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From the Boardroom to the War Room

From the Boardroom to the War Room: America's Corporate Liberals and FDR's Preparedness Program

Richard E. Holl
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 202
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  • Book Info
    From the Boardroom to the War Room
    Book Description:

    Between World War I and World War II, America's corporate liberals experienced a profound ideological change. In the 1920s, corporate liberals embraced company-specific solutions to economic problems. They believed that if every company, in every industry, employed advanced managerial techniques -- such as granting workers non-wage benefits to increase their job satisfaction -- employment, production, and profits could be stabilized and prosperity sustained indefinitely. The Great Depression, of course, made a mockery of this idyllic vision. Corporate liberals admitted that private efforts failed to maintain the nation's economic health, ultimately endorsing large-scale government intervention to bail out the stricken economy. By 1935, the corporate liberal conversion from privatism to business-government partnership was well under way. Corporate liberals served President Franklin Roosevelt throughout the Depression and preparedness periods. Marion Folsom of Eastman Kodak Corporation, Edward Stettinius, Jr. of United States Steel, and others joined New Deal agencies struggling to re-employ workers and bring about social security. Later, at Roosevelt's request, they entered emergency preparedness bodies to ready the United States for the possibility of war. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the reconfigured American economy (which the corporate liberals had done so much to create) proved capable of mass producing weapons and other equipment. The bottom line, staunchly revisionist in nature, is that the corporate liberals ran an effective mobilization campaign, overcoming isolationist resistance to rearmament, Roosevelt's reluctance to grant them genuine authority, and other constraints. Richard E. Holl is Professor of History at the Lees College Campus of Hazard Community and Technical College. His latest article, on Axis prisoners of war in Kentucky, won the Collins Award of the Kentucky Historical Society.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-701-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    R. E. H.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    War is almost always an agent of tremendous social change, and World War II proved no exception. Much attention has been devoted to the role of American women in defense plants and to the stimulus that the war provided to the civil rights movement, to name just two examples, but other changes were also important. Indeed, the conjunction of the Great Depression, the late New Deal, and European war fundamentally altered the contours of the modern American state, while U.S. entry into the conflict itself consolidated these changes.

    The personnel and structure of the U.S. state was transformed even before...

  6. Chapter 1 Meet the New Era Corporate Liberals: Supporters of Welfare Capitalism and Hooverian Associationalism
    (pp. 9-21)

    One important characteristic of corporate liberalism has always been its inventiveness. Corporate liberals have understood the importance of adapting their business practices to changing economic and political conditions—they have been proactive, not reactive. Throughout the 1920s, corporate liberals constantly devised and revised various welfare capitalistic schemes, and the widespread, lasting prosperity of that era convinced them that these programs were working exceedingly well. As company welfare proliferated, its proponents made lavish claims about the benefits this approach conferred on individual firms and the economy as a whole.

    The concept of business–government interaction, though less well entrenched in the...

  7. Chapter 2 Bad Times and a New Deal: The Corporate Liberals Accede to Sustained Business–Government Collaboration
    (pp. 22-38)

    The onset of the Great Depression forced the corporate liberals to change their modus operandi. As the welfare-capitalist–associational amalgam proved incapable of effectively addressing unemployment and resultant dislocation, the corporate liberals—reluctantly at first, then with greater enthusiasm—increasingly turned to the federal government for help. The new emphasis on extensive collaboration between big business and big government was a means to a familiar end: corporate liberals still wanted to achieve order, efficiency, and prosperity within the framework of a modified, strengthened corporate capitalism, while retaining maximum managerial autonomy. The difference was the resort to constant, sustained interaction with...

  8. Chapter 3 The Unready State
    (pp. 39-53)

    Throughout the 1930s, corporate liberals had devoted themselves to problems related to the Great Depression. Returning stability and profitability to the national economy, reemployment, social security, taxation, and reorganization of government ranked highest among their interests. Even before the corporate liberals’ job was done, however, events abroad nagged at them and increasingly captured their attention, time, and energy. After July 1939, their focus gradually shifted from depression at home to war in Asia and Europe. Many corporate liberals, including Edward Stettinius, Robert Wood, and Averell Harriman, changed positions in government, moving from domestic agencies concerned with employment, income, and welfare...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. 54-59)
  10. Chapter 4 The Corporate Liberals, the War Resources Board, and Industrial Mobilization Planning
    (pp. 60-81)

    President Roosevelt set up the War Resources Board (WRB) to study mobilization of American industry for war. FDR recognized that, should war come, production of arms and munitions by private firms for supply to fighting men would be every bit as important as military strategy and tactics.¹ It followed logically that industrialists and manufacturers, as well as generals and admirals, needed to be consulted about contingency planning. Roosevelt responded to bureaucratic incapacity—more precisely, a lack of governmental knowledge about intricate, hands-on production matters—by drafting business experts who could be expected to fill this void. The loyalty and availability...

  11. Chapter 5 Preparedness Proper: The Corporate Liberals and the National Defense Advisory Commission
    (pp. 82-102)

    The complexion of the European war changed dramatically in the spring of 1940, necessitating an American state-building response. German victories in Scandinavia and the Low Countries compelled President Roosevelt to make a decision that he had put off for many months. After reviewing his options, he returned to the concept of business– government cooperation, reviving the moribund National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC) in order to spur industrial mobilization. NDAC’s most important leadership posts went to corporate liberals, who again supplied their knowledge of production and distribution to the federal government. Under corporate liberal direction, contingency planning yielded to institutional experimentation,...

  12. Chapter 6 One Step Short of War: The Corporate Liberals and the Office of Production Management
    (pp. 103-124)

    Axis advances in Europe and Asia during the last part of 1940 fueled demands for a more effective American preparedness agency. The result was the creation of the Office of Production Management (OPM), staffed by corporate liberals who moved over from the National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC). A greater sense of urgency gripped them now, as the rush of events broadened the scope of their activities, increased overall defense production demands, and drew the United States deeper into the escalating conflict. In the spring of 1941, lend-lease replaced cash-and-carry, permitting the United States to supply arms and munitions to the...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 125-138)

    Corporate liberal thought changed dramatically from 1920 to 1941. During the New Era, corporate liberals espoused welfare capitalism. Private approaches to economic questions still predominated. A few corporate liberals, like Henry Dennison, did welcome Hooverian associationalism, but the contacts between business and government were infrequent and brief compared to the later period. The Great Depression forced corporate liberals to adjust course; increasingly, they forsook welfare capitalism and informal public–private linkages in favor of sustained periods of service within the federal government. Intelligent collaboration between big business and big government, for the purpose of economic renewal, became their new credo....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 139-170)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-182)
  16. Index
    (pp. 183-192)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-193)