FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records of the Great Depression

NRA – The National Recovery Administration

NARA Record Group 9

  • NRA NRA was established as an independent agency by EO 6173, June 16, 1933, pursuant to the National Industrial Recovery Act (48 Stat. 195), June 16, 1933.
  • In a 1935 Supreme Court decision,  Schechter Poultry Corp. v. U.S. , many provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act were declared unconstitutional.
  • NRA was abolished effective January 1, 1936, by EO 7252, December 21, 1935, which assigned liquidation functions to the Department of Commerce.

As you will note this series of articles and blogs is in no particular order.  It is based solely on what caught my fancy. 

The NRA was one of a few programs that basically failed.  The concept, arguably might have been good.  The implementation was somewhat flawed.  Special interests pushed their ideas forward and found loopholes for their own benefit.  Most importantly the enforcement was uneven, often unethical and riddled with prejudice.

The mission of the NRA was to draw up trade codes of fair competition; to set up a managed economy by relieving business of antitrust laws to eliminate “wasteful competition.” It was thought that creating an artificial scarcity of commodities would cause higher prices, yield  higher profits and support higher wages. Each industry was tasked with creating their own code, setting up quotas, limiting hours and restricting construction of new factories and businesses. Each code was approved by FDR and then put in place.  Regional variations were allowed due to differing industry and wage standards.  Firms that participated displayed blue eagles to inform consumers of their patriotism. There were over 2 million participants. 

While some mandates of the NRA were found to be illegal by the Supreme Court other areas such as guaranteed collective bargaining for unions and child labor laws are still in existence today.

One sample of a code is that for ICE HOUSES. Employees could work 48 hours a week averaged over 3 months with a maximum of 54 hours in any one week.  For this they were to be paid 25 to 30 cents an hour. Office workers were limited to 44 hours per week, and no more than 8 hours in a day for which they should earn at least $14 a week with overtime paid at 1and 1/3 more per hour.

Development of codes and enforcement was by region.  The National Archives – San Francisco has records (RG 9) for Region IX (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Nevada and Utah).  The records for the Territory of Hawaii are also located in at NARA-San Francisco (San Bruno). 

One example of enforcement in California is the action against the Scatena Bros. Winery in Healdsburg where the field hands were working more than the allowed 40 hours a week.  Workers shifts could include up to 9 hours in day, and up to 6 days per each 7 day period. During harvest they were allowed 60 hours a week with up to 10 hours in a day.  The workers must be paid less than 40 cents an hour.

In Oakland, Monet Chevrolet was cited for giving more than the coded amount for used car allowances. In Oregon Fred Meyer was cited for using loss leaders.  In San Francisco the Smith Lumber Company was  criminally charged for pricing their supplies below “modal pricing.”  Their lost eagle was reinstated when, in an effort to save the NRA, pricing standards were removed from the NRA codes.

Reading through the files archived at NARA-San Francisco, it seemed that a great deal of the enforcement was for employment issues.  Most complaints were not by the employees, however, those seemed to be the exception.  In fact, enforcement efforts were often due to complaints from competitors, and often led to solutions that in retrospect make you think the bad guys won and the nice guys finished last.

Take the case of  Zenkichi Hatakenaka doing business as Kodomoya Notion House.  He was charged with violating Article V of retail code in the Territory of Hawaii.   Mr. Hatakenaka set up staggered schedules for the four sales girls working in his store They came in on alternating days from eight in the morning to noon.  Two of the girls lived quite a distance from the store and had to walk through rough neighborhoods to get home.  They chose to stay in the store until 9 pm when Mr. Hatakenaka would drive them home.  Each girl had a 1½ hour lunch break and 1½ hour dinner break with food supplied.  They normally worked 6 days but at Christmas went in and straightened the store on a Sunday.  In addition to this 7th day and each worked a few extra hours that week.  The girls were paid $12 a week. A complaint was made that the girls were working more than the hours allowed by their industry.  A bench warrant for $500 was issued.

In the store Mr. Hatakenaka had posted a schedule that showed the actual hours that each girl was on duty.  The hours were well within those allowed except for Christmas week, when it was shown that all stores in the area were opened extra hours.  The investigator, however, wouldn’t allow the posted schedule as evidence. The hours the girls were physically in the store were used to define their shifts.

Result – Mr. Hatakenaka ended up pleading guilty and received a fine of $100 and 5 years probation under rule 131 of the US district court and had to give up his blue eagle. And perhaps worse, the girls no longer could wait for a safe ride home.

If your family owned a business during the years that the NRA was in place, you will find information on the NRA codes controlling their industry in the records at NARA.  You might also find information on the business itself  if it was involved in an investigation for any reason.

So, your ancestors didn’t own a business.  Were they employed?  Check out the records for the business they worked in. What were the codes they lived with?  Was their employer a participant in the NRA?  Were they in compliance with the industry rules?

Check the newspapers.  The NRA, nicknamed the National Run Around, was very controversial.  Newspapers were often quick to comment on controversial rulings.

See the CSGA Blog for additional NRA cases and a links to NRA promotional and educational materials.

Bibliography

  • Homer L. Calkin, Meyer H. Fishbein, and Leo Pascal, comps., Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the National Recovery Administration, PI 44 (1952).
  • The National Recovery Agency Digital History,
  • National Industrial Recovery Act(1933),  
  • Record copies of publications of the National Recovery Administration in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

Originally Published in the CSGA Newsletter Jan – Feb 2013

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About Catht

Cath Madden Trindle - CSGA Special Projects Chair
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