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What Was the WPA?

One of the best known agencies from the Great Depression was the WPA, or Works Progress Administration (“Work Projects Administration” after 1939). The WPA put tens of thousands of people to work on a wide range of public projects. The reach of the WPA projects is legendary–from bridges to stream improvements to roads to arts, crafts and writing projects. The WPA even thought about holiday planning.

A WPA Holiday

In 1940, Walter C. Averill, Jr. penned the forward to a new type of WPA publication. It focused on the need for recreation in America:

“Just as a three-legged stool is supported by the cooperation of all of its legs, so the human being also is supported by three phases of his life: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual sides…Recreation of a constructive type will develop all of these phases of lige to their best advantage. Let us then endeavor to make Mens sana in corpore sano not only a Latin phrase but an American fact, for the good of health, government, citizenship, and the people”

The book titled “Special Occasions” includes thrifty how-to projects of household goods from the 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas, New Years and more. The year 1940 was, no doubt, a stressful year for many Americans. Mr. Averill and staff hoped their 100+ page booklet would help those struggling find a little joy in special occasions.  We hope you enjoy this snapshot of holiday history and encourage you to grab an apple and deck out your own “Santa Apple.”

Happy holidays, from your friends at the Michigan History Center!

This article originally ran on the Seeking Michigan blog on Dec. 25, 2012. 

Page from a book featuring an illustration of an apple decorated as Santa Claus.
WPA Santa Apple Craft, 1940.

Visit the Michigan History Center

this holiday season

Show your out-of-town guests what our state has to offer! Explore three floors of exhibits, including a special exhibit.

Large 5-story building with a granite overhang over the entrance.

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