Franksgiving - one more lesson from the Great Depression

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Faced with the scale of the current financial crisis, many economists have turned to the Great Depression to look for policy lessons. Tyler Cowen, a professor at George Mason University, shared his thoughts on the topic recently in the New York Times. His take? The New Deal Didn’t Always Work, Either. Faced with an unprecedented crisis, Roosevelt experimented with a mix of policies, and some worked and some did not.

Here's one of the (now long-forgotten) policies that did not work: Franksgiving. Nowadays, the U.S. celebrates the holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. It wasn't always that way, though. Traditionally, Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Every few years, there are five Thursdays in the month of November, and 1939 was one of those years. Unfortunately for retailers, this meant that the Christmas shopping season would be very short.

Enter Lew Hahn, general manager of the National Retail Dry Goods Association. He suggested that the date of Thanksgiving be moved forward to help boost retail sales. In late October 1939, Roosevelt announced that Thanksgiving would be on November 23 rather than November 30. National outcry ensued, and Thanksgiving was christened with the name Franksgiving (after Roosevelt's first name). Alf Landon, Roosevelt's opponent in the preceding election, compared Roosevelt's actions to Hitler's:

If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out... instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler."

The result? At least according to Wikipedia (no citation is given), the Commerce Department found no significant expansion of retail sales. The only lasting consequence is that Congress eventually changed the law to establish the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving. This year Thanksgiving falls on the 27th, so Americans will have just under four weeks for holiday shopping. Perhaps it won't be enough to revive the global economy, but it's better than only three weeks.

And if you were wondering about the last name, the answer is yes... Lew Hahn was my great grandfather. Happy Franksgiving!


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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