How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America's Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps

Larry Holzwarth - March 19, 2019

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
Better food and exercise, both recreational and on the job, ensured most enrollees left the CCC in better shape than when they entered the program. National Archives

13. CCC workers gained an average of 12 pounds during their stay at the camps

At the time the CCC camps were started, the United States Army spent forty-five cents per day per man feeding its troops (about $8.50 in 2018). The average for sustenance spent by the CCC was $1.50 per day beginning in 1933. Breakfast in the CCC camps varied by location and the availability of local produce, but oatmeal was a staple, as were eggs and bacon, potatoes and hominy, fresh bread, coffee and milk, and fruits in season. Lunch was equally hearty while in the camps, though sometimes those at more remote worksites relied on the same canned rations distributed to the army, supplemented with canteens of water. To atone for the often unpalatable c-ration lunch, dinner was expanded.

Throughout its existence, the CCC enrolled men who were suffering from want and the shortages caused by the lack of money during the Great Depression. Approximately 70% of the enrollees entered the CCC showing the effects of malnourishment, and underweight. The physical labor performed outdoors and the quality of the food provided improved their health and physical fitness at the same time that it provided lasting benefits to the nation. Nearly all of the men gained weight, but not to the level of it becoming a danger to their health. The camp newspaper Happy Days, from a CCC camp in North Carolina, extolled, “This is a training station; we’re going to leave morally and physically fit…”

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
Like the Army and Navy, the CCC used recruiting posters to entice young men into its ranks. Wikimedia

14. Daily life was a routine similar to that of the Army

Another of the veterans of Camp Roosevelt, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, recalled life at the camp as, “the longer I stayed, the better I liked it”. Camp life was routine, with the day beginning at 6.00 AM, the men rising, making their beds, and straightening up their barracks area. Following breakfast they dressed in the work clothes which had been issued them, which were army fatigues for the most part. They then went to the nearby headquarters of the government agency responsible for the work they were doing, in the case of Camp Roosevelt, the Forest Service, where they received their assignments for the day. When inclement weather forced them to pause their main project, they were given other assignments for completion in the camp.

One night per week, at Camp Roosevelt, men were allowed to go into the nearby town of Edinburg, Virginia, where the entertainments offered included movies, bars, and other distractions traditionally sought by homesick young men. The men were allowed to wear their civilian clothes during the visits, though some preferred their CCC issued clothing, since their own had been so tattered when they enrolled. Transportation to town was by CCC trucks or buses, and those who missed the return ride to Camp Roosevelt faced a nine mile walk, as well as punishment for being late returning to camp. Punishment could be a monetary fine, extra camp duties, or the loss of privileges.

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
CCC workers were provided onsite medical care, and in the case of serious injury or illness were sent to local hospitals at government expense. National Archives

15. The CCC provided medical care to all of its enrollees

Since many of the men entered the CCC malnourished they were at first prone to illnesses, and the camps contained infirmaries to provide for their care. The nature of the work performed also led to accidents, some of a minor nature and others more serious. Hard work on rocky terrain led to sprains and twisted joints, woodworking and carpentry led to splinters and cuts, and accidents led to bruises, and other misfortunes. Baseball Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst suffered an eye injury which nearly led to him losing the eye, though he ignored the suggestions of doctors to have the eye removed, and eventually recovered most of his vision.

Minor cases were treated by medical personnel within the camps. Those which were too serious for local treatment were sent to the closest military hospital; in the case of Camp Roosevelt, Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. There were occasional fatalities, from work accidents and from illnesses, but they were lower overall than the statistical average for men of their age group. Overwhelmingly, the men who enrolled in the CCC left the organization in better health than when they entered it, stronger, better nourished, and with a far more positive outlook for the future.

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
Robert Fechner sits to FDR’s right at Camp Roosevelt in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. National Archives

16. The success of the CCC was due to the leadership of Robert Fechner

When President Roosevelt appointed Robert Fechner as the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps in April 1933 he all but ensured that the new agency would be a success. Fechner had a well-deserved reputation of having exceptional organizational and administrative skills, and his immediate work with the CCC did nothing but enhance it. Fechner was a labor organizer who approached the CCC with the understanding that unionization of the workers within the agency would detract from its mission, and stoutly opposed efforts from labor unions to infiltrate its ranks. When union workers persisted in attempting to recruit CCC members, Fechner expelled them from the camps.

Fechner initially resisted the attempts to provide educational classes within the camps (beyond those necessary for providing knowledge regarding the specific jobs) but gradually yielded to those who argued that basic education was necessary. By the time he died in 1939, classes were available in the camps corresponding to the educational needs of nearly all members, from illiterates to high school students. Upon Fechner’s death, of a heart attack suffered while he was still serving as Director, Roosevelt wrote to his widow, “As Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps he brought to the public service great administrative ability, vision, and indefatigable industry. His death is a loss to the CCC, and to the nation”.

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
Although it shared characteristics with the army from its inception, by 1940 the CCC took on a more militaristic mission. National Archives

17. The CCC began to take on a military nature in 1940

Although the CCC had from the outset shared many characteristics with military organizations, it had avoided being considered militaristic in reputation due to the voluntary nature of its enrollees and the direction of its projects being in the hands of civilian organizations of the government. In 1940 that began to change. In anticipation of the expansion of the army following the 1940 peacetime draft, the CCC began to build camps and training facilities for the military. Some of its own camps were converted for military uses. In the late 1930s the CCC was no longer being used solely as a relief organization, and the life in the camps began to take on a more regimented routine, including mandatory daily physical fitness activities.

Conscription and the growing American economy, which was benefiting from the American programs to support Great Britain (and later the USSR) reduced the number of men eligible for the CCC, and the shift of focus towards national defense limited the budget for internal conservation projects. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor all CCC work was shifted to support of the military, expanding existing bases and facilities. Men serving in the CCC were eligible for Selective Service. Some CCC camps were disbanded, with the CCC units transferring to the military bases where their work was performed, and by then both the work and their living situation was under military control.

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
CCC projects such as preparing grades for roads ended when Congress ended its funding in 1942. National Archives

18. Congress ceased funding the CCC in 1942

Back in the days when the Congress of the United States passed budgets which followed the fiscal year, expiring on June 30, the 77th Congress decided the CCC was redundant, and funding for its operations ended on that date in 1942. Many of the camps were absorbed by the War and Navy Departments, others by state organizations, and still others were simply abandoned. Congress continued to fund the liquidation of the CCC (resolving and archiving records, establishing the status of incomplete projects, etc.) until 1948, when the process was declared complete. By then FDR was dead and Harry Truman expressed little interest in renewing the agency in peacetime.

Some former CCC camps were expanded during World War II to serve as internment camps for German, Italian, and Japanese nationals who were in the United States when the war began. Others were used to house conscientious objectors, who performed public service projects similar to those of the CCC but on a much smaller scale throughout the war. Other camps were expanded even further as housing facilities for prisoners of war as they began to arrive in the United States, beginning with Germans and Italians captured in North Africa in 1942 (most of the interned Japanese Americans along the west coast were held in camps built by the army).

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
CCC workers leaving camp to return to their homes. National Archives

19. The CCC was never officially closed by Congress

Officially the Civilian Conservation Corps was never terminated by legislative or executive order. Congress merely ceased to fund it in 1942. The equipment it operated was transferred to other agencies, both federal and state. Its forest fire fighting capability and equipment was absorbed by several federal and state agencies responsible for the maintenance and protection of public lands, and many of the techniques developed by the CCC are still used in combating forest fires. Many state agencies employ young men and women in a manner similar to that adopted by the CCC, providing food, housing, and work training for those who enroll in their programs.

There are over 100 programs across the United States in the 21st century which operate along the lines of the CCC model, spread across 41 states. Some are federal programs, some are state programs, and some are both, with state operated programs receiving federal funds. The Departments of the Interior, Labor, Agriculture, and Education are some of the federal level departments which support CCC model agencies across the country. Several philanthropic organizations, including the Ford Foundation and the Mott Foundations, provided funding to create new corps organizations, and continue to support them with funding. The AmeriCorps program supports many of these organizations.

How FDR Created Jobs and Saved America’s Natural Treasures through the Civilian Conservation Corps
Sunset viewed from an overlook built by the CCC along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

20. The legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps

One must but open one’s eyes in one of America’ National Parks, most of its state parks, and in many of its community parks, to observe the legacy of the CCC. During its existence, the men of which it was comprised planted over 3 billion trees, in parks, along roadways, and lining city streets. One of the largest urban parks in the United States, Cincinnati’s Mount Airy Forest, was built almost entirely by the CCC; until the early 21st century the former CCC camp served as a homeless men’s rehabilitation center. Many of the former CCC camps still stand, at least partially, restored as museums or recreational facilities.

Some camps, such as Rabideau Camp in Minnesota’s Chippewa National Forest, continue to serve the public as education centers. The Camp for the CCC members who built New Hampshire’s Bear Brook State Park now serves as the administration facility for the park, and provides a museum describing the park and its construction to the public. Several states have within their community’s monuments and memorials dedicated to the CCC, inarguably one of the most successful federal programs ever established by the United States government. It gave hope, work, housing, and sustenance for over 3,000,000 out of work American men during the course of its existence while literally changing the landscape of the United States, and of its history.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Message to Congress on Unemployment Relief. March 21”. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Presidential Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The American Presidency Project. 1933

“The Civilian Conservation Corps CCC 1933-1942: a New Deal Case Study”. John A. Salmond. 1967

“Franklin D. Roosevelt: Launching the New Deal”. Frank Freidel. 1973

“In the Shadow of the Mountain: The Spirit of the CCC”. Edwin G. Hill. 1990

“You Can Thank These Depression Era Workers for Your National Parks”. Erin Blakemore, August 30, 2016

“The Indian and the CCC”. Donald L. Parman, Pacific Historical Review. February, 1971

“The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History”. National Park Service

“Public Opinion, 1935-1946”. Edited by Hadley Cantril and Mildred Strunk. 1951

“Objectives and Results of the Civilian Conservation Corps Program”. Robert Fechner, Director. 1938

“Roosevelt’s Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps”. Perry H. Merrill. 1981

“Forgotten Men: The Civilian Conservation Corps”. Robert Allen Ermentrout. 1982

“Camp Roosevelt, NF-1”. Article, Online

“Your CCC, A Handbook for Enrollees”, Happy Days. 1940

“First CCC Camp in the Nation”. Lee District Office, George Washington National Forest. 2001. Online

“Report to Harold L. Ickes: Civilian Conservation Corps Program of the US Department of the Interior, March 1933 to June 30, 1942”. Conrad L. Wirth. January, 1944

“Robert Fechner, Head of CCC, Dies”. Staff, The New York Times. January 1, 1940

“The US Army, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Leadership for World War II, 1933-1942”. Charles E. Heller, Armed Forces & Society. 2009

“Civilian Conservation Corps”. The American Experience, Public Broadcasting System. 1988

“AmeriCorps State and National”. Online

“Parks, Politics and the People”. Conrad L. Wirth. 1980