Blue Eagle popular symbol in Hamilton during NRA campaign
(This column is the 17th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
The Blue Eagle was a popular symbol in Hamilton in the summer and fall of 1933 as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress tried to revive the economy in the fourth year of the Great Depression. Local enthusiasm included a parade with about 10,000 participants and more than 50,000 spectators in a city of about 52,000 population.
The Blue Eagle was the insignia of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), signed by the president June 16, 1933, as a major tool in FDR's recovery program. A motto, "We Do Our Part," was emphasized in the campaign to bring employers and employees together to draft codes of self-regulation to control various businesses and industries.
The act created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to monitor the codes that had sections covering fair business competition, minimum wages, maximum hours, elimination of child labor and a guarantee of collective bargaining. Codes were drafted for about 540 types of businesses employing more than 22 million people.
NRA -- which had many controversial provisions -- also was intended to maintain some form of price and wage controls while restoring employment. .
Government advertising referred to the NRA as "the National Recovery Crusade mobilizing leadership and cooperation in a war on depression." It urged Americans to "buy something you have needed and wanted today." It asked Americans "to eliminate fear, to restore and maintain confidence, to salvage American courage, which recent economic pressure has worn threadbare, and to rebuild for better times."
While critics labeled NRA as "creeping socialism" and "business fascism," most Hamiltonians embraced the program. NRA began in Hamilton July 21, 1933, with appointment of Homer Gard, president and publisher of the Journal-News, as local administrator. He was replaced Jan. 24, 1934, by S. M. Goodman.
By Aug. 1, 1933 -- designated as Recovery Day -- a blanket NRA code for small firms was available for signing at the Hamilton post office. Signers, who pledged to observe wage, hour and price conditions, received Blue Eagle emblems and posters to display in their offices, stores and shops.
Within three weeks, the Blue Eagle was posted at 969 local firms with 4,175 employees. Hamilton claimed to be "the first city in the state to engage in the recovery program because the work had been done so swiftly and so efficiently."
In Middletown, American Rolling Mill Co. (Armco; now AK Steel) leaders credited NRA compliance with helping to boost employment in its plants -- a 4,512 increase from 6,504 workers in April to 11,016 in October 1933. Payroll jumped from $276,770 in March to $561,000 in August with $112,433 attributed to the eight-hour plan and a 20 percent salary increase.
NRA leaders also enlisted the support of consumers -- especially housewives. "It is our women in homes and not soldiers in uniform that will win the fight against unemployment," declared a NRA administrator in one of many government pep talks.
Hamilton's Nov. 11, 1933, NRA-Armistice Day parade, according to the Journal-News, was "by far the most comprehensive and spectacular public demonstration in the city's history. Never before within these corporate limits had as many people taken part in any public demonstration." The parade began at 4:30 p.m. and took two hours and 10 minutes to pass a given point.
The newspaper described it as "a community expression, a desire by the people of Hamilton to wholeheartedly demonstrate their desire to cooperate with President (Franklin) Roosevelt in his NRA program for recovery and, at the same time, to pay tribute to those who served their country in the World War."
Despite its local reception, the NRA was short-lived. It was killed by U. S. Supreme Court decisions, including Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan Jan. 7, 1935, and May 27, 1935 -- A. L. A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States May 27, 1935.
The court ruled the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional because it had delegated legislative power to the executive branch, and abused exercise of congressional commerce clause power.
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Ohio sales tax started as temporary Depression fix
(This column is the 18th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Delinquent taxes and lower property valuations -- the latter the basis for real estate taxes -- drastically reduced the amount of money available to operate public schools and sustain the services of local, county and state governments during the Great Depression. After more than two years of considering new revenue sources, Ohio resorted to a sales tax in 1935.
The Ohio General Assembly enacted and Gov. George White signed the sales tax law Dec. 13, 1934, effective Jan. 1, 1935. Butler County's two representatives, William M. Goodwin and John F. Heath, voted in favor. The vote in the Ohio House was 70-8, and 17-9 in the senate..
The retail sales tax -- part of a revised state tax package -- "required 18 months to finally establish," the Journal-News reported. It was supposed to be "a temporary measure to meet a financial crisis," the newspaper said. "However, such measures, although temporary, usually work their way into the general taxation scheme of the state."
With only 19 days between enactment and implementation, the sales tax was delayed until Jan. 27 while details were resolved. Hiring between 200 and 300 people to handle administration of the tax in Columbus was among several reasons for postponing collections.
With other tax changes, the sales tax was expected to mean about $70.5 million for schools and other government programs. The Journal-News described it as "a replacement tax designed to offset an emergency created when the real estate tax limitation was cut from 15 mills to 10 mills." In cities and the county, it wasn't expected to equal income lost because of lower real estate taxes.
About 2,000 Ohio school districts with 1.3 million students were expected to receive about $22 million of the $70.5 million. The new money would enable operating a full school year instead of closing as much as a month early, as in previous years.
Estimated increases for Butler County's 26 public districts included $236,576 for Hamilton's 7,486 students and $179,077 for Middletown with 5,667 enrolled. Other projections ranged to $15,642 for 495 students in Oxford, and, at the lowest enrollments, $537 for 17 pupils at West Elkton and $252 for eight students attending the Crescentville school.
The City of Hamilton anticipated about $120,000 in the first year; Middletown $58,000; county government $95,000; and $23,507 to be shared by villages and townships.
At the end of 1935, the state had collected more than $47.8 million, not $70.5 million. Ohio public schools realized $16.8 million, not the predicted $22 million.
In early January 1935, local meetings were held to explain procedures and answer questions about the new system. Columbus officials issued periodic rulings, clarifications and exceptions, the latter including bread, milk and newspapers
Tax rates were none up to nine cents; one cent from sales up to 40 cents; two cents up to 70 cents; and three cents up to $1. The same scale applied to purchases over $1.
An advertisement by Hamilton merchants explained the process. "Every store in Hamilton is required . . .to collect the tax from every customer on every taxable purpose. There is no option. The merchant can be fined and even jailed for refusal or failure to do so."
For every sale, the ad said, "salespersons are required to cancel in your presence a state-issued prepaid tax receipt. Cancellation consists of tearing the slip in two parts, so that it cannot be used again. They are required to hand you one half of this certificate. This is your receipt and assures you that the tax you are paying the merchant has already been paid by him into the state treasury. The merchant buys these prepaid tax receipts from the state."
"This new tax," the ad said, "is levied by the state to keep open hundreds of public schools; to help provide for unemployment relief; to help provide state pensions for the aged; and to aid our local governments in continuing such necessary services as police and fire protection, disease prevention, water purification, etc."
Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26, merchants reported brisk business as shoppers rushed to beat the sales tax start at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, March 27, 1935. Two days later, the Journal-News said "the public has accepted the tax with a minimum of grumbling."
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Greenhills created as Depression relocation project
(This column is the 19th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
They were called green towns, greenbelt villages, pedestrian-scaled garden communities, subsistence homestead villages and resettlement villages by supporters when the concept was announced in 1935. It was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's programs aimed at lifting the nation out of the Great Depression. Greenhills in neighboring Hamilton County was one of the few successful developments under the controversial plan.
"Considered a bold experiment in community planning, Greenhills was intended to relieve an acute housing shortage and to provide jobs during the Great Depression," says an Ohio Historical Society marker on Winton Road in the village. Greenbelt, Md., and Greendale, Wis., followed similar plans, each to be surrounded by a greenbelt of wooded land at least a half mile wide They were nicknamed "Tugwell Towns" because of their administrator, Rexford Tugwell, an agricultural economist, Columbia economics professor and FDR adviser who originated the idea.
Under the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, FDR signed an executive order April 30, 1935, creating the Resettlement Administration (RA). Several communities were proposed across the nation, but only a few were built, not all on the Greenhills plan.
Besides creating jobs for the unemployed, the many purposes of RA projects included attacking rural poverty and city slums; eliminating migrant worker shantytowns; relocating destitute families to productive land; restoring depleted farm land; and starting cooperative farming communities.
Critics in Hamilton County said Greenhills was "an attempt to create a socialistic community." The federal town also wasn't popular with some local builders, bankers and real estate agents.
In January 1935 a committee with members from Hamilton and Butler counties was seeking at least 500 acres for a "homestead village," identified as part of a federal "subsistence homestead' project." Among sites considered was land near Rialto, between Port Union and West Chester, in what is now West Chester Township in Butler County.
A leading site was described as south of Hamilton between the Dixie Highway (Ohio 4) and Mount Pleasant Pike (U. S. 127). News accounts said the proposal included "transporting and transplanting thousands of Ohio families now on public relief" to Greenhills and similar communities planned in the state.
"The object of the plan," said the Journal-News, "is primarily to provide workers in the lower brackets of income to live under decent and helpful conditions, by taking them to the more rural sections where adequate, comfortable and substantial homes will be built for them at a rental that they can meet."
A budget of $11.1 million for Greenhills was announced in September 1935. Dec. 6, Tugwell approved buying 106 Hamilton County farm tracts, totaling 5,930 acres, for $1.6 million.
Construction started Dec. 16 with 50 previously unemployed men, plus engineers, surveyors and other professionals who had been working at the site. "Increases in manpower are to be made daily until 7,000 men -- 90 percent from relief rolls -- will be employed," said the Journal-News.
Before it became Greenhills, local reports called it the "Mount Healthy Settlement" and the "Mount Healthy Suburban Housing Project."
When tenant selection began in January 1938, more than 2,700 applied for 676 homes. Requirements included family earnings between $1,000 and $2,700 a year; good credit rating; history of steady employment; paying a high share of present income for rent; and able to pay rent, heat, electricity, transportation and other costs. Families were checked for communicable diseases; that they were living in clean and maintained housing; and had positive references from their present neighbors..
The first families moved into Greenhills April 1, 1938. A one-bedroom apartment rented for $18 a month; a four-bedroom house for $42. (Based on inflation, those rates now would be about $262 and $350.)
"Greenhills reflects the town planning principles of the English garden city movement," says the OHS historical marker. "Planners clustered homes around a common green space and a community shopping area was within easy walking distance. Like the original greenbelt of forests and farms, today Winton Woods Park serves as a buffer." In 1938, Greenhills was completely electrified -- possibly the first village in the nation able to make that claim..
The Army Corps of Engineers created a 183-acre lake as a flood control project southeast of the village in the Winton Woods greenbelt.
Of the original 5,930 acres, about 530 are in Greenhills, 2,045 in Winton Woods and 3,400 were sold later for development of Forest Park. In 1949, the Greenhills Home Owners Corp. bought the village from the federal government for $3.5 million.
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Peck's Addition improvement started by federal relief funding
(This column is the 20th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Congress created the Civil Works Administration in October 1933 to direct what today would be called a stimulus package. CWA distributed federal money with two purposes -- to provide work for the unemployed and help local governments build and repair roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, parks, playgrounds and other public facilities.
CWA was called the first of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's back-to-work plans. Nationwide, it expected to underwrite projects employing about four million people who had lost their jobs during the first three years of the Great Depression.
Congress allocated $950 million for CWA operations in early 1934. Allowing for inflation, that's about $15 billion in 2009 dollars.
Formation of CWA, the Journal-News said, found "Hamilton ready with plans and specifications for major and minor projects." Topping the local list was extension and completion of the Crawford Run sewer. It had been on the city wish list for at least 25 years, but had been considered too expensive with only local funds.
The city was quick to utilize the CWA money, announcing Jan. 8, 1934, that work would begin in two days. The projected cost was $285,000. Of that total, $209,000 was earmarked to pay the wages of unemployed Hamiltonians.
Completion of the Crawford Run sewer was the first step in the long process of converting a former city eyesore, embarrassment and health hazard into productive land.
The area once known as Peck's Addition had been a problem since the first soldiers arrived in 1791 to build Fort Hamilton. It was first called the Swamp and later the Big Pond -- a low wetland that collected runoff from surrounding higher ground and periodic flood water from the Great Miami River.
On today's street system, it would be south of Knightsbridge Drive (formerly South Avenue), east of the Great Miami River, north of Fitton Avenue and west of Pleasant and Central avenues.
It acquired its name from a local entrepreneur who planned to transform 200 acres into housing. Dr. John Pascual Paoli Peck unveiled his residential development proposal in 1875, when the area was outside the city limits. The Peck's Addition he envisioned never materialized.
When Hamilton annexed Peck's Addition in 1908 it remained undeveloped, still low-lying land that collected stagnant water from all sides. There was no drainage system. The water level was dependent on the amount of rain and snow and the rate of evaporation.
Some relief was expected when the Miami Conservancy District built a levee along the river after the 1913 flood, but that didn't affect the runoff from higher surroundings. The 1913 flood also damaged the partially-built Crawford Run, but reconstruction funds hadn't been available from city, county or state sources. It was an open sewer through Peck's Addition before emptying into the river.
The city's application for the sewer extension combined money from the CWA and the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), also formed by Congress in 1933.
Jan. 22, 1934 -- less than two weeks after startup -- sewer work halted while state and local officials resolved a manpower change ordered by the state. When construction resumed, 268 workers were limited to 24 hours a week instead of 30 hours to spread the benefits. Their pay remained 50 cents an hour.
When completed in December 1934, the extension had cost $222,000. Average weekly employment was 210 people, ranging from a high of 353 to a low of 92. Each employee worked a three-day week, a common limitation in Depression-relief programs that permitted more people to share the wages allocated for a project.
The Crawford Run sewer didn't transform Peck's Addition overnight. Progress was slow. Much of it was a refuse landfill for many years. Improvement wasn't visible for more than 30 years. .
Dramatic changes began in the 1960s when Champion built its Knightsbridge office (now Vora Technology Park) on the north end and Miami University-Hamilton was established on the south end. The positive transformation, which started with Depression-relief funds, has continued in recent decades.