The New Deal labor policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt were a mixed bag, but his recognition of the Forgotten Man is sorely missing in 21st-century America.
On June 28, 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation in one of his regular “Fireside Chats.” The Great Depression had left millions of Americans languishing in unemployment and despair, and with these circumstances heavy on his mind, FDR used his Fireside Chats to offer some level of comfort by informing the citizenry on the progress of his New Deal recovery plan.
On that particularly sweltering late June day, the subject was, among other things, conservative criticisms of Roosevelt’s policies. After rattling off some parched statistics about how his programs were boosting the economic recovery, FDR ceased the dusty policy wonkery and went right for the emotional jugular. “The simplest way for each of you to judge recovery lies in the plain facts of your own individual situation,” the President stated. “Are you better off than you were last year? Are your debts less burdensome? Is your bank account more secure? Are your working conditions better? Is your faith in your own individual future more firmly grounded?”
Workers in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley iron mills ranged from old guys to small children, as seen in this early 1870s photo of Brown, Bonnell & Co.’s nail mill crew.
Publisher’s Note: Today we’re doing something a bit different. This is a guest article by Clayton Ruminski, a specialist in the rise of iron and steel production in Northeast Ohio’s Mahoning Valley. I grew up in the “Valley,” so this post is totally local history for me, but for those of you unfamiliar with the tragic story of the rise and fall of Ohio’s once glorious steel industry, this post will provide some much-needed context about how workers built America.
Northeast Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, and in particular the city of Youngstown, is one of America’s poster children for de-industrialization, desolation, and the general lack of an economy. Heck, it even inspired a Bruce Springsteen song. But there was once prosperity in this buckle of the American Rust Belt. The valley was affectionately known as the “Steel Valley,” but there is a general ignorance as to how this region became one of the most dominant steel producers in the United States.