Hoping to stimulate the economy, in 1939, FDR moved the date of Thanksgiving back a week.

Thanksgiving Economics

Nov 22, 2012 • Demand, Supply, and Markets, Economic Debates, Economic History, Households, Labor, Macroeconomic Measurement, Thinking Economically, Uncategorized • 241 Views    No Comments

Reminding us of the economic significance of Thanksgiving, in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt rescheduled the holiday.

In 1939, Thanksgiving would have fallen on the last day of the month. That meant Christmas shopping would have been fewer days than usual and an insufficient boost to a slugggish economy. So FDR decided, let’s move Thanksgiving back a week and extend holiday shopping.

The letters that follow from the FDR library are wonderful. They reflect the controversy stirred up by the President’s Thanksgiving Day switch and the reason that certain states retained the old date. As a result, in 1941, the Congress declared the fourth Thursday in November would be the nation’s Thanksgiving Day. And today, with Thanksgiving Day spending, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the holiday still has immense economic significance.

These letters include protests from clothing manufacturers, small retailers, calendar makers and the NYU athletic department about FDR’s decision and an affirmation from a Los Angeles merchant group.

__________________

Telegram from Richman Brothers


WESTERN UNION
TELEGRAM

1933 OCT 13 AM 10 31
HA154 108 DL=WUX CLEVELAND OHIO 13 1021A

PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT=
THE WHITE HOUSE WASHDC=

AS AMERICAS LARGEST CLOTHING MANUFACTURERS WE DESIRE TO EXPRESS OUR EMPHATIC PROTEST AGAINST THE SELFISH ATTEMPT OF A SMALL GROUP OF STORES TO CHANGE THE DATE OF THANKSGIVING DAY STOP QUITE ASIDE FROM THE HALLOWED TRADITIONAL REASON WE BELIEVE THE PROPOSED CHANGE WOULD HURT MORE MERCHANTS THAN IT WOULD HELP STOP IT WOULD SHORTEN THE SEASON AND CURTAIN THE FALL BUSINESS OF CLOTHES AND ALL SEASONABLE GOODS FOR THE BENEFIT OF NOVELTY AND SMALL GIFT ITEMS STOP UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES WE BELIEVE NOTHING IS TO GAINED FOR THE BUSINESS AND INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURE OF THE COUNTRY AS A WHOLE AND WE EARNESTLY URGE YOU TO DISREGARD THIS SELFISH DEMAND=

THE RICHMAN BROTHERS CO.

_____________________

Downtown Association of Los Angeles
426 G. Bartlett Building | Seventh and Spring
Telephone Vandike 1428

October 2, 1933

Hon. Franklin D. Roosevelt,
President of the United States,
White House,
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

Thanksgiving, this year, according to the usual custom, would fall upon November 30th, the last Thursday in November, which would leave but twenty shopping days before Christmas.

It is an established fact that Christmas buying begins vigorously every year in the retail stores the day following Thanksgiving and that the Thanksgiving to Christmas period is the busiest retail period of the whole year.

The Downtown Association of Los Angeles feels that Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of 1864 setting aside a day for Thanksgiving to be the 4th or last Thursday in November of each year can be carried out to the letter by designating in your Thanksgiving Proclamation this year, November 23rd, the fourth Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving.

You will appreciate the importance that an additional week incorporated in this great holiday season will have upon the distribution activities of the entire United States and the added impetus that will be given thereby to the efforts of the administration and the N.R.A. to increase employment and purchasing power.

The Downtown Association of Los Angeles respectfully requests your consideration of this practical suggestion, believing that your approval would have the deep appreciation of the merchants of the entire country.

Respectfully yours,
Dain Sturges
Secretary.

_____________________

Letter From Charles Arnold

ARNOLD’S MEN’S SHOP, INC.
Brooklyn, N.Y.

August
15th
1939

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear President Roosevelt:

Would like to give you the view point of the small merchant in regard to your change of the Thanksgiving date.

The small storekeeper would prefer leaving Thanksgiving Day where it belongs. If the large department stores are over-crowded during the shorter shopping period before Christmas, the overflow will come, naturally, to the neighborhood store.

Before writing, have consulted with my fellow directors of the Flatbush Chamber of Commerce, as well as my fellow trustees of the Kings Highway Board of Trade, and the executive council of the Associated Retailers of Greater New York, of which I am chairman.

We have waited many years for a late Thanksgiving to give us an advantage over the large stores, and we are sadly disappointed at your action, in this matter.

Kindly reconsider and oblige thousands of small retail storekeepers throughout this country.

Sincerely yours,
Charles A. Arnold
Arnold’s Men’s Shop Inc.

CAA:MLC

Written in behalf of over 500 Adam Hat Agents whose association I head. CAA

_____________________

Letter from Robert Benson

JOE WILLIAMS
Real Estate, Rentals
Insurance in all forms

Groton, South Dakota

August 17, 1939

Mr. F.D. Roosevelt
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir:

Referring to your proposal as to changing the date of Thanksgiving to November 23, we think we have just the place for you out here in South, Dakota. Yankton.

After all this country is not entirely money-minded, we need a certain amount of idealism and sentiment to keep up the morale of our people, and you, would even take that from us. After all we want to make this country better for our posterity, and you must remember we are not running a Russia or communistic government.

Between your ideas of running for a third term, and your changing dates of century old holidays, we believe you have practically lost your popularity and the good will of the people of the Northwest.

Sincerely,
Robert S. Benson
Clarabelle Voight
As representatives of the northwest

_____________________

The Budget Press. Calendars. “Gift” cards
Salem, Ohio

August 15, 1939

The President,
Washington, D.C.

Subject: Thanksgiving

Mr. President:

Millions of calendars for 1940 have already been printed and sold. We alone have printed over two million 1940 calendars. As you probably know, calendars are sold mostly in January, February, and March, for delivery in the Fall of the year, for use during the coming year, in order that we may keep our employees busy throughout the full twelve months. Otherwise, we would be working day and night the last few months and shut down most of the year.

This situation makes it necessary to print calendars almost a full year in advance. As stated before, at the present time nearly all calendars are printed for 1940 and we have in preparation most of the preliminary work for 1941 calendars, which are sold by salesmen starting the first of December. In other words, actual samples of 1941 calendars are placed on display in December 1939.

Your change for Thanksgiving naturally makes all 1939 calendars obsolete, as well as all 1940 calendars, although it is not too late to change the preliminary work for 1941.

I am afraid your change for Thanksgiving is going to cause the calendar manufacturers untold grief. If very many customers demand 1940 calendars to correspond with your proclamation, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be lost by the calendar companies, and in many instances it will result in bankruptcy.

You will realize, I am sure, that if you had purchased calendars last January for delivery this coming December, to be distributed January 1940, you would want those calendars to show the correct date for Thanksgiving, and you would expect the manufacturer to furnish them – Presidential Proclamation notwithstanding. Due to the fact that 90% of the calendars will be showing Thanksgiving on the usual date for 1940, your Presidential Proclamation should be rescinded; and if it is necessary to change Thanksgiving it should not be changed until 1941. Otherwise, it is going to be difficult for calendar manufactures to get their customers to use the calendars already printed.

Yours respectfully,
John Taylor

_____________________

Letter from New York University

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
University Board of Athletic Control
Washington Square, New York

August 22, 1939

The Secretary to the President,
The White House,
Washington, D.C.

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of November 30.

Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day, although there have been some instances during this period when the game has been played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day. As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.

Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President’s proposal.

As soon as I read of the President’s proposal, I advised our Graduate Manager in charge of schedule making simply to mark time pending further public pronouncement by the President as to the definiteness of his proposal. I thought that there might be a change of mind on his part following such public comment which has been made in the press. However, time is slipping past and if it is necessary for us to make arrangements for changing the date of our game

The Secretary to the President

Page 2.

This year, we should be taking steps very shortly to make such change effective and to make public announcement with regard to it.

In short, I am wondering if you could furnish me with answers to the following questions which should prove helpful to us in reaching a decision:

1. Has the plan of the President as announced in the press been definitely established, with the result that Thanksgiving Day in 1939 will come on November 23 and not upon November 30 as had been generally anticipated?

2. If no definite decision has been reached as yet, are you in a position to state the earliest possible date upon which a final decision will be rendered?

3. Granted that the President does proclaim the third Thursday, November 23, as Thanksgiving Day for 1939, does it necessarily follow that the same procedure will be employed in 1940, with the result that Thanksgiving Day during the course of that year would fall upon November 21 rather than upon the fourth Thursday of the month, namely, November 28?

I realize, of course, that you may not be in a position to furnish me at this time with the information sought, but you will appreciate that any light which you may be able to throw upon our problem will be extremely helpful.

Very truly your,
Philip O. Badger,
Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control, and
Assistant to the Chancellor

Sources and Resources: The letters and facts about FDR’s decision are from the FDR library’s archives, here, and the National Archives, here. In addition, WSJ.com had a good column about the origins of Thanksgiving, the US Congress and George Washington.

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