Federal Writers' Project (WPA) Books From Schoyer's
Federal Writers' Project from Schoyer's Books.
By Michael Stillman
Schoyer's Books, of Berkeley, California, has issued a most unusual and interesting catalogue of primarily late 1930s and early 1940s works. Their catalogue number 140 is titled, Federal Writers' Project WPA. The "WPA" was, of course, the Works Progress Administration. The WPA was formed in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression to provide work for the unemployed. The Federal Writer's Project was a WPA program to provide work for, naturally, writers. Due to objections by some in Congress to the idea of subsidizing something so trivial as writing, after 1939 the states were required to chip in 25% of the cost for projects within their borders. The states did. However, with the federal government recognizing that during wartime, the sword is more powerful than the pen, it stopped paying people to perform non-military writing jobs. The WPA was disbanded in 1943, and the Federal Writer's Project came to an end. However, some of the works created by the FWP, not published during the time of its existence, were later published after the War.
Schoyer's offers 702 books from or about the Federal Writers' Project. Most are works of the FPA, published from 1937-43, a few are those published later, and a few more are books about the program. Most titles are related to a particular state. They may be state guides for tourists, state or local histories, or books about some particular topic within a state, such as local stories, history of an ethnic group in the area, or a calendar of events (see the image of the catalogue's cover). Many of the guides and histories pertain to a specific town, city, or county. Others cover broader regions or common features, such as the rivers series. There is also an elementary science series to explain the latest developments in technology and understanding. They must have been eye-opening works for children of the day, though we have come a long way now in the past 60 years.
Since most of the works have a connection with a particular state, we will list those with titles in the catalogue, so you can see whether your area is covered: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. It would have been easier to list those not covered. You can throw in Washington, D.C. too. Here are a few of the specific works you will find in Schoyer's catalogue.
Item 22 is an Almanac for Thirty-Niners, a humorous California play on the gold rush 49ers, issued in 1938 in anticipation of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The WPA had helped in the building of the recently completed Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in the San Francisco-Oakland area, and the Exposition would help celebrate these achievements. It also promoted trade and cultural openings to Latin America and the Far East. Of course, no one realized at the time just what would be coming from the East two years later. The Exposition was held on Treasure Island, a man-made island located in the Bay, midway between San Francisco and Oakland. Access was either from the Bay Bridge or by ferry. The main exposition was held in 1939, though it returned for a shorter and less successful run in 1940. The plan was that after the Exposition, Treasure Island would become the site of San Francisco's municipal airport. However, with the advent of the War, the Navy determined it needed the island, first signing a lease for the duration of the War plus five years, and then simply seizing the property outright. The Navy continued to use it as a base until 1997. Today, much of the old Navy housing is used as low-income residences, while long-term use for the site of the Exposition remains undetermined. Priced at $20.
Federal Writers' Project (WPA) Books From Schoyer's
Elementary Science Series books from the FWP.
For many years, baseball and Chicago were not synonymous. In 1939, it had already been 22 years since the Windy City had seen a World Series champion, and it would be another 66 years before it would see its next. However, with the White Sox finally ending that drought a few months ago, item 92 suddenly sounds more appealing. It is Baseball in Old Chicago, and this will take you back to Chicago baseball in the 19th century. $150.
Now to an even bigger city: New York. Item 326 is Underneath New York. It is "an anatomy of a modern city," a description of the infrastructure, heating, sewerage, water and electricity, lying beneath the city's surface. This book was not published until 1947 though written earlier. It was feared that saboteurs might use the information to disrupt the city's functions during the War. $35.
One of the most popular of the WPA books, and today again most timely, was the 1938 title New England Hurricane. A Factual Pictorial Record. This was an extraordinarily powerful storm, not quite on the level of Katrina, but more like Rita. It hit as a Category 3, winds at 121 mph with gusts as high as 186. The storm surge reached up to 17 feet in Rhode Island. However, what made this perhaps even more devastating in its day than the current storms is that this one hit virtually without warning. The sophisticated warning systems now in place did not exist at the time. No satellites, no radar, no ocean buoys were available. Forecasters believed the storm would stay out at sea. So New Englanders, expecting only a cloudy and windy day, were unprepared. Instead, the rapidly moving hurricane crossed New York's Long Island and then crashed in at Milford, Connecticut, right at high tide. The high forward motion of the hurricane, 60 mph, added to the power of the hurricane force winds. By the time the storm was over, 700 people lay dead, and today's equivalent of $15 billion in damage had been incurred. At peak, Providence, Rhode Island, was under as much as twenty feet of water. Western New England and New York sustained major flooding from heavy rains. This book includes descriptions and pictures of the terrible disaster. Its popularity makes it a fairly common title, but item 556 is a copy of its scarce first printing. $75.
Items 404-451 are from the elementary science series. The topics are widely varied and sometimes surprising. Among the titles offered are Lumber, Oil and Gas, Gold, Aluminum, Plastics, Frogs, Pigeons, Salmon, Oysters, Grapes, Aircraft, Warships, Money, Radio, and Television. Television in 1942? That must have been revolutionary. There is Life in an Ant Hill, and the Romance of Rubber. Then there are "The Story of..." books, including the stories of copper, iron and steel, clay, glass, bees, and paper. You can learn about Rayon, Nylon and Glass Fibers, or the soon to fade technology in Trains Going By. The pricing of these titles runs from $20 to $100.
You may reach Schoyer's Books at 800-356-2199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.