Vibrant government pictorial map promoting the New Deal

C.H.W. / Printed by the U.S. Geological Survey, P.W.A. IN ACTION. Washington, D.C.: Public Works Administration, [1935].
Lithograph printed in colors, 22 ¾”h x 34”w at neat line plus margins. Evenly toned, with some soiling and staining visible primarily in margins.

A delightful pictorial map taking on a serious subject: the contributions of the Public Works Administration, created in 1933 as one of the major program’s in FDR’s New Deal.

Under the leadership of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, the PWA planned and funded billions of dollars in major construction projects, including bridges, dams, highways and roads, and other infrastructure, as well as public institutions such as hospitals and schools. The numbers are staggering, some 34,000 projects, every year “consum[ing] roughly half the concrete and a third of the steel of the entire nation.” (Wikipedia)

The map depicts the continental United States, with the landscape dominated by colorful vignettes depicting selected PWA projects in each state: from an irrigation system in southern California to a school on a South Dakota Sioux reservation, to new sewers for Durham, North Carolina.  In the unlikely event viewers didn’t get the point, the map’s subtitle says it all:

“OFF RELIEF ROLLS ONTO PAY ROLLS [:] A map showing how the Public Works program is Building a Greater Nation – Making jobs for Men and Factories – How it Conserves Resources and Harnesses Rivers – How Finer Transportation is being Created and Land Saved for Better Use.”

The decorative impact is greatly enhanced by a large and compass rose and vignettes of construction activities at each corner, all in the same colorful palette. Despite the rosy picture, the PWA failed to return American industrial production to pre-Depression, and assessment of its impact are mixed at best.

The map is signed in print at lower right by “C.H.W.” P.J. Mode suggests that

“It is possible that the map was conceived by Colonel Henry Waite, Deputy Administrator of the agency from 1933-1955, a graduate of MIT with a career in railroad, mining and municipal engineering and experience as City Manager of Dayton, Ohio. Harold Ickes, Administrator of the PWA gave Waite much praise for his role in getting the agency off the ground and working effectively…, and the map is reproduced in Ickes’ book [Back to Work: The Story of PWA (1935) (following p. 82).”

In all, an interesting and decorative persuasive map from one of the most creative, and most fraught, periods in the history of American democracy.

Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, #2013.