These stamps are based on the WPA posters that proliferated during the 1930s. The Works Progress Administration was one of FDR’s most ambitious New Deal programs that sought to get people to work during the Great Depression.
The program was largely a success, although – like any governmental operation – it had its detractors and its flaws. Ultimately, though, the WPA was responsible for the construction of many architectural and infrastructural works around the country that still operate today, including high schools, parks, roads, libraries, airports, and even the Griffith Observatory.
I’m not here to make a historical, full-length, political argument for or against the WPA. It did great things, but it wasn’t perfect. Nothing is. But in this day and age, where we see our country literally falling apart in front of us (collapsing bridges, decomposing railroads and highways, and lapsed, atrocious mismanagement of the American capital’s transit system, the metro), it’s important to look back on the programs that actually sought to – and did – get people to work while also building the very foundation of our country that we still rely upon today. We all know how important it is to maintain our infrastructure – we aren’t much without it. I fear that these kinds of social welfare projects are a thing of the past, and we need them desperately today. With the vicious and dispiriting acts currently underway in our political system, it’s hard to see that actually happening.
Be careful not to over-sentimentalize the WPA, though. It wasn’t particularly wonderful for women or for people of color, although most things back then weren’t. There’s no question that we need to emulate the WPA, but work on the parts that need updating and fixing. I applaud the USPS for celebrating the people, the art, the industry, and the labor of the WPA. It’s all about the people and the work and the effort that so many Americans went through to give us the country we have today.