Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Elizabeth V. Faue




Angella LaNette Smith

August of 2015

Advisor: Dr. Elizabeth Faue

Major: History

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation seeks to place the National Recovery Administration (NRA), a central agency of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, in historical context. It explores the NRA’s origins in the political agendas and ideological arguments of presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as they reshaped the federal government’s role in bringing about an end to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The dissertation most closely focuses on Roosevelt’s enactment of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, the response of the Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation in the automobile sector, and the petroleum industry to the NRA’s passage. The approval and implementation of industrial codes established minimum price levels and production controls for petroleum commodities that reformed the oil sector; but they also generated opposition to the New Deal.

Following recent studies, this dissertation argues that, through the New Deal, President Roosevelt sought to expand the roles that federal government played vis-à-vis everyday citizens. Roosevelt realized that Americans required financial assistance of the federal government when there was an economic downturn or collapse that was beyond their control. Similarly, this dissertation argues that, with the emergence of the NIRA and section 7(a), collective bargaining and trade unionism came to the forefront and provided American workers with more tangible rights and benefits. If President Roosevelt had not restructured the economy by providing relief to ordinary Americans and promoting industrial reforms, then the United States might not have recovered or recovered as robustly from the Great Depression. Certainly, the nation’s economic and political structures were altered by the “bold experiment” of the NRA and the New Deal as a whole. Finally, the NRA did, in fact, have an impact on ordinary citizens through the slow decline of unemployment and an increase in hourly wage rates. From the corporate perspective, the power of the regulatory state, as embodied in the National Recovery Administration, had to be resisted; still, the NRA was but one example of the further intervention of government power in the private market.

In step with other studies, the dissertation contextualizes the New Deal by contrasting Roosevelt’s approach from that of his predecessor, Herbert Hoover’s steadfast belief in American Individualism and self-help as the foundation of his approach to the economic crisis. He believed that everyday Americans could pull themselves up by the bootstraps and become economically viable without federal intervention. Hoover promoted private charities and local relief, not public sector involvement to address the problems of deprivation and destitution among ordinary Americans. In the end, even as he created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which was a first step toward the New Deal, Hoover became a severe critic of Roosevelt’s policies. In contrast, Roosevelt’s NRA experiment, despite opposition and its dismantling in the wake of Supreme Court decisions, became a milestone in the growth of presidential power in the twentieth century and furthered the integration of federal government agencies into the private sector.