Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

August 27, 1940

Q. Sit down, Mr. Godwin.

Q. [Mr. Godwin] Here I am, staggering. I sat through Russ Young's [an ex-reporter as a Commissioner of the District of Columbia] budget hearing.

THE PRESIDENT: Was he good? (Laughter)

Q. [Mr. Godwin] He was wonderful.

THE PRESIDENT: Did he know his stuff?

Q. [Mr. Godwin] No. (Laughter) I wish you had been there to see this.

THE PRESIDENT: How did you happen to discover—

Q. [Mr. Godwin, interposing] I just wanted to see Russ at a budget hearing. A delegation wanting more relief, see? You have heard of that?



THE PRESIDENT: I think the only news of interest I have is that today is a red-letter day in American history. I very nearly issued a national Proclamation on the subject. It is Steve's [Mr. Early's] birthday.

CHORUS: Happy birthday to you.

THE PRESIDENT: So I leave him in your tender care. Maybe you will get a free drink out of it, I don't know.

Q. Maybe. (Laughter)

Q. How about getting a piece of news out of him? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: A piece of news out of him—that is an idea.

I do not think I have anything else. We had one rather remarkable thing happen. During the past week the navy employment in Navy yards and stations, shore establishments of various kinds, increased 33 per cent in one week, so that we are getting up to what you who were with me, know I was aiming for, which was full production.

Q. Any idea of how much of that came from WPA people previously unemployed?

THE PRESIDENT: Only what we took up in one or two yards. I asked the question what percentage of these permanent employees had been taken off our WPA rolls and, as I remember the figure at Norfolk, it was that 40 per cent of the WPA rolls had gone on permanently, and they hoped to get another ten. I think in most places you will find that average is about right.

Q. Mr. President, are you ready, or can you make any contribution to the argument that was started by Senator Byrd that only 343 planes have been ordered since you asked for 50,000? You know what I am talking about?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I suppose it is largely a question of terminology.

Q. We thought probably you might have some further figures.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I have got all kinds of figures and it depends on whether we are talking about the same thing or not, or about something slightly different. For example, there are three types of figures you can take. You can take the total of signed orders, just for the American Army and Navy, or you can take a lot of categories; or you can take signed orders for all types of production; or you can take signed orders for combat planes and leave out all other types of planes, and you come to another category; or you can take all planes that are being worked on for the United States and other Governments; or you can take all planes that are being actually worked on for just the United States Government; or you can take all planes that are being worked on of a combat type.

In other words, we haven't yet got to the use of identical language.

Q. Well—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] And the fact of the matter— I suppose the easiest way of doing it is to put it in this way: What we are interested in at the present time are primarily two things. One is training of pilots and, therefore, a very large number of the planes that have been built are training planes because it is essential that we have pilots to be able to fly them. And the second thing is to increase the production capacity of the United States to build planes. And, taking it by and large, both of the objectives are coming along in excellent shape, considering—considering. . . .

Q. [interposing] Considering what?

THE PRESIDENT: And May [Miss Craig] says "What?" Right. Considering several facts, that on the twenty-eighth day of June, just for example, a large pile of contracts were ready to be signed—and Congress changed the law so that they all had to be rewritten. 'that is No. 1.

No. 2, the major part of the appropriation for planes, the larger part, much the larger part, is in the Appropriation Bill which is still in the Congress of the United States.

Q. I cannot hear you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Much the larger part of this order is still in the bill which is still in the Congress. It passed the House, and was passed out by the Senate Committee, and it is still on the Senate floor, and it has not come to me for signature, and I cannot order planes.

Q. Is that what Senator Byrd is proposing to investigate?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so—I hope so. (Laughter)

Q. Are you going to—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] Now, we will talk about productive capacity. I will give you some figures. About- what was it? The first of September last, wasn't it? that the war broke out—the productive capacity for military planes and naval planes of all kinds, which includes training planes, was about 600 a month; and this month we are turning out, actually turning out, and delivering at about the rate of 10,000 a year. By the first of January, that ought to be up to about 13 or 14 thousand a year, and during 1941 again the productive capacity will be up to somewhere around 24,000 a year. The productive capacity in 1942, early in that year, will be 36,000 a year.

Those figures come from Mr. Biggers and on actual contracts—mind you, there is a difference between contracts and planes on which work has begun without a contract-Biggers says this: he says, "War and Navy have under contract and, undelivered 6,361; and, in addition, there are being built under letters of intention—in other words, the work is going on although the contract has not been signed since we are waiting for legislation and we are waiting for the tax bill, too, but the work is going ahead—3,054 airplanes and 600 Navy planes." Is that right, Steve [Mr. Early]?

MR. EARLY; Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Six hundred Navy planes. Now, there hasn't been a contract signed for any of that 3,000 or any of the 600, but the work is going on. . . .

Q. At the present time would it be possible to increase the number of planes under construction for this Government without reducing the number under construction for other Governments?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not at this time, because you have a limited productive capacity. If your productive capacity is, say, a thousand a month, that is 12,000 a year, you can only turn out 12,000 a year. Then you come to an entirely different question: How many of those 12,000 should stay here and how many should go out of the country? That is an entirely separate question.

Q. As I read those figures, that means a little more than 10,000 planes are being built?

THE PRESIDENT: They are being delivered today at the rate of 10,000 planes a year. In other words, 800 and something a month.

Q. The work is being done on them?

THE PRESIDENT: They are being delivered at the rate of 10,000 a year and, at the present rate of delivery, it is 800 and some planes. Next month it will be 900 and some planes, and the month after that a thousand and some planes—actually delivered.

Q. The figures that John Biggers gave you were 6,361 and 3,054 plus 600?

THE PRESIDENT: That is right.

Q. Is that included in this rate?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Those are for the War and Navy Departments.

Q. This rate you spoke of—800 a month, is that another addition?


Q. My question was misunderstood. I added those figures—I just added them—as work being under construction without contracts.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, the last two. The first bunch of 6,361 is what the War and Navy Departments have under contract today, that is to say, signed contracts. The last two figures represent what the Army and Navy are having built, that number under letters of intent, and the work is under way.

Q. Can the same thing be said, as to satisfactory progress, on army materiel other than airplanes? Tanks, et cetera?

THE PRESIDENT: Except for this Appropriation Bill.

Q. Is there satisfactory progress? Are you satisfied with the progress?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Of course you have to recognize one single fact. For example, some of the light tanks were given, as I remember it, to the Baldwin Locomotive Company because we had built, in the past, what the Army had put in for. But these new orders are perfectly colossal compared with what the Army considered as needed, the old needs before this German attack this spring, so it means that Baldwin, for instance, on light tanks has to get special tools for them. In other words, you cannot build a tank with an automobile outfit.

They let, the other day, that contract—what was it?-$50,000,000 for medium tanks to Chrysler. My Lord! He has to put up a new plant for it, and here he gets a $30,000,000 order and he gets $20,000,000 by loan-isn't that right?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:—from RFC. He gets a $30,000,000 order, $30,000,000 for tanks and $20,000,000 for a plant. I suppose it will take Chrysler a great many months before he gets that actually into full production, because nobody could possibly build a tank without the equipment to build a tank—and the same way with a plane.

They think that things are coming along, on the whole, very well. We are waiting—of course, we are held up by this $5,000,000,000 Appropriation Bill quite seriously.

Q. Is it a fair inference from these remarks of yours on airplanes and other army materiel that you are satisfied with the production rates?

THE PRESIDENT: All I can tell you is a simple thing, and that is that the best business brains we are able to get together seem satisfied with the production, considering the status of the legislation—and I am putting that other consideration in.

Q. Do you feel, Mr. President, that any delay is being caused by a demand on the part of industry, as a whole, for unreasonable profits? There has been a good deal of talk on that in Congress.

THE PRESIDENT: I have taken a simple position on that, and that is that it is up to the Congress to pass whatever excess profits tax Congress thinks should be put on, in order to prevent the creation of another crop of American millionaires. And that is the position of every responsible businessman who is now working with the Government—the same as mine, every one of them. Knudsen feels the same way.

That legislation, we hope, is on its way through. The contracts are ready under that legislation and the contracting parties—that is to say the industrial makers of these machines-seem to be entirely satisfied, as long as they know where they are going. That is all they are asking. They want information and nothing else; and that was put up to the Congress—I think, oh, about the twentieth day of June-the tenth day of June—something like that.

Q. Would it be a fair thing to picture the American industry doing this job just as well as it makes iceboxes and automobiles, after they get this legislation and other things out of the way?

THE PRESIDENT: When they know where they are going, when we get the appropriations through, and the third thing is when we get the Draft Bill through. Those three things.

Q. Is there any delay in tooling on account of this—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] In some things tool-making is part of the bottleneck, in others it is not. It depends entirely on the article.

Q. Does any bottleneck in tool-making have any relation to the failure of Congress to act?


Q. Mr. President, you said these contracts are being made with this excess profits legislation in mind?

THE PRESIDENT: You have them all sitting on the desk, waiting to be signed up.

Q. As soon as the legislation is passed?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, except the contracts that have already been let and signed.

Q. Are those now supplemented by the letters of intention?

THE PRESIDENT: The old ones are; the new ones are not.

Q. In other words, it is an informal one?


Q. I think you included the Draft Bill in the three things. Will you explain why the Draft Bill is holding up any speed or anything? I cannot quite say I understand it.

THE PRESIDENT: Because if and when the Draft Bill goes through we shall need a lot of other things, undoubtedly, and we cannot-there are all kinds of preparations we cannot make until the thing goes through.

Q. That has to do with your plans rather than any drag on industry?


Q. Do you have any figures, sir, that show how many of these contracts have been signed since the Defense Commission started in business?


Q. I wondered if all these contracts you spoke of are since the Defense Commission began operation?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Some are, and some are not. I do not think there is any relationship.

Q. Do you agree with your rival, Mr. Willkie, that there should be a formal head of the Defense Commission?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I don't "know nothing" about politics. (Laughter) . . .

Q. Have you any other business for Congress after this defense-these three defense items?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing important. I suppose there will be-what do they call it? at the end—a fiscal Deficiency Bill, or something like that.

Q. How about a new Postmaster General?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I shall give you something on that—in a few days. (Laughter) . . .

Q. Another question: Do you have any preference, or is there any decision yet on which agency handles the defense housing program- building houses for workers near factories?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I shall ask you a question. I shall give you two places; one place is near a very populous city, near it, where there are all kinds of men that can put up the money for homes for workmen under the FHA. That is the first case.

There is another case of a city where they have a very excellent U.S. Housing Authority, an organization, and they need there a combination of slum clearance and additional quarters. Obviously that is a USHA job.

Well, down around, south of Jacksonville, out in the palmetto scrub, they are building a new Naval Air Station. There is no community near it. It needs some civilian workers' quarters. You can't get any private capital to go in, and it is the type of work that the USHA has not done, that FHA hasn't done. Who should build that? Should the Navy build it?

In other words, doesn't it depend largely on where the thing is and what it is? It is just a matter of common sense. In other words, you cannot have one agency and one rule to do the whole thing. As a general proposition we want to get as much private capital into this as we can, and we want to eliminate as many slums as we possibly can. At the same time, we want to get the quarters built. They may be way of[ in the wilds and the Army or Navy would do it in that case. . . .

Q. Could you tell us the latest developments on naval and air bases offered by Britain?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing yet, Pete [Mr. Brandt].

Q. One other question on this controversy on airplane production: Do you feel there is any justice in the accusation, which some of us have seen in print, that there is a sit-down strike by American industry which is holding up construction?

THE PRESIDENT: I am told by Mr. Knudsen and Mr. Stettinius and the other members of the Council that they have not seen any of that yet, and I guess they know probably pretty well.

Q. Mr. President, were Senator Byrd's figures as to airplanes incorrect as applied to the combat type of the Army and Navy over the period he covers?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, they were incorrect in this sense, that the actual figures were correct and the implication was dead wrong.

Q. That is the way—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] That is the way to talk.

Q. I would like to draw you back to that housing matter again. There seems to be something stopping or holding back the Housing Bill on the House side—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] I know there is.

Q.—as far as I know. Do you know anything about that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I think there are too many ramifications. I think that is about the easiest way of putting it.

Q. As I understand it, you would like to see the bill passed?

THE PRESIDENT: Sure. I have to get houses.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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