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The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was a New Deal agency in the United Statesmarker. Created under the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, it was one of the first major pieces of the New Deal program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The NRA allowed industries to create "codes of fair competition," which were intended to reduce "destructive competition" and to help workers by setting minimum wages and maximum weekly hours. It also allowed industry heads to collectively set price floors.

In 1935, the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker unanimously declared in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States 295 U.S. 495 (1935) that the NRA was unconstitutional, ruling that it infringed the separation of powers under the United States Constitution. The NRA quickly stopped operations, but many of its labor provisions reappeared in the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), passed later the same year.

The NRA, symbolized by the Blue Eagle (a blue-colored representation of the American thunderbird) was popular with workers. Businesses that supported the NRA put the symbol in their shop windows and on their packages. Though membership to the NRA was voluntary, businesses that did not display the eagle were very often boycotted, making it seem to many mandatory for survival.


As part of the "First New Deal," the NRA was based on the premise that the Great Depression was caused by market instability and that government intervention was necessary to balance the interests of farmers, business and labor. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which created the NRA, declared that codes of fair competition should be developed through public hearings, and gave the Administration the power to develop voluntary agreements with industries regarding work hours, pay rates, and price fixing.

The National Industrial Recovery Act was put into operation by an executive order after the passage of the NIRA.

New Dealers whose government service dated back to the Woodrow Wilson administration may have been influenced by their past efforts to mobilize the economy for World War I. They brought ideas and experience from the government controls and spending of 1917-18. Indeed, part of their beliefs was to duplicate the war-time collectivist drive during peace-time.

In his June 16, 1933 "Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act," President Roosevelt described the spirit of the NRA: "On this idea, the first part of the NIRA proposes to our industry a great spontaneous cooperation to put millions of men back in their regular jobs this summer." He further stated, "But if all employers in each trade now band themselves faithfully in these modern guilds--without exception-and agree to act together and at once, none will be hurt and millions of workers, so long deprived of the right to earn their bread in the sweat of their labor, can raise their heads again. The challenge of this law is whether we can sink selfish interest and present a solid front against a common peril."


The film industry supported the NRA.
The first director of the NRA was Hugh Samuel Johnson, a retired United States Army brigadier general and a successful businessman. He was named Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1933. Johnson saw the NRA as a national crusade designed to restore employment and regenerate industry.

Johnson called on every business establishment in the nation to accept a stopgap "blanket code": a minimum wage of between 20 and 45 cents per hour, a maximum workweek of 35 to 45 hours, and the abolition of child labor. Johnson and Roosevelt contended that the "blanket code" would raise consumer purchasing power and increase employment.

To mobilize political support for the NRA, Johnson launched the "NRA Blue Eagle" publicity campaign to boost his bargaining strength to negotiate the codes with business and labor.

Historian Clarence B. Carson noted:
At this remove in time from the early days of the New Deal, it is difficult to recapture, even in imagination, the heady enthusiasm among a goodly number of intellectuals for a government planned economy. So far as can now be told, they believed that a bright new day was dawning, that national planning would result in an organically integrated economy in which everyone would joyfully work for the common good, and that American society would be freed at last from those antagonisms arising, as General Hugh Johnson put it, from "the murderous doctrine of savage and wolfish individualism, looking to dog-eat-dog and devil take the hindmost."

Roosevelt replaced Johnson in September 1934, reassigning him to a Works Progress Administration position.

New Chairman

In early 1935 the new chairman, Samuel Williams announced that the NRA would stop setting prices, but businessmen complained. Chairman Williams told them plainly that, unless they could prove it would damage business, NRA was going to put an end to price control. Williams said, "Greater productivity and employment would result if greater price flexibility were attained." Of the 2,000 businessmen on hand probably 90% opposed Mr. Williams' aim, reported Time magazine: "To them a guaranteed price for their products looks like a royal road to profits. A fixed price above cost has proved a lifesaver to more than one inefficient producer."

The business position was summarized by George A. Sloan, head of the Cotton Textile Code Authority:
"Maximum hours and minimum wage provisions, useful and necessary as they are in themselves, do not prevent price demoralization.
While putting the units of an industry on a fair competitive level insofar as labor costs are concerned, they do not prevent destructive price cutting in the sale of commodities produced, any more than a fixed price of material or other element of cost would prevent it.
Destructive competition at the expense of employees is lessened, but it is left in full swing against the employer himself and the economic soundness of his enterprise....But if the partnership of industry with Government which was invoked by the President were terminated (as we believe it will not be), then the spirit of cooperation, which is one of the best fruits of the NRA equipment, could not survive.

The NRA in practice

Chart 3: Manufacturing employment in the United States from 1920 to 1940
NRA negotiated specific sets of codes with leaders of the nation's major industries; the most important provisions were anti-deflationary floors below which no company would lower prices or wages, and agreements on maintaining employment and production. In a remarkably short time, the NRA won agreements from almost every major industry in the nation. Six months after the NRA went into effect, industrial production dropped twenty-five percent. According to some economists, the NRA increased the cost of doing business by forty percent. Donald Richberg, who soon replaced Johnson as the head of the NRA said:
There is no choice presented to American business between intelligently planned and uncontrolled industrial operations and a return to the gold-plated anarchy that masqueraded as "rugged individualism."...Unless industry is sufficiently socialized by its private owners and managers so that great essential industries are operated under public obligation appropriate to the public interest in them, the advance of political control over private industry is inevitable.

By the time it ended in May 1935, industrial production was 22% higher than in May 1933. On May 27, 1935, the NRA was found to be unconstitutional by a unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States. On that same day, the Court unanimously struck down the Frazier-Lemke Act portion of the New Deal as unconstitutional. Some libertarians such as Richard Ebeling see these and other rulings striking down portions of the New Deal as preventing the U.S. economic system from becoming a planned economy corporate state. Governor Huey Long of Louisianamarker said, "I raise my hand in reverence to the Supreme Court that saved this nation from fascism."

Employment in private sector factories recovered to the level of the late 1920s by 1937 but did not grow much bigger until the war came and manufacturing employment leaped from 11 million in 1940 to 18 million in 1943.

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. The NRA included a multitude of regulations imposing the pricing and production standards for all sorts of goods and services. Individuals were arrested for not complying with these codes. For example, a man named Jacob Maged was jailed for violating the "Tailor's Code" by pressing a suit for 35 rather than NRA required 40 cents. Roosevelt supporter-turned-critic John T. Flynn, in The Roosevelt Myth (1944), wrote:

The NRA was famous for its bureaucracy. Journalist Raymond Clapper reported that between 4,000 and 5,000 business practices were prohibited by NRA orders that carried the force of law, which were contained in some 3,000 administrative orders running to over 10,000,000 pages, and supplemented by what Clapper said were "innumerable opinions and directions from national, regional and code boards interpreting and enforcing provisions of the act." There were also "the rules of the code authorities, themselves, each having the force of law and affecting the lives and conduct of millions of persons." Clapper concluded: "It requires no imagination to appreciate the difficulty the business man has in keeping informed of these codes, supplemental codes, code amendments, executive orders, administrative orders, office orders, interpretations, rules, regulations and obiter dicta."

Judicial review

In 1935, in the court case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, the Supreme Court declared the NRA as unconstitutional because it attempted to regulate commerce that was not interstate in character, and that the codes represented an unacceptable delegation of power from the legislature to the executive. Also in the 1930s, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) suffered a similar fate, as it too was declared unconstitutional. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote for a unanimous Court in invalidating the industrial "codes of fair competition" which the NIRA enabled the President to issue. The Court held that the codes violated the United States Constitution's separation of powers as an impermissible delegation of legislative power to the executive branch. The Court also held that the NIRA provisions were in excess of congressional power under the Commerce Clause.

The Court distinguished between direct effects on interstate commerce, which Congress could lawfully regulate, and indirect, which were purely matters of state law. Though the raising and sale of poultry was an interstate industry, the Court found that the "stream of interstate commerce" had stopped in this case: Schechter's slaughterhouses bought chickens only from intrastate wholesalers and sold to intrastate buyers. Any interstate effect of Schechter was indirect, and therefore beyond federal reach.

Specifically, the Court invalidated regulations of the poultry and industry promulgated under the authority of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, including price and wage fixing, as well as requirements regarding a whole shipment of chickens, including unhealthy ones, which has led to the case becoming known as "the sick chicken case." The ruling was one of a series which overturned elements of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation between January 1935 and January 1936, and which ultimately caused Roosevelt to attempt to pack the Court with judges that were in favor of the New Deal.

Subsequent to the decision, the NRA quickly stopped operations, but many of the labor provisions reappeared in the Wagner Act of 1935.


  1. " The Hughes Court: 1930-1941." Supreme Court Historical Society.
  2. National Recovery Administration. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum - Our Documents
  4. Carson, Clarence B. The Relics of Intervention part 4. New Deal Collective Planning
  5. Reed, Lawrence W. Great Myths of the Great Depression Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
  6. Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. The Coming of the New Deal, Houghton Mifflin Books (2003), p. 115.
  7. "When the Supreme Court Stopped Economic Fascism in America". By Richard Ebeling, president of Foundation for Economic Education. Oct. 2005.
  8. Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. The Politics of Upheaval: 1935-1936, the Age of Roosevelt, Volume III, Houghton Mifflin Books, page 284. ISBN 0618340874
  9. The Charleston Gazette, April 13, 1938, "Codes For Local Industries Result In Invalidation of NRA by High Court"
  10. Claper in Washington Post, Dec. 4, 1934, quoted in Best, 79-80 (1991).


  • Humorist Richard Armour, who was in his late twenties when the NRA began, stated in his mock American history book, It All Started with Columbus, that the primary goal of the NRA was "to save the rare blue Eagle."

External links


  • Best; Gary Dean. Pride, Prejudice, and Politics: Roosevelt Versus Recovery, 1933-1938. Praeger Publishers. 1991 ISBN 0275935248
  • Hawley, Ellis W. The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly Princeton UP (1968) ISBN 0823216098
  • Johnson; Hugh S. The Blue Eagle, from Egg to Earth 1935, memoir by NRA director
  • Lyon, Leverett S., Paul T. Homan, Lewis L. Lorwin, George Terborgh, Charles L. Dearing, Leon Marshall C.; The National Recovery Administration: An Analysis and Appraisal The Brookings Institution, 1935 .
  • Ohl, John Kennedy. Hugh S. Johnson and the New Deal (1985), academic biography. ISBN 0875801102
  • Schlesinger, Arthur Meier. The Coming of the New Deal (1958) pp 87-176 ISBN 0618340866 online version

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