The Civilian Conservation Corps

  1. The country had been in the throes of the Great Depression for several years. People were more and more desperate for work, for a way to support their families. The 1932 Presidential election was more a frantic attempt to get relief than it was an election. Hoover was thrown out, Franklin D. Roosevelt was voted in by a country looking for an end to the bad times. He promised that if given emergency powers, he would have 250,000 men working by the end of July, 1933.
By early 1933, an estimated 12-15 million people were out of work. Farms were being abandoned, more than 100,000 businesses went bankrupt and more than 2,000 banks went under. From an environmental perspective, only 100 million acres of an original 800 million acres of virgin forests were left and 6 billion tons of top soil were lost to wind and erosion every year. (
 Upon taking office, FDR immediately began a massive program to revitalize the nation’s economy. He was determined to create Americans jobs through his New Deal program. In his first 100 days in office, President Roosevelt approved several programs, including the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW), better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which was established by executive order on April 5, 1933. The speed with which the program became viable was astounding: from the initial proposal to authorization, implementation and operation took only 37 days! It was a miracle of agency cooperation throughout the Federal government – the likes of which had never been seen before – or since.
 The CCC was a work-relief program to bring together the nation’s young men and the nation’s natural resources to aid both. It was established to provide conservation work on a national level to young unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 26 and was set up like an internal military with initial enlistments for six months. US citizenship was required by Congress, physical fitness tests were administered – just like induction into the military. Young men rushed by the tens of thousands to enroll. They were paid $30 a month, with a mandatory deduction of $25 being sent to their families to provide relief. The enrollees were provided 3 good meals a day, housing, medical care, clothing, footwear, inoculations and training.
 Military-style camps were set up in all states, as well as in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Because most of the young unemployed men resided in the east and the projects were in the western part of the nation, the US Army took over the logistics problem of getting the workers to the camps by mobilizing the nation’s transportation system. The Agriculture and Interior departments were responsible for planning and organizing the work projects in every state to include planting trees, reseeding grazing lands, building flood barriers, fighting forest fires and maintaining/building forest roads, trails and bridges. The Department of Labor was responsible for screening and enrolling the young men. It was a massive, national effort on all fronts.
 By July, 1933, 1,433 camps had been established around the country and more than 300,000 men were building wildlife refuges, fish hatcheries, water storage basins, animal shelters and wonderful campgrounds with the ultimate goal of prodding Americans to get out and enjoy nature. It was the most rapid peacetime mobilization in American history (
 Some camps also offered vocational, academic and recreational instruction during down time if they chose. Many enrollees arrived at a camp malnourished and illiterate. It is estimated that 57,000 illiterate men learned to read and write while in CCC camps.
 By 1935, the CCC started enrolling WWI Army vets, largely from the Bonus Army ranks who marched on Washington DC for promised bonuses, skilled foresters and craftsmen and 88,000 Native Americans. Nearly 3 million men – about 5% of the US male population – worked in CCC camps over the nine years the camps were run. Pay had risen to $40 a day for unskilled workers, $55 for skilled labor.

During that time, CCC projects included:

  •           more than 3,470 fire towers erected;
  •           97,000 miles of fire roads built;
  •           4,235,000 man-days devoted to firefighting;
  •           more than 3.5 BILLION trees planted;
  •           7,153,000 man days expended on protecting natural wildlife habitats
  •           more than 84,400,000 acres of good agricultural land received drainage systems
  •          1,240,000 man-days of emergency flood work done in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys;
  •          disease and insect control;
  •          forest improvement – timber inventories, surveying and reforestation;
  •          campgrounds built, complete with shelters, swimming pools, restrooms and firepits;
  •          erosion control, soil replacement after the Dust Bowl.
The program was enormously successful throughout America and received overwhelming public support. By 1937, all new camp buildings constructed were portable so that they could be moved – a feature greatly appreciated as WWII approached and the buildings were needed elsewhere.
 A large CCC camp could include at least 11 buildings: 4 barracks, a mess hall, recreation hall, infirmary, officers’ quarters, garages, latrine and shower building. To this day, you can find picnic grounds, forest trails and bridges with the plaque affixed denoting CCC construction.
 Although the program existed for fewer than 10 years, it left a trail of beautiful camp grounds and bridges, strong roads and wonderful trails in every state in America, in addition to protecting and enhancing our natural resources..
 Employers preferred hiring men with CCC work experience because it was a strong indication that anyone who had worked in a CCC camp knew what a full day’s work meant and how to follow instructions in a disciplined way.
 Well-known celebrities who did a stint in a CCC camp were actors Walter Matthau and Raymond Burr, American league baseball Hall of Fame star Stan Musial, and test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound.
 The Civilian Conservation Corps wound down as America entered World War II, where the men and resources were needed for the war effort.
References:,, Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources,,,

"Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading" ~ Thomas Jefferson