1932, US industrial output fell 54% and there was 25-30% unemployment. This was partially the result of lack of confidence in the economic and financial institutions of the country. This lack of consumer confidence led to a downward spiral as fewer factory orders were placed and more and more jobs were lost. The Great Depression was a period of introspection and reevaluation for the United States.


Due to the strong economic and political ties to the United States after WWI, the European industrial economies also suffered severe problems. It can be argued strongly that the rise of Adolf Hitler was only possible because of the very bleak economic landscape of Germany in the early 1930's. Hitler used rearmament of Germany as a driving force to restart the German economy and by 1936 the economic depression in Germany was effectively over.


The situation was more severe in the United States and a very great contributor to the problem was the great drought that created the "Dust Bowl" that extended over a large region of the Great Plains1. This forced many agricultural families from their homes and created an even more depressed outlook for the American people. The devastating effects of the Depression were to last until the US joined WWII in 1941.


In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president and he drastically changed the course of US economics and politics by introducing strong government regulation and a package of massive public works projects called the "New Deal". These were meant to re-employ Americans and to build a more modern infrastructure. The previous government policies of laser faire (leaving things as they are or simply leaving things to market forces) were replaced by much more government control and intervention.


There is a long and ongoing debate over the particular motivations of FDR for funding the range of New Deal programs and then for removing his support after 1938 when Congress was once again dominated by conservative Republicans who did not favor funding the liberals who were associated with the arts.2 Regardless of the politics, the effect of New Deal programs was to fund art and infrastructure projects for nearly a decade3 and thereby to help create a more modern infrastructure and distinctly American art.


1 The areas most affected were the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, northeastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas. The native grasslands that had supported cattle were cultivated to raise wheat during the 1920's and the over-cultivation and bad land management were catastrophic. Wind erosion of the land was severe and it took extreme government intervention to correct the problem which was finally under control in the early 1940's.


2 See McKenzie, Richard D. The New Deal For Artists. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973. There is some discussion of these issues in the preface.


3 It took some time for the Congress of 1938 to sufficiently weaken support and curtail the art programs.





Arnason, H.H. History of Modern Art: Painting Sculpture Architecture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ and New York: Prentice-Hall Inc. and Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1983.


Dunitz, Robin J. Street Gallery: Guide to 100 Los Angeles Murals. Los Angeles: RJD Enterprises, 1993.


Flynn, Kathryn A. (Editor). Treasures on New Mexico Trails: Discover New Deal Art and Architecture. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 1995.


Hunter, Sam and Jacobus, John. American Art of the 20th Century. Englewood Cliffs, NJ and New York: Prentice-Hall Inc. and Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1973.


Marling, Karal Ann. Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.


McKenzie, Richard D. The New Deal for Artists. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973.


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New Deal Communities


Most are not aware that New Deal monies went in to creating "from scratch" three new towns---Greendale, Wisconsin, Greenhills, Ohio and Greenbelt, MD. All towns still exist today. In addition to them ninety-nine other communities were either planned or initiated by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration or the Resettlement Administration. The following report was compiled from the U.S. House of Representatives, Select Committee of the Committee on Agricultures, Hearing on the Farm Security Administration, 78th Congress, 1st Session, 1943-44, pp.1118-1127. We can only assume numerous other documents exist with similar or more information about these communities but we offer this report for the reader's information and reference. We would appreciate hearing from anyone interested and informed about these communities and their histories.