“This nation asks for action, and action now.”

                        -Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

In his inaugural address, FDR demanded “action, and action now” to fight the Great Depression. He did not waste any time in delivering on that promise. On his first full day in office he called Congress into special session. He had promised Americans a New Deal.  Now he began to construct it.

Roosevelt’s New Deal would touch virtually every aspect of American economic life and forever change the role of the Federal Government in the lives of Americans.

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“I think this would be a good time for beer.”
-Franklin Roosevelt, March 12, 1933

One of the most popular bills enacted during the First100 Days had nothing to do with banking, farms, or public works.

During the 1932 campaign, FDR had come out against Prohibition. The 18th Amendment, ratified 13 years earlier, banned the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Meant to end the curse of alcoholism, it had led instead to lawlessness and helped foster organized crime. A constitutional amendment to repeal it was working its way through the state legislatures. But Roosevelt saw a way to quench the voters’ thirst more quickly. He signed into law the Beer-Wine Revenue Act that legalized (and taxed) beverages containing no more than 3.2 percent alcohol—which the authors of the new law carefully defined as “non-intoxicating.” Millions of Americans celebrated the return of legal beer. Prohibition was officially repealed by the 21st Amendment in December 1933.

FDR’s First Fireside Chat - March 12, 1933

FDR’s March 12, 1933 radio address on the banking crisis made a powerful impression on the public. His familiar speaking style made people feel as if he were sitting in their homes speaking directly to them.

The press soon labeled the speech a “Fireside Chat.” This term became associated with a series of informal radio addresses FDR made on important issues during his presidency. He used these speeches to bypass Congress and the press and speak directly to the nation.

Though the Fireside Chats seemed informal, Roosevelt carefully crafted them for his radio listeners. They usually ran for about thirty minutes and were generally delivered on Sunday evenings, when radio audiences were largest. Only a few radio technicians and advisers were in the room when FDR spoke. Roosevelt talked in a clear, informal, conversational style that featured intimate phrasing—including familiar expressions and terms like “we” and “you.” He imagined himself speaking to individuals, rather than a group. He spoke firmly, but softly, and deliberately slowed the pace of his speaking. The result was a new and powerful manner of presidential communication that inspired thousands of letters which often aided FDR in his political battles.

Roosevelt limited the number of his Fireside Chats, believing their impact would decline if he took to the airways too often. During his presidency, he made only thirty-one of them.

Radio microphone, Early 1930s
FDR used this RCA model 4-A-1 carbon condenser microphone to deliver some of his Fireside Chats from the White House.

FDR’s Last Law

FDR’s White House staff kept records of every bill sent to the President by Congress, carefully noting whether FDR vetoed or signed the measure. The last bill that Franklin Roosevelt signed on the day of his death - April 12, 1945 - was actually a law to continue a New Deal agency created in 1933, the Commodity Credit Corporation. This agency was established to stabilize the prices of farm commodities such as corn, wheat, and cotton, to guarantee private loans to farmers, and to make direct loans when private banks refused to do so. It also played a major role in achieving the “ever-normal granary” first proposed by Secretary of the Agriculture Henry A. Wallace, whereby surplus crops would be stored for use in bad crop years. This further stabilized crop prices and created a consistent food supply for the nation. So in the midst of war and at the end of his life, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last law extended an early New Deal initiative to support farmers and provide food security for all Americans.

Pennant of the U.S.S. Akron, ca. 1931

U.S.S. Akron was a U.S. Navy Airship build in 1931 that crashed into the sea during a storm on April 4, 1933, off the coast of New Jersey.  This pennant was sent to FDR in January 1942, by Fred C. Muttersbach of Vallejo, California.

Franklin Roosevelt jigsaw puzzle, 1933

America experienced a mania for jigsaw puzzles during the Great Depression. The craze peaked in early 1933, when sales reached an astounding ten million per week.

Cheap and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, jigsaw puzzles offered a welcome distraction from troubled times. Home amusements like these were an inexpensive family pastime.

Depression-era jigsaw puzzles cover a wide range of subjects, including political figures like FDR. This puzzle was created from a newspaper photograph of FDR.

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Jobs For Youth

High youth unemployment troubled FDR. He personally devised the idea for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program to put young men aged 17-24 —many from urban areas—to work on conservation projects in healthy rural environments. Within three months the Corps enlisted nearly 250,000 men. They were assigned to CCC camps around the nation. African Americans participated, but they worked in segregated camps.

During its nine-year existence, the CCC employed nearly three million men. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the CCC and, with her strong backing, a much smaller program was also created for unemployed young women.

The CCC planted over two billion trees, fought forest fires, built trails, campgrounds, and reservoirs, and aided with soil conservation programs. It became one of the New Deal’s most popular and successful programs. Its legacy remains today in facilities it constructed throughout America’s national forests and parks.

FDR’s First 100 Days in office became the most action-packed in American history.

During the dark final months of President Hoover’s term, Washington—like the nation’s economy— seemed to grind to a halt. Now the capital suddenly buzzed with activity.

No new president had ever moved with such urgency on so many fronts so fast, issuing proclamations and executive orders and driving a torrent of legislation through Congress to stimulate recovery, relieve economic hardship, and enact reforms.

Some of FDR’s initiatives succeeded.  Others failed. Some programs were contradictory. But suffering Americans regained hope as they saw someone finally taking bold action to battle the Depression.

Make sure you follow along with us through the next couple of months as we commemorate FDR’s First 100 Days.

On March 31, 1933, Congress approved the Emergency Conservation Work Act - which provided for the creation of a government agency that would put unemployed people to work developing conservation infrastructure on lands owned by the federal, state, and local governments. This law paved the way for the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Daily Courier Co-operative Scrip, 1933

During January and February of 1933, 4,000 banks were forced out of business. Because accounts were not government-insured, millions lost their life savings. Panicked depositors rushed to the remaining banks to withdraw their money. These bank runs threatened the entire financial system.

In desperation, 32 states declared “bank holidays”— temporarily shutting their banks to prevent depositors from removing cash. Remaining states put strict limits on withdrawals. In an era before widespread credit cards, this meant people could not make purchases. In many places barter, IOUs, and money substitutes called “scrip” replaced cash transactions.

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