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The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

FDR eating at a CCC Camp
Photo courtesy of the Shenandoah National Park, NPS

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established on March 19, 1933, by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a New Deal program to aid young men from unemployed families during the Great Depression. In President Roosevelt’s message to Congress on March 21, 1933, the president stated:

"I have proposed the creation of a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, confirming itself to forestry, preservation of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects…Control of such work can be carried on by the executing machinery of the Department of Labor, Agriculture, War and the Interior,..."

[Photo] CCC work crew
Photo courtesy of the Shenandoah National Park, NPS

Executive Order 6106 took effect in April 1933, ten days after President Roosevelt’s address to Congress. The organization established was technically called “Emergency Conservation Work.” The phrase Roosevelt used in his speech to Congress, however, the Civilian Conservation Corps, was more frequently used and is the name by which the organization is referred to today. The CCC received 10 million dollars from the national treasury, and was operated under the direction of Robert Fechner, along with an advisory council.

The program, placed under the overall jurisdiction of the Department of Interior under Secretary Harold L. Ickes, became one of the most popular New Deal programs, operating throughout the United States and its territories. A separate Indian Division aided Native Americans on the reservations and numbered roughly 77,000. More than 2 million men served in the CCC before Congress abolished the program in 1942, when America’s recent entry into World War II demanded manpower for the armed forces. Young men were put to work building roads, erosion dams, fighting fires, planting trees and landscaping National Parks. The CCC employed men between the ages of 18 and 25 for 6 month periods. Later Congress changed the age limit to 17 to 28 years old. Initially the organized unions opposed the idea as they feared skilled competition during the hard times of the Great Depression, when many union members were unemployed. The training provided in the CCC camps, however, did not compete with the established unions, although forestry training and educational opportunities were made available. The CCC was run on quasi-military lines. Day would begin at the CCC camps with a bugle call at 6:00am, and work began at 7:45am. The men worked 40 hours a week and had time for sports and classes in the late afternoon. A portion of every man’s salary in the CCC was sent home to their families

CCC Poster
Photo by Olivander via flickr used through creative commons license

The organization of the Civilian Conservation Corps reads like the plan for a bureaucratic labyrinth gone awry, but it worked, placing different Federal Departments in charge of different aspects of the program. The Labor Department initially enrolled unemployed young men into the program (eventually the CCC took over this role), and the camps the men lived in while working were operated by the Army, with reserve officers becoming camp directors. The war Department (later renamed the Department of Defense) was responsible for the physical conditioning of the men, transportation, camp construction, administration, and supplies. The Department of Agriculture was responsible for on-the-ground planning and execution of work projects in the national forests in the continental U.S., Puerto Rico, and Alaska, The Department of the Interior had a similar responsibility for the lands under its jurisdiction and for the CCC’s Native American enrollees.

Civilian Conservation Corp 75th Anniversary | Skyline Drive, Virginia
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