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Roosevelt's penchant for experimenting guided his chief measure for industrial revival, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and his choice of the man he put in command of it, General Hugh ("Ironpants") Johnson. A profane and red-faced ex-cavalryman, an admirer of Mussolini and good bourbon, West Pointer Johnson had spent the war years spurring the Selective Service System and applying the whip to the War Industries Board, which supervised the manufacturing and sale of military supplies.
The NRA badly needed a human whirlwind like Johnson. Roosevelt described the act, when he signed it in June, as "the most important and far-reaching legislation ever enacted by the American Congress," but it was actually an ill-considered amalgam of two conflicting and somewhat unrealistic strategies. To revive production, which had dropped by almost 50% since 1929, the NRA invited all employers within a given industry to ignore the antitrust laws and draw up their own "codes of fair competition." That implicitly permitted not only production curbs but legalized price fixing. On the other hand, to stop the rapid spread of wage cuts and unpaid overtime, the NRA codes were also supposed to include such things as minimum wages (set at $12 a week), maximum hours (40), a ban on child labor and a guarantee of the right to organize unions.
All these innovations had to be negotiated by each industry under the aegis of General Johnson, who characteristically summed up the social philosophy of cooperating for the sake of recovery as "that blah-blah." All through the sweltering summer of 1933, bands of lobbyists and executives wandered in and out of Washington offices, trying to figure out which code covered them and what it was supposed to say. Johnson managed to get the entire cotton textile industry organized in June. But Henry Ford, who accounted for 21% of all auto sales, refused to have anything to do with such Government interference, and Johnson had no power to coerce anyone except by threatening "a punch in the nose." What Johnson did have was an instinctive genius for what came to be known by a newly popular word: ballyhoo.
Johnson sketched himself a symbol, a blue eagle clutching a cogwheel and a sheaf of lightning bolts, to be displayed by all employers who complied with the new codes. Then he called for a public boycott of anyone who refused. He asked for union volunteers to act as monitors. And Boy Scouts too. He even used Army Air Corps bombers to ship NRA banners and placards around the country. Said Johnson: "When every American housewife understands that the Blue Eagle on everything that she permits to come into her home is a symbol of its restoration to security, may God have mercy on the man or group of men who attempt to trifle with this bird."
It worked. Drafts of NRA codes began pouring in; there were 144 in July. In September, New York celebrated the NRA with the biggest parade in the city's history; some 250,000 marchers poured down Fifth Avenue to the strains of Happy Days Are Here Again. There were