New Deal for farmers began with 1933 legislation
(This column is the 13th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
When many Americans were hungry and some were begging for food, reducing crops and livestock didn't seem like a way to solve one of the major problems of the Great Depression. But the farm cutbacks were one of many strategies invoked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress in 1933.
Roosevelt, who was inaugurated March 4, 1933, immediately called Congress into special session to consider a multitude of proposals aimed at ending the nation's greatest economic crisis. Several bills sought relief for farmers, who had been in dire economic straits since 1920.
Farm income had plunged from $8 billion in 1929 to $3 billion in 1933, a 62.5 percent decline. Before and during the first years of the Great Depression, severe drought had crippled most U. S. farmers. In many areas, including Butler County, prices were lower than the costs of producing the crops and raising livestock that had been prime income sources for farmers.
Numerous farmers lost their land because they couldn't make mortgage payments. Farm property transfers peaked in 1933–34 when nearly 10 percent of U. S. farms changed hands. At least half of those sales were involuntary.
As a temporary remedy, May 12, 1933, Congress passed the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act. The short term program allowed farm mortgages to be refinanced to the benefit of the borrower.
The centerpiece of FDR's New Deal farm legislation was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), also enacted May 12. AAA, known as the Farm Relief Act, authorized paying farmers not to grow certain crops. By restricting production, it sought to reduce crop surpluses, raise the value of harvests and restore stability to farmers, enabling them to pay debts and boost their purchasing power.
It authorized parity prices based on the 1909-1914 returns for corn, cotton, wheat, rice, hogs and dairy products. That pre-World War I period had been prosperous years for farmers.
To handle this aspect of the multi-purpose law, the Commodity Credit Corp. was created to purchase the selected agricultural products at guaranteed minimum prices. Later, the Surplus Marketing Administration formed to buy farm surpluses for distribution to the needy by federal and state agencies.
AAA was at least partly responsible for raising Ohio farm income from about $157 million in 1932 to nearly $356 million in 1937
The Supreme Court ruled AAA unconstitutional in 1936, but Congress corrected the problems and wrote a new adjustment act that continued to improve conditions.
June 16, 1933, Congress approved short-term and medium-term credits for agricultural production and marketing that enabled farmers to refinance their mortgages at lower interest rates for long periods.
The Soil Erosion Service started in August in reaction to the continuing drought that hampered farming in most of the nation. It was responsible for organizing soil conservation districts to educate farmers about practices that had worsened the impact of lack or rain complicated by damaging wind. The SES created demonstration projects showing the benefits of such practices as terracing and contouring.
The drought, plus other agricultural problems, "contributed to the Great Depression’s bank closures, business losses, increased unemployment, and other physical and emotional hardships," according to the National Drought Mitigation Center..
In September 1933 -- in compliance with the AAA -- the government ordered the slaughter of more than six million pigs, a move that brought protests from groups seeking to provide food for those unable to sustain themselves.
At the end of 1933, estimates of the impact of the federal corn-hog reduction program revealed that Butler County farmers were expected to receive a total of $300,000 for withholding hogs from market.
Between $130,000 and $200,000 would be paid for cutbacks in corn. That was based on 18,000 acres not being planted in the county. Sowing fewer acres of wheat would net $57,000 to be shared by 778 Butler County farmers. ($57,000 in 1933, allowing for inflation, would be equivalent to more than $9 million today, or about $1,161 per farmer.)
The 1933 rush of agricultural legislation didn't end farm problems by the end of the year, but it started the road to recovery.
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Federal relief money began flowing into county in 1933
(This column is the 14th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area
By Jim Blount
Pivotal programs in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's effort to provide quick relief for Americans suffering in the fourth year of the Great Depression were operating within months of his March 4, 1933, inauguration. FDR called Congress into special session March 9 to consider legislation to restore jobs.
The Ohio unemployment rate had hit 37.3 percent as the year began. Nationally, 24.9 percent were jobless when Roosevelt took office.
The Federal Emergency Relief Act -- enacted May 12, 1933 -- was designed to send $500 million in federal money to the states for projects that would put some unemployed people back to work. The same day it became law, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was created. It doled out more than $5 million that day. (Allowing for inflation, that $5 million would equal about $80 million today.)
States were to receive $1 of FERA money for every $3 invested by state and local governments. Decisions on spending and hiring the unemployed were left to those governments. The federal funds were grants, not loans, which relieved struggling states of paying back FERA money.
According to the Ohio Historical Society, the state in 1934 spent more than $82 million on relief programs with about $70 million coming from FERA. In FERA's three years, 1933-1935, Ohio received more than $171 million.
June 6 Congress approved the National Cooperative Employment Service Act, a national employment system. The U. S. Employment Service was funded by matching federal and state money.
Next came the National Industrial Recovery Act June 16. It included formation of the Public Works Administration (PWA), which had $3.3 billion to hire workers for public works projects in cooperation with state and local governments.
PWA work covered a range of improvements -- including, but not limited to schools, public buildings, hospitals, sidewalks, park and waterway projects and housing for the homeless.
Hamilton city officials rushed to gather data on local programs that could qualify for federal grants up to 100 percent of cost. The Journal-News said "work on all [PWA] projects is limited to a 30-hour week at a rate which will provide 'a standard of living in decency and comfort.' "
By June 28 -- 12 days after the PWA formed -- the city had 10 projects ready for federal consideration. City council approved issuance of $425,000 in bonds as the city's 70 percent share of the anticipated cost of erecting a municipal building. The remainder was expected from the PWA. The building at High Street and Monument Avenue was dedicated less than two and a half years later, Nov. 24, 1935.
Hamilton was ready when another relief program, the Civil Works Administration, began in October. A partially-built Crawford's Run sewer had been damaged in the 1913 flood, but funds for repair hadn't been available. In addition, the incomplete part through Peck's Addition to the Great Miami River was an open ditch, which contributed to periodic flooding in the area. The city applied for a combination of FERA and CWA money to remedy the problem. Work began in January 1934.
By Nov. 29, 1933, thanks to CWA money, 2,333 formerly jobless men were working on projects in the county, including 1,196 in Hamilton, 488 in Middletown and 649 in the townships.
Hamilton assignments included 519 men filling the abandoned Miami-Erie Canal; 66 men for 120 days to remove streetcar tracks in Williams Avenue from Pleasant Avenue west to the powerhouse and repave the street; 280 men improving 25 city parks, plus others on street and storm drain projects, razing abandoned firehouses on South B and North Third streets, and repainting the Lane Public Library.
In Fairfield Twp., CWA men widened the channel of Pleasant Run Creek near Symmes Corner. CWA workers also repaired and cleaned rural schools in the county.
In late December, 36 men were doing similar work in Hamilton schools. Two county road projects expected to employ 250 men for 109 days. They were improvement of a railroad crossing near Okeana and raising 3,500 feet of road (now Ohio 73) between the Trenton bridge and Engle's Corner (old Ohio 4) in an area subject to flooding.
By the end of 1933, CWA workers on jobs in Hamilton had increased to 2,192 men.
Since October, some needy residents had received aid from the newly-formed Federal Surplus Relief Corp., organized to divert farm surpluses from the open market to destitute families.
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Roosevelt gold mandate saved Hamilton industry
(This column is the 15th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area
By Jim Blount
Franklin D. Roosevelt moved into the White House in March 1933 without much of the ceremony associated with a change in the presidency. He didn't waste any time suggesting to Congress programs that would ease the suffering of the Great Depression. In fact, he didn't always wait for Congress to debate his proposals. Instead, he implemented them with executive orders.
A crumbling banking system -- a major contributor to the collapse of the economy -- was a priority. FDR's Presidential Executive Order 6102, to most Americans, was just another measure aimed at correcting the nation's many financial problems. Hamiltonians didn't realize EO6102 would be instrumental in saving a local industry -- the Mosler Safe Co.
The order -- introduced as "an act to provide relief in the existing national emergency in banking" -- prohibited the hoarding of gold coins, gold bullion and gold certificates (currency). It ordered "individuals, partnerships, associations and corporations" to surrender their gold to the government by May 1, 1933. Failure to comply could result in a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Nine months later, Congress enacted the Gold Reserve Act. The Jan. 30, 1934, act created the Exchange Stabilization Fund in the treasury department to seize all gold held by Federal Reserve banks and accept privately held gold, except for "legitimate purposes" (jewelry, artwork, and industrial and scientific uses).
The controversial actions not only made possessing gold illegal, they abolished the right of citizens to demand gold in exchange for paper money.
The sequence of events presented a problem for the government -- where and how to store its sudden gold accumulation of 400-ounce gold bars. It had no facility for that purpose.
Fort Knox in Kentucky was designated the site. The Mosler Safe Co. became a key contractor in building the United States bullion depository, a $560,000 project.
The contract was a life saver for Mosler, which had started production in its Hamilton plant Oct. 12, 1891, after moving from the flood-prone Cincinnati river front. The plant was built on Grand Boulevard between the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) on the east and the Miami-Erie Canal (now Erie Highway) on the west.
Mosler's laid off employees weren't optimistic about retaining their jobs when Roosevelt took office March 4, 1933. With struggling banks as its customers, Mosler business declined rapidly in the first three years of the Great Depression. Banks were closing, not expanding. In 1933, Mosler had only two bank orders, one each from Japan and China.
Mosler reported the main vault door at Fort Knox as weighing 20 tons and 21 inches thick with seven laminations of "the latest tool and torch resisting materials" which "are interlayed with cast and open hearth steel."
Mosler shipped the gold depository vault doors from Hamilton in June 1936. The Fort Knox project was completed in December 1936. The next month, the first gold shipment arrived at the site about 30 miles southwest of Louisville.
Thanks to the government order, Mosler rebounded and prospered. It had some defense orders in the late 1930s -- before Pearl Harbor.. After the U. S. entered World War II Dec. 7, 1941, Mosler produced a number of products and components for the military and had a part in the development of the atomic bomb.
After World War II, the boom in branch banking provided steady business. During the Cold War, the company produced security products designed to withstand nuclear blasts at government facilities.
After 104 years, Mosler ended production at its Grand Boulevard pant April 2, 1996.
Nearly 110 years after moving to Hamilton, Mosler Inc. closed its offices and service center on Berk Boulevard Aug. 3, 2001, as it began liquidating the corporation. More than 225 Hamilton employees were among about 1,800 nationwide who lost their jobs that day.
Aug. 6, 2001, Mosler filed for bankruptcy protection -- about 68 years and four months after FDR's Executive Order 6102 gave the company an extended life.
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More than 1,400 Butler County men enlisted in CCC
(This column is the 16th in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
For more than 1,400 Butler County men, the path out of the hardships of the Great Depression led through fields, woods and streams in other states. They were volunteers in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program requested by Franklin D. Roosevelt soon after his inauguration. About 15 million men were unemployed in the U. S. March 31, 1933, when Congress enacted FDR's Reforestation Relief Act.
Unemployed single young men were enlisted for six-month CCC terms to increase, preserve and restore the nation's natural resources. They were paid $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home. They worked and lived in military fashion, commanded by U. S. Army officers.
Their food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education and medical care were provided by the army with assistance from other federal agencies. They lived in tents or crude barracks. Their work was guided by four federal cabinet departments -- war, interior, agriculture and labor.
At first, volunteers had to be between the ages of 18 and 25. Later, it changed to between 17 and 27. Exceptions included some unemployed veterans of World War I. To discourage desertions, CCC men were assigned to camps a distance from their homes.
The CCC had several nicknames that reflected the nature of its work -- the Three C's, Roosevelt's Tree Army, Roosevelt's Forest Army, Forest Conservation Army, Soil Soldiers, Woodpecker Warriors, Tree Troopers and the Colossal College of Calluses.
FDR -- a conservation advocate before he was elected president in 1932 -- envisioned the CCC as an "army" to develop and improve national forests, parks and federal land. Its mission expanded to work on private farms to introduce erosion prevention and other conservation practices.
The first Butler County recruits -- 150 volunteers from Hamilton, 25 from Middletown and 25 from rural areas -- had physical exams June 17 in the Hamilton National Guard armory on Dayton Street. The next morning, the 200 men filled five coaches on a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad special train that took them to Fort Thomas in Northern Kentucky. After two weeks training, they headed for work in Southern California.
"More than 100,000 of the CCC boys were in the woods by June , with additional men signing up every day," wrote Nick Taylor in American-Made, The Enduring Legacy of the WPA. "August would see 1,500 camps and upward of 300,000 enrollees," Taylor added.
June 2, 1933, an additional 60 local men were accepted for the CCC, including 15 from Hamilton, 25 from Middletown and 20 from rural areas. The county sent another 135 volunteers into the reforestation service Nov. 17, 1933.
About 1,080 Butler County men, mostly from Hamilton, had served in the CCC through May 1935. The total exceeded 1,400 later that year. Local recruiting continued for at least four years. Nationally, more than 2.9 million young men, including 133,551 Ohioans, were in more than 2,600 camps between 1933 and CCC termination in 1942.
Aug. 5, 1935, CCC Camp 3533 -- one of 35 camps in Ohio that year -- opened about a mile and a half northeast of Hamilton on the W. A. Shafor (or Shaffer) farm on Middletown Pike (Ohio 4). About 190 young men were in the first group. In October, because of water problems, the camp was relocated to the Rentschler farm at Millikin and Morris roads in Fairfield Twp It operated there until 1937.
Camp routine began 6:30 a.m. Lights were out at 10 p.m. The men worked five-day weeks with Saturdays reserved for camp duties. Recreation and shower breaks were at the Hamilton YMCA.
By the end of 1936, Camp Butler's Soil Soldiers had worked 33,484 man days on Butler County farms north of Hamilton. They had completed work on 32 farms, and were continuing improvements on seven others. They also had finished projects on 19 farms in the Indian Creek area.
The report said they had built 9,587 rods and repaired 648 rods of farm fences. They had spent 3,058 man days repairing 9,334 square miles of stream banks; had sloped 19,174 square yards of stream banks;
built 44 permanent dams using 1,787 man days and erected 885 temporary dams; planted 99 acres of farm land in trees to prevent soil erosion; and were involved in starting strip cropping and terracing to decrease erosion on county farms.
In a radio speech in April 1936, President Roosevelt said CCC graduates also had "improved in health, self-discipline" and were "alert and eager for the opportunity to make good in any kind of honest employment."