On December 20, 1935, the Federal Bureau of Air Commerce approves 34 Washington state airport projects as eligible for Works Progress Administration (WPA) funding. WPA acceptance of these projects in early 1936 marks the first time federal funds have been appropriated to build airports in the state.
By 1935 it was generally acknowledged that air defense in Washington was woefully lacking. The approved projects included "construction of fields at Forks, Colville, and Clallam County and improvements to the municipal airport at Walla Walla," among others (Dorpat/McCoy, 397). Airport construction in Washington was part of a national trend toward ensuring air defense preparedness.
The WPA was a federally funded work relief program designed to create jobs during the Great Depression. The vast majority of WPA projects (such as the airport projects) were designed to use manual labor. By May 31, 1937, Washington had built or was building 31 WPA-funded airport projects over 22 sites at an estimated cost of $1,940,346, employing an average of 1,096 workers.
Workers graded and paved runways, built airplane hangars and terminal buildings, erected airport boundary markers, and installed beacons. Out of every WPA airport project dollar spent, 67.8 cents went to labor costs. All WPA-funded airport construction and improvement work was done under the supervision of the Bureau of Aeronautics.
Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1998); America Spreads Her Wings, WPA brochure, 1937 (found in University of Washington Libraries, Government Documents, U.S. Stacks Y3.W89/2:2Ai7); "WPA State of Washington Press Release, July 13, 1936," Washington [State] Works Progress Administration Press Releases 1-200, July 20-Mar.16, 1935-3 (bound carbon copies, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections); "24 Airports In State Approved," The Seattle Times, December 20, 1935.
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