Alphabet Agencies

The Roaring Twenties came to a startling end as America entered the Great Depression. Lifestyles were thoroughly changed overnight. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed to have solutions in the New Deal. All of this new legislation needed something to monitor and enforce it. Introducing the Alphabet Agencies! Each Agency was unique and ran differently from the last. Let's take a closer look.  

Alphabet Agencies Alphabet Agencies

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Table of contents

    Alphabet Agencies 1930s

    In the 1930s, the United States of America was in the midst of a Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1933. Roosevelt planned to use government spending to alleviate the burden of the American people.

    The Great Depression

    The period of economic turmoil following the Wall Street Crash in 1929. This occurred in the United States initially but reverberated around the whole world.

    At the same time, he created new policies to prevent another Great Depression from happening. Roosevelt's legislation was called the New Deal.

    Alphabet Agencies: Definition

    The New Deal required creating agencies to carry out many of its changes. The agencies' names were often shortened to abbreviations that consisted of three to four letters. They were nicknamed the Alphabet Agencies or, the more tongue-in-cheek Alphabet Soup because of the vast number of organisations.

    Alphabet Agencies Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    Fig. 1 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    The New Deal created numerous Alphabet Agencies, and even the Roosevelt administration struggled to remember which ones did what! Some of these agencies provided jobs for Americans in need. Others were created to prevent another Great Depression. To accomplish this task, the agencies monitored different parts of the economy.

    The agencies were very different and run by different people. Roosevelt needed the support of all Democrats, including Southern ones. Southern Democrats were notoriously racist and wanted the New Deal only to affect white people. The Civilian Conservation Corps was run by a racist, Robert Fechner, who hired as few African Americans as possible and imposed segregation. In contrast, the Public Works Administration was determined to build schools, housing, and public buildings in African American communities.

    Roosevelt's New Deal and Alphabet Agencies didn't end the Great Depression, but government spending did. The government had to invest vast amounts of money into the economy to support the efforts of World War II. By 1939, most of the agencies had ceased to exist, though some still exist today!

    Alphabet Agencies examples

    There were plenty of different agencies with different responsibilities. Below is a list of some of the agencies, the year they were created, their abbreviation, and a brief description of what they set out to do.

    Year CreatedNameAbbreviation Brief Description
    1933Agricultural Adjustment AdministrationAAAGovernment regulation of the farm economy.
    1933Civilian Conservation CorpsCCCProvided labour jobs for young men in conservation efforts.
    1933Reconstruction Finance CorporationEBACreated by the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 and backed banks by giving them money.
    1933Farm Credit AdministrationFCADefined the credit system for farmers.
    1933Federal Emergency Relief AdministrationFERAOffered relief through federal and state government.
    1933Public Works AdministrationPWACreated various jobs for people outside of the realm of the CCC.
    1933Tennessee Valley Authority TVAAssisted the Tennessee Valley with various issues and provided electricity to rural Tennessee.
    1934Federal Housing AdministrationFHARedefined mortgages so more Americans could afford homes.
    1934National Labor Relations BoardNLRBCreated by the Wagner Act, which allowed employees to create unions or just form representation groups.
    1934Securities and Exchange Commission SECRegulated the stock market.
    1935Federal Art ProjectFAPAn outshoot of the PWA, the FAP employed artists to create art across America. Much of this art is still on display.
    1935Farm Security AdministrationFSAMoved farmers to locations better suited for farming.
    1935Social Security BoardSSBCreated by the Social Security Act, provided a welfare safety net for the disabled, elderly, unemployed, and more.
    1935Works Progress AdministrationWPACreated to provide employment through the construction of public buildings and roads.
    1936United States Maritime Commission USMCProvided funding for merchant shipbuilding.
    1937United States Housing AuthorityUSHAProvided loans from the government to the states for housing projects.
    1939Federal Works AgencyFWAMaintained the construction of public buildings and more.

    Now we can dive further into some of the agencies listed!

    Agricultural Adjustment Administration (1933)

    The 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act created the Agricultural Adjustment Agency. Farms had to amp up supplies during World War I, but they didn't stop after the war. This led to farm goods losing a lot of value because of overstock. The Agricultural Adjustment Agency paid farmers not to plant specific crops. They could still farm, just not plants that were in overstock.

    Alphabet Agencies drawing of three cows StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 - Americans were enraged when six million hogs, plus cows and sheep, were slaughtered because the meat was wasted

    The Agency purchased an oversupply of farm goods and resold them to low-income families at a discounted rate. The AAA purchased six million healthy hogs plus even more cows and sheep, then slaughtered them. While this assisted the meat market, it angered many Americans. The way that they saw it was that they were starving, and the government wasted food.

    The agency ended in 1942. The AAA had mixed results. Sure, they wasted meat, but farmers' income had risen by 50%! They also supplied many low-income families with food.

    Public Works Administration (1933)

    The Public Works Administration (PWA) aimed to provide jobs for Americans. The program initially strived to employ people to build public buildings, schools, and homes but later expanded to so much more. Through offshoots of the PWA, artists were hired to paint beautiful murals of the American experience. Furthermore, historians and writers interviewed African Americans who were enslaved.

    PWA and African Americans

    Harold Ickes, the head of the PWA, spent over forty-five million dollars on work projects for African Americans. Ickes made sure that African Americans were hired to work for the PWA. Compared to the Civilian Conservation Corps, the PWA made a better effort to assist the African American community. After all, the Great Depression hit them the hardest.

    Securities and Exchange Commission (1934)

    The Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, was a preventative administration. One of the causes of the Great Depression was the Wall Street Crash. The SEC was created to monitor the market to prevent another collapse. They watched for insider trading and secret trading designed to increase stock value. This administration has grown weaker over the decades and no longer has the control it originally possessed.

    Social Security Board (1935)

    The 1935 Social Security Act created the Social Security Board. This act created a safety net for the American people. Before 1935, it was on the community or the state to provide assistance to people who needed it.

    Social Security

    Financial assistance from the government for people on little or no income, or the retired.


    A regular fixed payment to help vulnerable members of society or public servants.

    The SSB made it the federal government's responsibility to care for its citizens. The SSB managed Social Security. The elderly received a stipend, as did the blind. The unemployed, dependent children, and single mothers received assistance. This program was met with much resistance; Dr Francis Townsend believed it didn't do enough to support the elderly, and many agreed.

    Alphabet Agencies Doctor Townsend StudySmarterFig. 3 - Doctor Francis Townsend

    Alphabet Agencies: New Deal

    Roosevelt's Alphabet Agencies didn't end the Great Depression, but they did assist the American people in a time of need. Many of the Alphabet Soup organisations still exist today, with the Social Security Administration being one of the most important. The New Deal legislation wouldn't have achieved what it did without the countless people who worked to keep it afloat.

    Before Roosevelt created the Alphabet Agencies the Great Depression was in full force. In 1933 almost 25% of the population, around 13 million United States citizens were out of employment. One agency alone, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration had employed 20 million in total by 1935. Even in 1939, after years of the New Deal, there was still 15% unemployment, suggesting that the agencies could not completely lift the economy out of the trenches.

    Only with the spending that World War II provided could the United States truly be lifted out of the Great Depression, with around 2% unemployment by 1945. The legacies of the agencies live on particularly in terms of social security, employment security and subsidies for agriculture. Perhaps the greatest impact of the New Deal was the expansion of the Federal government through these agencies and a blueprint for how to handle future economic crises.

    Alphabet Agencies - Key takeaways

    • The Alphabet Agencies is the nickname for the agencies created through the New Deal legislation.
    • Franklin Delano Roosevelt made many concessions to the agencies to appease his supporters.
    • The Alphabet Agencies contributed to different aspects of the New Deal program. Some provided jobs for the unemployed, others created welfare safety nets, and the rest prevented another Great Depression from happening.
    • The New Deal's agencies didn't end the Great Depression but made it more manageable. Most of them dissolved after World War II.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Alphabet Agencies

    What were the main alphabet agencies?

    Some of the main alphabet agencies are the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Security and Exchange Commission and the Social Security Board. 

    Why are they called alphabet agencies?

    Due to the sheer amount of agencies and their acronyms, they are referred to as alphabet agencies.

    What did the PWA alphabet agency do?

    The Public Works Administration sought to provide jobs for Americans within the public sector.

    What agencies were created under the New Deal?

    At least 69 different agencies were created as a result of the New Deal.

    How did the alphabet agencies help to address American recovery?

    Alphabet agencies expanded the executive branch and each had a specific focus that had hitherto not existed in American politics. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not make concessions to Southern Democrats.

    Which of the following was not provided by an alphabet agency?

    The Civilian Conservation Corps hired a multitude of African Americans.

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