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When the Stock Market crashed in October, 1929, President Herbert Hoover was unwilling or unable to implement the institutional and governmental changes necessary to counteract the slide into Depression. By the 1932 Presidential campaign, economic issues dominated the political stage. Stability and confidence had to be regained as campaign speeches by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stressing experimentation and a "New Deal" in government won him the Presidency and a democratic majority in Congress.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt began his Presidency in 1933, the worst economic crisis in the Nation's history was his first priority. His cabinet appointments were critical, so he called on the Commissioner of Labor who served so successfully for him when he was Governor of New York. Francis Perkins was said to feel "just a bit odd" as she became the first female cabinet member and the first Secretary of Labor who was never active in a trade union. She said, "I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen."

She accepted the job on condition that she be allowed to try to implement a list of things she wanted to do as secretary. "This list contained much of what history would judge to be the major accomplishments of the New Deal: Social Security, public works, child labor laws, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, minimum wage and overtime laws, a public employment service, and, of course, unemployment insurance. The famous First 100 Days of the Roosevelt administration saw the passage of 15 major laws aimed at relief from the degradation of the Great Depression."

A panicky Congress wasted no time in passing a legislation to counteract the Depression including National Industrial Recovery Act. They quickly appropriated the mind-boggling sum of $3,300,000,000 for permanent public works.

"Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed General Hugh S. Johnson, as the person to administer the National Recovery Administration (NRA). This involved organizing thousands of businesses under fair trade codes drawn up by trade associations and industries.

While these negotiations took place, Congress passed legislation that set a 40 hour week for clerical workers, a 36 hour week for industrial workers, a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour, abolished child labour and a guaranteed the right that trade unions could organize and exercise the right of collective bargaining."

Some of the opposition sentiment is obvious in this quote form John T. Flynn's, "The Roosevelt Myth" (1944)

"He (Hugh Johnson) organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards, etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the same thing. These code authorities could regulate production, quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. The anti­trust laws forbade such organizations. Roosevelt had denounced Hoover for not enforcing these laws sufficiently. Now he suspended them and compelled men to combine.

He began with a blanket code which every business man was summoned to sign ­ to pay minimum wages and observe the maximum hours of work, to abolish child labor, abjure price increases and put people to work. Every instrument of human exhortation opened fire on business to comply ­ the press, pulpit, radio, movies. Bands played, men paraded, trucks toured the streets blaring the message through megaphones. Johnson hatched out an amazing bird called the Blue Eagle. Every business concern that signed up got a Blue Eagle, which was the badge of compliance. The President went on the air: "In war in the gloom of night attack," he crooned, "soldiers wear a bright badge to be sure that comrades do not fire on comrades. Those who cooperate in this program must know each other at a glance. That bright badge is the Blue Eagle." "May Almighty God have mercy," cried Johnson, "on anyone who attempts to trifle with that bird." Donald Richberg thanked God that the people understood that the long awaited revolution was here. The New Dealers sang: "Out of the woods by Christmas!" By August, 35,000 Clevelanders paraded to celebrate the end of the depression. In September a tremendous host paraded in New York City past General Johnson, Mayor O'Brien and Grover Whalen ­ 250,000 in a line which did not end until midnight. "

Eventually the NRA approved 557 basic and 189 supplementary codes, covering about 95 percent of all industrial employees.

The NRA program was voluntary. However, those businessmen who accepted the codes developed by the various trade associations, could place the NRA blue eagle symbol in their windows and on the packaging of their goods. This virtually made the scheme compulsory as those companies that did not display the NRA symbol were seen as unpatriotic and selfish.


"About 23,000,000 people worked under the NRA fair code. However, violations of codes became common. and attempts were made to use the courts to enforce the NRA. In 1935 the Supreme Court declared the NRA as unconstitutional. The reasons given were that many codes were an illegal delegation of legislative authority and the federal government had invaded fields reserved to the individual states."

The Supreme Court of the 1920's had declared unconstitutional state and federal laws relating to matters such as a minimum wage or the employment of children. "Four Justices (Van Devanter, Butler, McReynolds and Sutherland) had long-standing records of opposition to major extensions of federal governmental authority, especially with respect to the regulation of interstate commerce. Two Justices, Brandeis and Stone, seemed likely to be sympathetic to the extension of federal regulatory powers, though not necessarily of executive authority, and to the need for judicial restraint in order to permit the elected branches of government some flexibility in dealing with a crisis... The stage was set for a possible constitutional confrontation between the Court and the elected branches of government led by the President, but also for a constitutional debate within the Court itself, as Chief Justice Hughes unhappily recognized.

The first blow came in January 1935, in Panama Refining Co.v. Ryan.[13] The case concerned Section 9(c) of the National Industrial Recovery Act. Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes, speaking for eight of the nine Justices, declared that Section 9(c) was unconstitutional. Any executive orders issued under the authority of Section 9(c) were without constitutional authority. In May 1935 the Court went further and in a unanimous opinion held the rest of the National Industrial Recovery Act to be unconstitutional. The Act had authorized a major industrial recovery programme co-ordinated by a National Recovery Administration. Through this the Roosevelt administration hoped to encourage the resumption of normal production, plus increased employment and wages. Codes of fair competition were set up which included certain provisions relating to the rights of workers. The Act had some initial beneficial effects, but by 1935 the NRA was in some disarray."

Since it was now unconstitutional for the Federal Government to impose industry standards, industries themselves were left to write and enforce their own rules. The trade publication “Luggage & Leather Goods” December 1935 provides a glimpse of the recovery of the handbag industry after the devastation following the Stock Market Crash and the onset of the Depression. Mention is made of cutthroat competition systems in place during 1931 and '32 that threw the industry into a turmoil. The National Authority for the Ladies Handbag Industry was launched on July 1, 1935 at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. One hundred twenty-five industry representatives from 70 firms voted unanimously to accept the Articles of Agreement, eliminating child labor, permitting limited use of "learners", paid at 75% of the 35 cent/hour minimum wage and establishing a 40 hour workweek.

960949: Metal leaves and rust cabochon stones embellish this lovely reddish-brown suede bag with a rich history, indicated by a label stating "Manufactured under Ladies Hand Bag Code Authority 334606" from the Depression’s National Recovery Administration! Brown satin lining and coin purse. Brown suede backstrap for hand or belt. Measures 8 x 5 x 1". Excellent condition. SOLD for $35 in 1999

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Page last modified on January 06, 2013, at 02:39 AM