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March 2020

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U.S. Census Bureau History: The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933–1942

CCC Poster

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on
March 21, 1933. After Congress enacted the Emergency Conservation Work Act on March 31, Roosevelt issued
Executive Order 6101 Link to a non-federal Web site establishing the CCC on April 5, 1933.

Between 1933 and 1942, millions of men ages 17–28 worked to preserve and protect the nation's public lands
through a variety of improvement, restoration, erosion and flood control, and conservation projects.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

With the nation in the grips of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on March 21, 1933. One of the most successful of Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs, the CCC provided work, meals, shelter, uniforms, and a monthly wage for millions of unemployed, unmarried young men between 1933 and 1942.

When newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, the United States was reeling from a series of financial calamities that began with the October 1929 stock market crash followed by staggering unemployment and a banking crisis that threatened the savings of millions of Americans. Among the many "New Deal" programs Roosevelt recommended to reinvigorate the United States' economy was the (CCC).

Modeled after a state program he established while governor of New York, Roosevelt proposed establishing the CCC to the U.S. Congress on March 21, 1933, which passed the legislation on March 31. On April 5, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6101 Link to a non-federal Web site establishing the CCC as a temporary agency and named labor leader Robert Fechner as its head. Within days, the agency selected its first CCC enrollees and the first camp—Camp Roosevelt—opened at the George Washington National Forest on April 17.

By July 1933, nearly 300,000 unemployed, unmarried young men were working at more than 1,400 CCC camps on public lands throughout the United States. In exchange for their manual labor performing conservation, erosion control, and construction work on public lands, the men received three daily meals, shelter at the camps, uniforms, and a $30 a month wage, of which $25 was sent home to a family member. At its peak in 1935–1936, approximately 500,000 young men were working at 2,900 camps located in every state and the territories of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 3 million men—including camps specifically for African Americans and American Indians on Indian reservations—worked for the CCC between 1933 and 1942.

By the late 1930s, the CCC expanded its role to provide vocational and academic training (including teaching more than 50,000 young men to read and write). It also allowed enrolled students to participate in CCC training and activities during their school break from school. The CCC also provided manpower for relief efforts following natural disasters, like the 1938 New England Hurricane. As unemployment rates fell and the September 16, 1940, Selective Service Act of 1940 authorized a military draft beginning in October 1940, fewer young men were available or needed the CCC's services. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, HI, sped the end of the program as President Roosevelt ordered all agencies to focus on war-related work. Except for corpsmen fighting forest fires, the remaining active CCC camps moved to military installations to help construct training facilities.

Congress cut funding for the CCC, and operations ended on June 30, 1942. Over its 9-year lifespan, the millions of young men who participated in the CCC planted 3.5 billion trees; constructed 3,470 fire lookout towers and thousands of road and trail bridges; logged more than 4.2 million man-days fighting forest fires; maintained and improved thousands of miles of roads, firebreaks, and hiking trails; strung telephone lines; built and improved dams and agricultural drainage; undertook erosion and soil control projects on 20 million acres of land; and built campsites, corals, and fences that continue to benefit the millions of visitors to our nation's public lands.

You can learn more about the CCC, its projects, and participants using census records and data. For example:

  • After signing Executive Order 6101 Link to a non-federal Web site establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on April 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose labor union leader Robert Fechner to lead the organization. Labor union leader James McEntee succeeded Fechner in 1939, leading the corps until the program ended in 1942. Notable alumni serving in the CCC between 1933 and 1942 include: actors Walter Matthau, Robert Mitchum, and Raymond Burr; baseball hall-of-famers Stan Musial and Albert "Red" Schoendienst; legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager; author and conservationist Aldo Leopold; Medal of Honor recipient Alvin C. York; and musician and comedian David "Stringbean" Akeman.
  • Between 1933 and 1942, every state and the territories of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands established CCC camps. Some of these camps included the Rabideau CCC Camp near Blackduck, Beltrami County, MN; Camp Petenwell, east of Necedah, Juneau County, WI; Table Rock CCC Camp in Pickens County, SC; Fort Devens Camp in Ayer, MA; and Camp Luis Obispo in San Luis Obispo County, CA. Segregated camps for African American and American Indian CCC workers included the African American CCC Company 2884-C, Camp SCS-22T, near Winnsboro, TX; and a CCC Indian Division camp on the Sells Indian Reservation in Pima County, AZ. Learn more about some of the CCC camps in your state at Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Link to a non-federal Web site Web site.
  • A "perfect storm" of economic catastrophes left nearly one quarter of the nation's civilian workforce unemployed by 1933, including a 1929 stock crash that erased 89 percent of the market's value, banking crises, and the Dust Bowl's" loss of crops and farmlands due to poor farming techniques. Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the CCC to get unemployed young men working. In 1929, the United States' civilian unemployment rate was 3.2 percent. Unemployment rose to 8.7 percent in 1930, and by 1933, the rate rose to 24.9 percent. In comparison, data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey showed that unemployment peaked at 10 percent during the 2007 to 2009 "Great Recession."
  • In addition to food, clothing, and shelter, the young men who joined the CCC received a $30 monthly wage, $25 of which was sent home to family. With the civilian unemployment rate reaching 24.9 percent in 1933, the young men enrolled in the CCC earned $7.50 weekly. That same year, the average weekly earnings for manufacturing production workers was $16.65. Manufacturing production worker wages began falling in 1929—the same year the stock market collapsed— from $24.76 to $23.00 in 1930; $20.64 in 1931; and $16.89 in 1932. In 1934, manufacturing production worker wages rose to $19.91. In December 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average production and nonsupervisory employee earned $23.79 an hour and $796.97 a month.
  • Young men sought work in the CCC not only to earn a wage, but also because many of their families lost homes and savings during the Great Depression. In 1933, 4,004 banks holding deposits totaling approximately $3.6 billion ($71.2 billion in 2019 dollars) suspended operations temporarily or permanently due to financial difficulties. The nonfarm foreclosure rate rose from 3.6 per 1,000 dwellings in 1926, to 13.3 in 1933. During the 2007–2009 "Great Recession," 5.4 percent of all mortgage loans entered the foreclosure process and nearly 500 banks failed at a cost of approximately $73 billion to the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund.
  • A number of states have museums or exhibits dedicated to the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Some of these include the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at Union County, GA; the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at Backbone State Park, in Strawberry Point, Clayton County, IA; the West Virginia CCC Museum in Mt. Clare, Harrison County, WV; and the North East States Civilian Conservation Corps Museum in Stafford Springs, Tolland County, CT.
  • Millions of young men worked on CCC projects to improve, maintain, and beautify roads and trails, clear brush, treat insect infestations, and fight fires in the United State's national parks and forests. Today, the National Parks Service welcomes more than 330 million visitors to the nation's 419 national parks covering more than 85 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States is also home to 154 national forests covering more than 188 million acres that are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Visit the archived February 2015 history Web page to learn more about these national parks and forests using census data and records.
  • The CCC required participants to send $25 of their monthly $30 wage home to family. In 2008, monetary transfer ("remittance") data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey Migration Supplement found that an estimated 5.9 million households within the supplement's sample universe sent money to relatives outside the United States during the previous 12 months. An estimated 1.1 million households reported receiving money from friends or relatives living outside the United States. Data collected 6 years later by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicated that remittance outflows in 2014 were nearly $40 billion. Countries receiving $10 billion or more in remittance from the United States included Mexico, China, and India. County Business Patterns data from 2017 found there were 4,374 establishments employing 154,014 employees in NAICS 522320, Financial Transactions Processing, Reserve, and Clearinghouse Activities, which included establishments providing electronic funds transfer ("remittance") services.
  • Did you know that the Soundex index system used to help find individuals in the 1880 and 1900–1930 Censuses was a project funded and staffed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA)? Like the CCC, the WPA was a work program President Franklin D. Roosevelt established on May 6, 1935 Link to a non-federal Web site, to provide federal jobs to the unemployed. U.S. Census Bureau director William L. Austin proposed the Soundex project for WPA funding in June 1935, and between 1935 and 1943, the project provided paid work for thousands of unemployed Americans in St. Louis, MO; Washington, DC; and New York City, NY.
  • You can learn more about the history and impact of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the men who participated in the program at Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Link to a non-federal Web site.

Gila National Forest Sign

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees received training, three meals a day, clothing, a place to sleep, and a monthly wage for their work on the nation's
public lands. During its 9 years, the CCC would have camps in all 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The CCC established 17 conservation corps camps in or near the Gila National Forest in Silver City, NM, between 1933 and 1942. The unmarried, unemployed male
participants in the CCC constructed ranger stations; camping and picnic areas; constructed roads; strung telephone lines; and completed erosion and fire control projects
that continue to benefit Gila's visitors.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Forest Surveys

In 1880, the Census Bureau hired botanist Cyrus Guernsey Pringle to survey the forests of the western United States.

Pringle's research contributed to Charles Sprague Sargent's 1884 Report of the Forests of North America which contains descriptions, illustrations, and maps of the nation's forests, plant species, and data related to the nation's forest-dependent industries.

In the decades since his death on May 25, 1911, in Charlotte, VT (south of Burlington, VT), the University of Vermont's Natural History Museum named its Pringle Herbarium Link to a non-federal Web site in his honor. Several plant species have also been named for the famed botanist, including the Mexican Pinus pringlei and Pachycereus pringlei.

Today, the U.S. Forest Service conducts an annual "Forest Census" to monitor the health and sustainability of the nation's forest management practices.

Yellowstone National Park poster
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Yellowstone National Park

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation protecting more than 2 million acres of wilderness in present-day Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The legislation created Yellowstone National Park—the nation's (and world's) first national park established to preserve and protect the natural wonders contained within its borders.

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to get unemployed Americans working during the Great Depression, more than 3 million young men got jobs with the CCC to improve and conserve the nation's public lands. Corps participants working at Yellowstone National Park constructed footpaths through Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin, built campgrounds at Mammoth Hot Springs, fought forest fires, combated invasive insect species, and maintained hundreds of miles of park roads and hiking trails.

You can learn more about Yellowstone and America's other natural treasures at the February 2015 Web page dedicated to America's National Parks and Forests.

1790 Census Act
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This Month in Census History

On March 1, 1790, President George Washington signed the 1790 Census Act into law.

The nation's first census was taken as of the first Monday in August (August 2), 1790. U.S. marshals collected the name of the head of each family and the number of people in each household in the 13 states; the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont; and the Southwest Territory.

Upon completing the count, marshals forwarded the data for 3,929,214 people to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: February 16, 2023