Sortable Searchable Table of PWA Projects in New York City 1934-1939

Frank da Cruz
fdc@columbia.edu
14 May 2018
[See original PWA report pages]   [Go straight to the table]

The Public Works Administration (PWA) was a New Deal agency created in 1933 to assist cash-strapped towns, cities, counties, and states in constructing public works during the Great Depression. In 1940, it produced a kind of spreadsheet showing all the projects it had sponsored from 1934 to 1939, inclusive, which is now in the US National Archives. The New York State PWA Projects table pages that we have are JPG images, scanned from original paper copies by Evan Kalish in 2014, and thus not searchable or sortable. To make a more useful table, I transcribed the five most interesting columns of New York City entries them by hand into the following table.

You can sort this table on any desired column. Click a column heading once to sort, and again to sort it in the opposite order. Type is what kind of project it is (see notes at bottom). Financing is the amount of money the PWA granted or loaned to the locality for the project, from Column 7 (Total of PWA Loan and Grant). Completed is the completion date, yyyy/mm/dd. Note that other sources might refer to different financing numbers (see an original sheet), such as column 8 (Total Estimated Project Cost), column 17 (Contracts awarded or Force Acct) or column 21 (Projected Project Costs to Date Amount). For example the Short book uses Column 8.

Docket  Location  Type  Financing  Completed 
39  NEW YORK CITY  HWY BRIDGE   44200000  1937/09/01 
228  NEW YORK CITY  TUNNEL  17080000  1938/10/15 
262.99  NEW YORK CITY  HOUSING  4988336  1936/08/06 
266.99  NEW YORK CITY  HOUSING  3069587  1936/05/15 
2654  NEW YORK CITY  WATER MAIN  984540  1936/05/31 
2735  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  2067274  1936/12/05 
2741  NEW YORK CITY  SUBWAY  25349000  1939/09/13 
2756  NEW YORK CITY  MUNIC IMP  2020000  1937/10/04 
3236  NEW YORK CITY  HOSP IMPRV  832557  1937/10/01 
3247  NEW YORK CITY  GARB DISPL  2660000  1939/01/01 
3249  NEW YORK CITY  SCHL IMPRV  1773672  1937/08/15 
4926  NEW YORK CITY  GRADE XING  1460900  1937/11/15 
6101  NEW YORK CITY  GRADE XING  54000  1936/10/05 
6863  NEW YORK CITY  UNIV IMPRV  110000  1936/12/12 
6878  NEW YORK CITY  WATERWORKS  970768  1936/07/01 
6882  NEW YORK CITY  PIER  130549  1937/03/26 
6926  NEW YORK CITY  PIER SHEDS  208380  1937/12/01 
6931  NEW YORK CITY  HOSP IMPRV  499544  1936/08/13 
6938  NEW YORK CITY  HOSPITALS  226838  1938/01/15 
6956  NEW YORK CITY  GYMNASIUM  57694  1937/01/13 
6957  NEW YORK CITY  WATERMAINS  486868  1936/02/29 
7124  NEW YORK CITY  MUNIC IMP  231467  1937/01/07 
7150  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  302535  1936/11/20 
7161  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  1191201  1936/09/14 
7173  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  374001  1936/06/03 
7181  NEW YORK CITY  CLINIC  131151  1937/12/31 
7196  NEW YORK CITY  FIRE DEPT  181531  1937/07/30 
7215  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  257000  1936/05/15 
7244  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  465176  1937/01/20 
7582  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOLS  284461  1936/10/31 
8000  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  831523  1937/09/07 
8024  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  1387681  1937/05/10 
8044  NEW YORK CITY  DISP PLANT  11360250  1938/10/16 
8071  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  636772  1936/07/15 
8072  NEW YORK CITY  MUNIC IMP  94177  1937/07/24 
8073  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  236364  1937/03/13 
8081  NEW YORK CITY  HOSPITAL  350000  1937/10/01 
8118  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  319330  1937/01/15 
8281  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  548239  1936/11/14 
8332  NEW YORK CITY  LABORATORY  474500  1937/09/30 
8882  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  1029286  1937/11/00 
8884  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  1965479  1937/09/13 
8885  NEW YORK CITY  BRIDGE  270566  1937/02/20 
8892  NEW YORK CITY  HOSP IMPRV  518181  1937/08/31 
8898  NEW YORK CITY  PIER SHEDS  1145000  1937/10/13 
8929  NEW YORK CITY  RAPID TRAN  118500  1939/03/16 
9048  NEW YORK CITY  DOCK IMPRV  132763  1937/06/25 
9049  NEW YORK CITY  CLINIC  582700  1937/12/31 
9050  NEW YORK CITY  JAIL  910000  1937/11/30 
9051  NEW YORK CITY  ELEVATORS  830133  1937/12/31 
9062  NEW YORK CITY  REFORM IMP  45199  1937/09/01 
9063  NEW YORK CITY  HOSPITAL  195000  1938/01/24 
9066  NEW YORK CITY  NURSES HME  387148  1937/12/02 
9068  NEW YORK CITY  HOSP ADD  91227  1937/12/31 
9161  NEW YORK CITY  HOSPITAL  228933  1936/08/31 
9164  NEW YORK CITY  MISC BLDGS  72997  1938/11/25 
9165  NEW YORK CITY  HOSP IMPRV  161356  1937/12/01 
9166  NEW YORK CITY  NURSES HME  993681  1939/04/28 
9167  NEW YORK CITY  CLINIC  205636  1937/12/31 
9175  NEW YORK CITY  COLLEGE  2700000  1937/10/18 
9176  NEW YORK CITY  HOSPITAL  78000  1937/06/01 
9205  NEW YORK CITY  DISP PLANT  1807500  1937/04/21 
9233  NEW YORK CITY  MISC BLDGS  33955  1938/10/19 
9240  NEW YORK CITY  HOSP IMPRV  495000  1937/12/31 
W1028  NEW YORK CITY  HOSPITAL  412363  1937/11/20 
W1060  NEW YORK CITY  COURTHOUSE  618545  1938/07/27 
W1075  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  828656  1937/03/15 
W1085  NEW YORK CITY  FERRY BOAT  1296975  1938/04/07 
W1090  NEW YORK CITY  COURTHOUSE  2175930  1939/03/15 
W1147  NEW YORK CITY  SCH BLDG  303210  1937/03/03 
W1178  NEW YORK CITY  HI SCHOOL  465544  1937/08/30 
W1179  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  145261  1937/06/10 
W1180  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  688165  1937/04/15 
W1181  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  107470  1937/06/15 
W1198  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  715011  1937/05/01 
W1208  NEW YORK CITY  CLINIC  141300  1937/11/30 
W1376  NEW YORK CITY  BRIDGE  354990  1938/11/02 
W1392  NEW YORK CITY  HEAT PLANT  263667  1938/09/12 
W1393  NEW YORK CITY  NURSES HME  724500  1937/12/29 
W1399  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  370771  1937/03/20 
W1446  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  256725  1939/10/13 
W1448  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  109232  1937/02/15 
W1450  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  191250  1939/09/30 
W1451  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  424899  1936/12/15 
W1453  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  194850  1937/09/13 
W1512  NEW YORK CITY  APPROACH  2434500  1939/10/21 
W1554  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  471600  1939/10/13 
W1567  NEW YORK CITY  BRIDGE IMP  239319  1939/11/22 
W1568  NEW YORK CITY  BARGES  697500  1939/06/02 
W1629  NEW YORK CITY  TUNNEL  3206000  1939/06/30 
X1698  NEW YORK CITY  BRDGE REPR  30060  1939/06/27 
X1711  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL  256500  1939/09/18 
X1712  NEW YORK CITY  MARKET  111177  1939/10/02 
X1715  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  209250  1939/09/30 
X1724  NEW YORK CITY  SCHOOL ADD  945000  1939/09/29 

The financing total comes to $163,276,326.00, equivalent to about three billion 2018 dollars.

Notes

These are non-federal PWA projects that were carried on behalf of state, city, or county govenments. Federal projects such as post offices and naval ships were listed in a separate report that as far as I know does not exist any more.

The reason all the Locations are the same is that in other contexts (for example, the Not Necessarily Completed project lists), they might put BRONX or BROOKLYN. See the Virginia table for an example of a table that shows different towns, and can be sorted usefully by location. If any fields of a date are missing, 0's shown. I don't have a decoder for the Type column. The width of this column on the dockets was constrained to 10 characters by punch-card capacity. Most of the abbreviations are obvious, even if their precise meaning isn't. For example "SCHOOL ADD" is an addition to a school building. SAN SEWER is a sanitation sewer, as opposed to a storm sewer (STORM SEWR), and an STS SEWER is a Sewage Treatment System Sewer. IMP and IMPR and IMPRV mean "improvements". MUNIC is "municipal". AUDIT GYM means "auditorium and gymnasium" in a school. REPR is Repair. BLD and BLDG mean Building. STR is Street. DISP PLANT means Sewage Disposal Plant.

Observations

From this document alone we learn that just one New Deal agency — the Public Works Administration — financed 324 projects in one state — Virginia — over a span of six years, to the tune of $42,991,729.00 (the sum of the numbers in column 4), which would be $773,851,122.00: three quarters of a billion 2017 dollars. The majority of these projects were public works: schools, bridges, power plants, hospitals, libraries, municipal buildings, and so on (sort the table by Type to see each category grouped together). Most of these projects continue to render service to their communities and to employ significant numbers of Virginians.

By a conservative count at least 127 new schools were built (not counting the many schools that were expanded or improved). Let's say each school employs 20 people — teachers, administrators, custodians — that's 2540 jobs over an average span of 80.5 years. Let's say the typical school employee earns $30,000. That comes to $76,200,000 added to the real economy in this one state, every year, or six billion dollars over these 80.5 years (142 times the original investment). Let's say each employee pays 15% federal tax; that's $900 million, or about 12 times the original investment so far.

If the average capacity of a Virgina school is (say) 500 students and all the buildings still exist and remain in use, then over a million students per year are receiving educations in these buildings, and eventually they enter the work force and add more value to the economy and to the tax base, and the cycle continues. This represents a highly productive and sustainable use of federal money, the likes of which we haven't seen since some time before 1980.

By the way another, less visible, category figures into this list of PWA projects, too: Water Works. About these I quote from a recent email from Gray Brechin, founder of the Living New Deal:

Safe drinking water is one of the greatest gifts of the New Deal which was quickly taken for granted. It is all breaking down now much as did the aqueducts that fed ancient Rome, thus contributing to the end of that empire. I suspect that Trump/Bannon's “solution” to the crackup of water infrastructure will be to privatize it, though the maintenance backlog is so vast now that I doubt that anyone could make a profit from doing so.

More about punch cards

From America Builds: The record of the PWA, Public Works Administration, Division of Information, United States Government Printing Office, Washington DC (1939), 316pp:
To obtain the complete record of this one phase of employment, the contractors' pay roll forms for each of the thousands of PWA projects throughout the country were passed along and were neatly stacked in the Department of Labor. Each sheet was fed into the receiving end of a huge electric calculating machine to be ejected as a small, punched card, looking something like a well-worn meal ticket, which in a way it was, for it had recorded the meals of millions of American citizens throughout the Nation.

These cards were then fed one by one into another machine, and out of the far end of that machine came the constantly rising total of man-hours of employment on each site and the total sum spent there.

To determine the total amount of supplies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics turned to the records of material orders which showed how much of each type of material was used, from whom the materials were purchased, and how much they cost. These records were made into punchcards, similar to the ones made for direct employment and wages, and these cards were duly fed to the huge calculating machines. Year after year, these machines hummed on, and on March I, 1939, the machines showed that PWA projects had called for a total of $2,174,833,431 worth of materials.

Mystery

Some of the PWA projects described in the 1939 C.W. Short PWA book do not appear in the 1940 summary sheets; for example, the Langley Field Wind Tunnel, the Arlington Cemetery Chapel, the Blacksburg-Pearisburg Road Bridge, the Richmond Parcel Post Building, and Skyline Drive. (The first two are probably considered federal so therefore not listed with non-federal projects.)


Most recent update: Fri May 25 11:16:51 2018