Franklin D. Roosevelt

Press Conference

May 28, 1940

THE PRESIDENT: I think I can call your attention to the flood of mail and telegrams that has been coming in since Sunday night—we have not finished opening and examining them yet—from people offering help, almost every known way. About half of them— for instance, Steve [Mr. Early] says they have examined two thousand letters already and that is by no means all that have come in—of course there are an awful lot of telegrams, too—about half of them offering personal services, retired officers of the last war, dollar-a-year men, other experts, engineers, physicians, pilots, chemists, et cetera, and a very large number from local labor unions, Chambers of Commerce, and various business associations, offering the services of their groups. A great many offers of sites for manufacturing purposes, are coming from public officials or Chambers of Commerce. A great many factories in toto are being offered for various purposes. Shipbuilding plants, furniture companies, manganese mines, airplane plants, bedding companies, aviation mechanics training schools, canning company, machine tool company, another airplane company, a shirt factory, another bedding company, a general contracting company, an aviation ground school, a cigar company, a publishing company, a motion-picture company, yacht, tool and die makers, financial experts in aviation, et cetera and so on. In other words, they are coming in from all over the country.

In addition to that, prior to what I said about the Red Cross the other day, I had a great many checks actually mailed in that had been received. Of course they go straight over to the Red Cross. One gentleman sat down Sunday night and sent me a check for $15,000 for the Red Cross. That happens to be the biggest, but there are a lot of others, very sizable ones. In other words, the answer has been fine all over the country. I am very, very appreciative of it and I think people understand the seriousness of the situation.

At the same time, I think people should realize that we are not going to upset, any more than we have to, a great many of the normal processes of life. There is one of the ladies in the room, for instance, who was going to ask that question, and wanted to know whether we are not only going to have no new automobiles next year, new models, but whether it means a lot of other things that could be put into the luxury class would have to be foregone by the population—I am not looking at anybody; I am looking at the ceiling—the answer is that this delightful young lady will not have to forego cosmetics, lipsticks, ice-cream sodas and(Laughter)

Q. [Miss FLEESON] Thank you, Mr. President. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: All right, Doris. That does it. In other words-we do not want to upset the normal trend of things any more than we possibly can help.

Now that brings me down, by logical sequence, to the size of this present program. This is not like April, 1917—Fred [Mr. Essary] and I remember those days; very few other people here do—when we were attempting to organize an army of 4,000,000 men. We have not, certainly at this time, that in mind.

I suppose the easiest way to put it is this way, in terms of dollars: Roughly speaking, at the present time we are spending about two billion dollars a year on the Army and Navy, and this new program superimposes only a little over a billion and a quarter upon that existing program. Of course, the speed of the World War was infinitely greater because of the size of the Army we were putting together.

Therefore, this is not complete, immediate national mobilization. We are not talking at the present time about a draft system, either to draft men or women or money or all three. We are trying to expend about a billion and a quarter dollars more than the normal process. And in order to do that, it has seemed wise to put into effect what has been ready and planned for, for a long, long time, under an existing statute, without having to go and propose something entirely new in the way of legislation that would take weeks and months and a great deal of pro and con discussion, partisan and otherwise, and would probably end up in practically the same thing that we have on the statute books now.

In other words, I am reviving the Commission and the Council of National Defense, which is provided for under the old law. The old law of 1916 set up the Council. The Council consists merely of six Cabinet Officers, who will meet every Friday anyway and who work and who are expected to work on the coordination of the whole picture, through this Commission, which is set up under Title—Section II of the Act.

The Council nominates to the President and the President appoints this Commission of not more than seven persons who are supposed to be made up of people with special knowledge in certain very wide field or fields. They are to serve without compensation, except that their expenses are paid, and they would perform essentially the functions of several of the old war bodies, including the Munitions Board.

Now, of course, nearly all you young people think the Munitions Board built things. They did not. I, for instance, was Assistant Secretary of the Navy during that whole period, and when we wanted some structural steel for new destroyers, we would go to the Munitions Board and say to them, "We want this and here are the different firms that can turn these out. What is the condition of those firms?" The Munitions Board would know—and this Commission of the Council of National Defense, they would have the same information, they would act as a clearing house—and they would tell us that, let us say, Bethlehem was chockablock on that type of steel—just using this as an illustration—but that Carnegie could fill it and would we please place the order with Carnegie. And we would say, "How about price?" and they would say, "We have got that all fixed up; we have got a definite schedule of prices." So the order would go to Carnegie for all this structural steel. Then we were required to make a .report to the Munitions Board, as a report would have to be made to this Commission of the Council of National Defense, every week, as to how the order was coming along. The Navy, of course, placed the order—the Army placed their own orders—and if the order was not being turned out with sufficient. speed, if we were dissatisfied, it would be the Munitions Board, or here the Commission of the Council of National Defense, which would find out why the order was being delayed. Then when the order was ready for shipment, in those days we would notify the Railroad Commission—that was Mr. Dan Willard—that the stuff was ready to ship and he would try to see to it that there wasn't any bottleneck in the transportation of that steel from the manufacturing plant down to the shipyard where it would go into the destroyer. This obviates a part of that old trouble of having to go to different places, because these seven people who are set up here on this Commission cover, for the present, the various fields of activity that have to be coordinated.

Now that is the way the thing works. The Commission would act as the coordinating agency for Government orders and the Government order having been approved by the Commission as to which place it should go, and the price at which it is contracted for, is then turned over to the manufacturing plant; and from then on, if there is any question of delay, either in manufacturing or in transportation, this same Commission tries to get the kinks out of the delay and any kinks out of the transportation itself. Of course, at the present time, as we all know, on the transportation end there aren't any kinks because the railroads are fully capable of carrying all of the present volume of business speedily and quickly.

And then, of course, there are other things we have to think about, and that is why, through these seven people, we have taken in practically all of the necessary activities of civilized life in the United States at the present time, including cosmetics. (Laughter)

Q. Have you the name of the director? I believe the old Council had a director in addition to the Cabinet Officers.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I do not think so. It has a secretary and the man who will act as secretary to this Commission, the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense, is going to be our old friend McReynolds [William H.], for the very good reason that he knows every statute on the statute books and knows what each Government department or agency does, which very few outsiders when they first come down to Washington do know about. It generally takes them two or three months before they learn their way around the Capitol, or even the Department of Commerce Building. (Laughter)

The seven people will handle the following:

No. 1, industrial materials: that is, Mr. Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. Now what do we mean by "industrial materials"? Starting with—using this illustration: the ore in the Mesabi Range—getting that ore out of the ground, getting it down through the Great Lakes to the steel plant, making the steel billet, and then, the next step, making the unfinished piece of steel, the rolled steel or the tin plate or the block, the engine block, before there is any machining done on it. In other words, not the finished article. You see the difference. Everything up to but not including the finished article.

Now, to use the same analogy, that is Stettinius' job—

Q. [interposing] Mr. President, of course we know who Stettinius is, but would you mind identifying these people as you go along?

THE PRESIDENT: He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the United States Steel Corporation.

And then the next one is the man in charge of industrial production. The first (Stettinius) is the materials man up to the making of the finished article. Then the man that runs industrial production—that means turning out the tank itself and the engine for the tank; the plane itself and the engine of the plane. I would even go into textiles: the uniform and the dungarees—he will be Mr. William S. Knudsen, President of the General Motors Corporation. Mr. Knudsen has accepted subject to check with his corporation. In other words, he had not taken it up with them when I talked with him and he is going to let me know tomorrow.

Q. Has Mr. Stettinius accepted?

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Stettinius—all the others have accepted.

Q. Is this a full-time occupation for these men for a while?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I shall come to that. Will you ask me that again when I am finished? Some are and some are not.

Those are the two on the industrial end. Then, of course, we have to tie in all of these other things that have to go with it; the question of employment as a general thing, well, means employment in plants. It means employment in apprenticeship; like the NYA; teaching the CCC boys to do noncombatant work; turning out ground crews for aviation fields; turning out—this sounds silly but it has turned out to be quite an important thing—turning out cooks for the Army and Navy for camps. We have a terrible shortage of cooks. Turning out radiomen, communications people, things of that kind, this general subject of employment, of a noncombatant class. And Mr. Sidney Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, will be in charge of that.

I will tell you, off the record—but for heaven's sake do not attribute it to me because somebody will call me name she is just half way between John Lewis and Bill Green. (Laughter)

Q. [MR. GODWIN] Very well taken.

THE PRESIDENT: That is for guidance but not attribution.(Laughter)

Q. [MR. GODWIN] Half way to what?

THE PRESIDENT: Then, of course, the next big subject is farm products because they all fit into the general picture. Farm products for our own consumption and farm products for shipment outside of the country—and I am asking Mr. Chester C. Davis, who is now on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, to handle the coordination of that.

Then the next is transportation, and Mr. Ralph Budd has been ready, since last September, to take over that—all transportation.

Q. Will you identify him, sir? I have forgotten where he comes from.

THE PRESIDENT: Ralph Budd is Director of the American Railway Engineering Association but I think— Isn't he Chairman of the Board of the C. B. & Q. too?

Q. The Burlington, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Then you come to two elements that we have to take care of. I suggested this in my speech the other night-trying to stabilize prices. The first is the raw material price, and the man who has had the greatest experience in it, representing the Government but also apparently getting on extremely well with a lot of industries, is Leon Henderson, who will do that in addition to his present SEC job, and at the present time, coming back—well, I shall come back to that later—that is not a full-time job.

And finally, the adviser on consumer protection, which is very important, Doris [Miss Fleeson], and we have asked, and she has accepted it subject to the president of her university letting her go, Miss Harriet Elliott, Dean of Women at the University of North Carolina, who has had very long experience in the problems of consumer prices.

Now, coming back to your question, obviously the first two, Mr. Stettinius and Mr. Knudsen, have full-time jobs, right away.

On the employment angle, that will be almost a full-time job from the start, especially in setting up all this training work. The adviser on farm products, Mr. Davis, that, I think, from now on, for a while anyway, will be a part-time job.

Mr. Budd's will definitely be a part-time job; and the first of his work will be setting up the machinery which would become necessary if we get into a transportation jam later on. The main thing for him to do now is to set up his machinery to meet a potential future jam.

Leon Henderson's, as I suggested, is a part-time job. Of course, on price stabilization of raw materials there is very little that needs to be done at the present time, and he would set up what might be called a statistical office to keep in touch with price trends from now on.

In the same way, Miss Harriet Elliott's is only a setting-up job, because she will have to get her machinery to give her, from day to day, the trends on consumer prices in different parts of the country.

Then they are to meet here on Thursday with me, and the work will start. As I said, McReynolds will act as secretary to this body and be a clearinghouse, in a sense, himself. For example, this list of factories and sites, et cetera and so on, would go right to Mac as the secretary of this group of seven; and he would give a copy of each of the things to each of the group of seven so that we could avail ourselves of the offers that have been made in case the group of seven finds we need it. In the same way, the people who have offered their personal services, all of these letters would go over to Mac. They would be listed and turned over to these people who would have to set up certain machinery with new personnel.

And, finally, I think the last part of the story is that I am adding probably two more Administrative Assistants to the President, but I am not yet ready to give you the names. That will be in a few days.

Q. Mr. President, another phase of this program—these new taxes, new national defense taxes that are going to be imposed: Do you believe that some of them should be consumers' taxes, rather? . . .

THE PRESIDENT: My general idea has been that it would be, in effect, a little of what I did in my last year as governor. I was not getting any money at all from Washington for relief, and I had to raise a lot of money to take care of the State of New York's relief, so we put on a flat percentage tax on all existing State taxes. Well, the easiest way of describing it down here, is that any one of you lucky fellows who paid an income tax of a thousand dollars a year, would have to pay another hundred dollars, and if you had to pay a liquor tax, you would have to pay 10 per cent more. In other words, a slight percentage additional tax, based on the percentage of what the present taxes are.

Q. That percentage would be up, on the basis of your income now, would be up—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing]: About six or seven hundred million dollars.

Q. It would have to be a 25 per cent increase, wouldn't it?

THE PRESIDENT: Ten per cent. Your taxes are bringing in now around six billion, six and a half billion.

Q. That is all taxes?

THE PRESIDENT: All taxes, yes.

Q. That includes social security?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no; that is out. That is out.

Q. All excise taxes?[The President indicated in the affirmative.]

Q. Did you say this Commission had no chairman? Did you say there is no chairman of this Commission?

THE PRESIDENT: May [Miss Craig], I do not know. Why bring up the subject? I don't know.

Q. It is hard to function without a chairman.

THE PRESIDENT: Let Mac [Mr. McReynolds] be the chairman; he is the secretary. In other words, let the secretary call the meeting together. I do not know what the procedure will be. I do not think it will be formal. I think it will get on.

Q. Will you have to have a special appropriation to finance this Commission, or have you the funds out of which to pay?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not know. It will be a very small amount, less than a million dollars.

Q. Have you decided where this Commission is going to be housed?

THE PRESIDENT: Going to be housed? Oh, Gosh! I do not know.(Laughter)

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

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