Civilian Conservation Corps
Any state or federal park that existed before 1933 was likely touched by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was established under law on March 31, 1933. That in itself was a miracle because Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been inaugurated as U.S. president on March 4, 1933. Can you imagine something like that happening now with a Congress that will not get its act together to do anything but agree on when to recess? In actuality it was the Emergency Conservation Work program, but had been referred to as the Civilian Conservation Corps since the idea was put forth by the FDR administration. In 1937 the name was officially changed to the Civilian Conservation Corps (the “s” is silent, just like in Marine Corps).
In 1933 the nation’s unemployment rate was at 25%, but beyond statistics were the facts: individuals were starving. The country needed jobs. There was opportunity to put men to work and improve the forests, parks and lead on erosion control. Enrollees were paid $30 per month and were sometimes called the ‘dollar-a-day boys.’ They were required to send $25 home and could keep $5 each month. A movie matinee cost 10 cents and an evening show’s price was a whopping 15 cents. Costs for amenities were in line with these prices so a guy could take a gal to a movie and hamburger for under $1. According to an online inflation calendar the 1933 dollar would equal $18.84 in 2017 money. In other words $18.84 would be the pay rate per day (not per hour) in today’s money. Amazing isn’t it that unskilled workers are currently advocating for a minimum of $15 per hour?
Most of the enrollees were indeed unskilled, and they learned as they worked. Since my book, “The Civilian Conservation Corps In and Around the Black Hills,” came out in 2004 I have visited with over 500 men who served in the CCC. In person, via email and letters and over the phone, it was a great pleasure to talk with them and learn from them. Most CCC men were thrilled with both the quality and the quantity of food. They had come from homes where portions were meager and in the camps they had all they wanted to eat. Between the facts that the men were achieving maturity, were building muscle in their daily work and the availability of food, it was common for a man to gain about 15 pounds in a six month hitch. Cooks and bakers, with more on-the-job training, were ready to go out into the food preparation world when they got out.
Many went on to become entrepreneurs. One man learned to use rock in finish work when he helped with the steps on Harney Peak. He became a master stone mason for his life’s work. One became a plumbing and heating contractor and others were building contractors. Although not necessarily related to his CCC work of planting hundreds of tree saplings, Claire Patterson was the man who patched the slight cracks on the faces of Mount Rushmore for years. The men were happy to have work, fun, medical care, and housing and to know they were sending money home to help the family. The desire to work and make something of themselves was the driving force.
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