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The state of Washington in the 1920s


Industrial Workers of the World
Industrial Workers of the World

Despite labor unrest, Washington had a strong economy during the years before World War I. Agriculture revived in the early 1900s, aided by a road-building program that made rural areas accessible and by federal and state irrigation projects. By 1929 one-eighth of the farmland had been irrigated, but this land accounted for more than 40 percent of the income from crops. Farmers benefited from the demand for foodstuffs during World War I and suffered a brief decline in the years following the war.

Industry also grew during World War I. The federal government granted funds to cities like Tacoma and Seattle to construct shipyards to build war ships. By 1918 there were five shipyards building steel-hulled ships in Puget Sound and about 12 others making wooden-hulled boats. The United States government also purchased a large quantity of canned fish from Washington canneries.

The Great Depression, a period of severe economic hardship in the United States and throughout the world, began with the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange on October 29, 1929. The economic policies of Republican Herbert Hoover, president at the beginning of the Depression, did not satisfy Washington state voters, who helped elect Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president in 1932.

Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration (PWA), a government agency designed to create jobs by funding public works projects, benefited Washington. A group of local activists had been attempting to establish an irrigation project for the Columbia River basin since 1919. Harnessing the Columbia would provide inexpensive hydroelectric power for Washington.

In 1933 the PWA began construction of the Grand Coulee Dam across the Columbia. Completed in 1942, it was the largest dam ever built to that time. Another PWA project on the Columbia River, the Bonneville Dam, was providing hydroelectric power by 1937. Washington citizens took advantage of this developing source of power. In 1930 an initiative had made it legal for a community, with the approval of its voters, to set up a public utility district (PUD) to buy or sell water power. During the next decade, PUDs were voted into existence all over the state. President Roosevelt also initiated other programs to help the country recover from the Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided young men with jobs developing parks, forests, and recreation areas in Washington as it did in other states.

Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) allotments enabled farmers to mechanize their farms. Roosevelt’s recovery programs also benefited artists and musicians. Folk singer Woody Guthrie was sent to Washington state by the federal government to write songs about the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, and wrote the famous “Roll On, Columbia.” "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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