U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established

The Civilian Conservation Corps was established to put millions of unemployed people to work in beautification, forestry, and other natural resource projects. One of the first programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to be implemented, it simultaneously helped create work for those left jobless by the Great Depression and helped save eroding natural resources.

Summary of Event

On March 29, 1933, the U.S. Congress authorized Public Act No. 5, which was known as the Reforestation Relief Act. Reforestation Relief Act (1933) This act gave the president the authority to establish a chain of forest camps in which unemployed young men could be put to work protecting and improving millions of acres of forest land. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law on March 31, 1933. Less than a week later, on April 5, 1933, Roosevelt, by Executive Order 6101, established the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW), making this plan a reality. On June 28, 1937, Congress officially changed the name of the agency from the ECW to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the name by which it is best known to history. [kw]U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established (Apr. 5, 1933)
[kw]Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established, U.S. (Apr. 5, 1933)
[kw]Conservation Corps Is Established, U.S. Civilian (Apr. 5, 1933)
[kw]U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established (Apr. 5, 1933)
Civilian Conservation Corps
New Deal;Civilian Conservation Corps
Conservation;natural resources
Emergency Conservation Work
[g]United States;Apr. 5, 1933: U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established[08330]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 5, 1933: U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established[08330]
[c]Natural resources;Apr. 5, 1933: U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established[08330]
[c]Government and politics;Apr. 5, 1933: U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established[08330]
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
[p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;New Deal
Fechner, Robert
McEntee, James J.

Roosevelt has been called the father of the CCC because of his vast experience in conservation. As a young legislator in New York, he was made chairman of the Committee on Forests, Fish, and Game. As chairman, he invited Gifford Pinchot, Pinchot, Gifford chief forester of the United States, and other notable conservationists to the state capitol at Albany to present lectures on forestry to the legislature. Roosevelt helped pass legislation that provided the first practical government-supervised forestry in the eastern United States.

As governor of New York, Roosevelt continued to support reforestation programs. Land was purchased for reforestation and paid for by individual counties and the state. More than $20 million was appropriated in 1931 for the growing of trees. More than one million trees were planted, and more than ten thousand unemployed people were put to work in the last year of Roosevelt’s governorship.

In March, 1933, when Roosevelt became president, the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, and more than thirteen million Americans were unemployed. Almost everyone was affected by the devastated economy. Several million people were living as nomads, drifting around the country looking for work. Many people left their homes and moved in with relatives to help cut costs. Others simply stayed home, tired of looking for nonexistent jobs. Five million of those looking for work were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, with no opportunity to get a start in life. Many of these young people left home looking for any kind of work but ended up in jail, municipal shelters, soup lines, and worse. A perfectly capable workforce was wasting away. The country was ready for a conservation program similar to the one Roosevelt had started in New York.

At the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt had pointed out that many abandoned farms and cut-over forests were growing worthless brush. He also stated that every European nation had a definite land policy and that the United States had none, an omission that could result in soil erosion and timber famine. In his candidacy acceptance speech, Roosevelt said, “Let us use common sense and business sense, and, just as one example, we know that every hopeful and immediate means of relief, both for the unemployed and for agriculture, will come from a wide plan of the converting of many millions of acres of marginal and unused land into timber land through reforestation.” Much of the nation’s timber had been squandered. Only 100 million acres out of more than 800 million acres were left. Soil erosion, wind, and water was carrying away six billion tons of soil each year. Something had to be done.

On March 4, 1933, Roosevelt took the oath of office as the thirty-second president of the United States. On March 9, he called a meeting of the secretaries of war, agriculture, and the interior, the judge advocate general of the U.S. Army, and the solicitor of the Department of the Interior to hear his conservation plan. They formulated a plan that same day, and it was introduced to Congress on March 13. This original proposal was withdrawn because of problems, and a revised plan was resubmitted on March 21, 1933. The new plan had three major provisions: Direct relief would be given to the states, a large public works program would be started, and a carefully designed soil-erosion and forestry program would be undertaken. Less than one month had passed since Roosevelt had been sworn in as president.

On April 6, 1933, Roosevelt appointed Robert Fechner, an authority on labor, as the first director of the ECW. James J. McEntee was appointed assistant director. Four departments and one independent agency were responsible for the enrollment of men, administration of the camps, and planning and supervision of the work programs. The Departments of Labor, War, Interior, and Agriculture, as well as the Veterans Administration, were to cooperate in administering the program.

The War Department was responsible for the physical conditioning of the enrollees, as the recruits were called. It was also charged with organization, enrollment, transportation, and provision of equipment. The War Department was chosen to organize and administer the camps because it had a standing force that could provide the camp leadership needed to supervise men in groups (or companies) of two hundred men each. The War Department also provided the enrollees with food, clothing, housing, and medical care and educational, religious, and recreational facilities. The chief of finance of the army was given the chief fiscal responsibility to see that everyone was paid.

The Department of Labor was responsible for the selection of enrollees. This department delegated this authority to directors in each state. Names of qualified persons who wished to enroll were provided from town, county, and political subdivisions to the state coordinator. These state and local units were usually welfare agencies who knew which people were qualified for enlistment. The selection of enrollees was transferred to the office of the director in May, 1939.

The Department of the Interior was responsible for the planning and supervision of work projects. The National Park Service, General Land Office, Bureau of Reclamation, Office of Indian Affairs, and Grazing Service were major subdivisions of the department that participated in the program. The Office of Indian Affairs was in charge of selecting Indian enrollees and personnel who worked on reservations. The National Park Service administered the enrollment in Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.

Under the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureaus of Animal Industry, Biological Survey, and Agricultural Engineering provided technical and supervisory personnel for work projects. The Forest Service also provided full administration over enrollees in Alaska and Puerto Rico. The Veterans Administration selected the quota of veteran enrollees. The number of veterans was not to exceed 10 percent of the total national enrollment. The first enrollment period was to enroll no more than 250,000 men. All were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, and all were unemployed and unmarried. Each enrollment period was six months long, and anyone could apply to stay for more than one period. The enrollees were required to send part of their monthly cash allotment to their dependents. This afforded enrollment of those with the greatest need. Each state was assigned a quota based on its population in proportion to the total national population.

The country was divided into nine corps areas for military purposes. The CCC retained these corps areas for its own use, as each area already had training camps that would be used as conditioning camps for enrollees before they reported to work camps. Problems developed early in the selection process. Enrollees who found work were no longer eligible to participate. Some enrollees would get homesick and leave camp. Others would get married. These and other problems were solved by increasing the number of men selected. When an enrollee could not fulfill his obligation, one of the extras would take his place. The importation of large groups of men into a certain geographic location could deprive local men of local employment. Local experienced men (LEMs) were therefore hired to advise the enrollees on the proper methods of carrying out local work projects.

On July 1, 1933, the War Department reported that mobilization was complete. More than 1,315 camps had been established. They were staffed by 3,641 regular and 1,774 reserve officers. A typical army camp staff included a company commander, an executive officer, and a medical officer. There was to be no connection with the military other than the administration of the camps. Drilling and maneuvers were not part of the daily routine. The army was simply the national agency most experienced in handling large number of enrollees. The first camps were set up as tent camps. Later, wooden barracks were constructed.

In addition to the commanding officer, each camp had a civilian superintendent and local staff supplied by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Educational, recreational, and vocational activities were under the supervision of these men. The representatives of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture were in charge of the men when they left camp on work details. With this foundation, the enrollees were ready to get to work.


The accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corps were numerous. More than 150 types of work were accomplished by the enrollees. There were ten basic types of work projects. These included forest protection, forest culture, soil-erosion control, flood control, aid to wildlife, irrigation and drainage, transportation improvements, structural improvement, range development, and landscape and recreational development. The fuits of many of the projects of the 1930’s are still evident in state and national parks throughout the country.

The CCC program also served the socialization needs of American youth. Men were assigned to camps in other states, so they could not go home or leave camp any time they wished. They learned to eat three healthy meals a day, and to work eight hours a day, five days a week. They got into a routine of getting up, doing a fair day’s labor, coming back to the barracks, cleaning up, and going to dinner. Their evenings were devoted to recreational and educational activities. Men who had never worked in groups before learned to work in teams and interrelate with other people. They were preparing for their future.

CCC enrollees built many of the state and national parks that are visited by millions of people annually. They built fire towers, hiking trails, dining pavilions, cooking pits, culverts, and bridges. They fought forest fires and thinned woods so trees would grow better. Many cabins that still house campers were constructed by these men. Electric and telephone lines were strung in areas needing these services. Water lines were run to camping areas in state and national parks. Emergency service was provided where needed. Flood control and cleanup work was performed by enrollees. Each company of men did the jobs specified by their camp supervisors. Many enrollees learned trades that turned into occupations they followed the rest of their lives.

The country benefited from the CCC in several ways as well. Enrollees were required to send home twenty-five dollars of their thirty-dollar monthly pay. This enabled the people at home to start recovering financially. This money was put back into the local economies. The enrollee kept five dollars per month for spending money. Local economies were aided in other ways. Lumber for the buildings constructed in the CCC camps was purchased from local lumber mills. Buildings were constructed to uniform standards, and blueprints were furnished to local contractors to supply materials. Food for the camps was also purchased locally. The enrollee could have all the food he wanted. Most of them gained weight and grew physically fit during their stay in the camps. Many opted to reenlist when their six-month enrollment period was over.

The country was getting back into shape. The economy was recovering, and the people were getting the work and training they needed to carry on a productive life. More than three million men joined the Civilian Conservation Corps during its eight-year life. The contributions of these men stand as tributes to one of the most successful government programs ever established.

The CCC, the largest government relief program ever attempted in the United States, came to an end in 1942, after the start of World War II. Many men traded their CCC uniforms for military uniforms—the nation’s youths were prepared to defend democracy. Civilian Conservation Corps
New Deal;Civilian Conservation Corps
Conservation;natural resources
Emergency Conservation Work

Further Reading

  • Cohen, Stan. The Tree Army: A Pictorial History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1945. Missoula, Mont.: Pictorian Histories, 1980. Heavily illustrated with pictures from around the country, brief historical references, and captions. A great reference work.
  • Cornebise, Alfred Emile. The CCC Chronicles: Camp Newspapers of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Study of daily life in CCC camps and the culture of the CCC through the lens of the newspapers published by and for campers. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Dearborn, Ned H. Once in a Lifetime: A Guide to the CCC Camp. New York: Charles E. Merrill, 1936. A very good reference work on the CCC program, presented in question and answer format.
  • Holland, Kenneth, and Frank Ernest Hill. Youth in the CCC. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1942. Describes the history, programs, and activities of the CCC.
  • Hoyt, Ray. We Can Take It: A Short Story of the C.C.C. New York: American Book Company, 1935. Good background information and history of the first two years of the CCC program.
  • Lacy, Leslie Alexander. The Soil Soldiers: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Great Depression. Radnor, Pa.: Chilton, 1976. A good descriptive history of selected CCC work programs.
  • Merrill, Perry H. Roosevelt’s Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942. Montpelier, Vt.: Perry H. Merrill, 1981. Concise history of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
  • Oliver, Alfred C., Jr., and Harold M. Dudley. This New America: The Spirit of the Civilian Conservation Corps. New York: Longmans, Green, 1937. A good reference source to the CCC written during the height of the program.
  • Paige, John C. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1985. This book describes the relationship between the National Park Service and the CCC. Good illustrations of work projects.
  • Pfaff, Christine. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942. Denver, Colo.: Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, 2000. Study of the history of the CCC and its relationship to the Bureau of Reclamation. Bibliographic references.
  • Salmond, John A. The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A Case Study. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1967. Probably the best-known work on the subject and one of the earliest histories of the CCC.

Izaak Walton League Is Formed

Great Depression

Reconstruction Finance Corporation Is Created

Franklin D. Roosevelt Is Elected U.S. President

The Hundred Days

Indian Reorganization Act

Taylor Grazing Act

Works Progress Administration Is Established

Soil Conservation Service Is Established