Roosevelt, the WPA and the Great Depression Research and Resources

This is not a complete list, but sources are added as they are discovered.


Lilac Way was built during the Great Depression.

In October 1929, a stock market crash panicked Wall Street. Losing over $30 billion in two days, it signaled the start of the 12-year Great Depression.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) became President in 1933, 14 million Americans were unemployed. Unemployment climbed to 25%.

From 1934-1941, the Minnesota Department of Highways (now MnDOT) joined with FDR’s WPA program to build 12.5 miles of Highway 100. Lilac Way remains historically significant as one of Minnesota’s largest federal relief projects.

This photo gallery shows workers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) building Highway 100’s Lilac Way during the 1930s.

American Experience. Civilian Conservation Corps. Directed by Robert Stone. Length 52:00. Free-to-watch video. In March 1933, within weeks of his inauguration, President Franklin Roosevelt sent legislation to Congress aimed at profiting relief for the one of every four American workers who were unemployed. He proposed a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide jobs in natural resource conservation. Over the next decade, the CCC put more than three million young men to work in the nation’s forests, parks, and farms: planting trees, creating flood barriers, fighting fires, and building roads and trails.

APM documentary: Bridge to Somewhere — Lessons from the New Deal. APM Reports documentary unit tooked a look at the impact of the jobs and public works programs in the 1930s. Produced in 2009 by Catherine Winter with Mary Beth Kirchner and Stephen Smith. 51:24.

FDR Lives website. Historical Reenactor Gary Stamm has performed as Franklin D. Roosevelt for more than 10 years, including four times at the FDR National Historic Site in Hyde Park by invitation from the National Park Service. His website is a fascinating look into the US President who created the WPA, which created Lilac Way.

Hennepin County Library. Minneapolis Gateway and the Great Depression: A View from the Street. Tells story of Carl Warmington, Director of the Homeless Men’s Bureau in Minneapolis’ Gateway District. He also arranged employment for able-bodied men to work part time on the Lilac Way, now known as Highway 100. This provided the men with clothing and transportation to the site and paid wages. Includes photos from James K. Hosmer Special Collections.

James, Kenneth. A Student’s Guide to the Great Depression. Very thorough website guide outlining the timeline and details of the Great Depression, starting with the “Great War”. Thanks to middle schooler Daniel and his teacher Julie Sanders for sharing this excellent resource.

Living New Deal: Documenting the New Deal Legacy. Lilac Way parks need to be added to their list.

Meshbesher, Samuel. 2019. “The rise and fall of Minneapolis’ Gateway District.” MinnPost, July 1, 2019. Minnesota: MinnPost.

Do you know someone who worked for the WPA in the 1930s-1940s? You can request Works Progress Administration (WPA) Personnel Records from National Archives. These personnel records consist of forms that often detail employees’ project assignments, certification for relief, service initiation and termination, and earnings.