Government help for small business at the end of World War II

Government help for small business at the end of World War II

Buddy Roehmer

The current GOP-lobby-multinationals attack on ‘government’, root and branch–that would be our government they’re talking about–is as amnesic as it is uncivic-minded.

Roosevelt calls for a second Bill of Rights

When World War II ended, with a million U.S. troops home and needing to make a living, the U.S. government had a policy of helping both businesses and unions. The Roosevelt and Truman administrations strongly supported small business.


The titles tell the story:

  • Establishing and operating a beauty shop /prepared by Edith E. Gordon, under the direction of H. B. McCoy, the Bureau of foreign and domestic commerce . . . in cooperation with members of the cosmetologists’ associations. Published Madison, Wis. : United States Armed Forces Institute [1945]
  • Establishing and operating a book store . . . Sorel, Paul. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Govt. print. off. [1946]
  • Establishing and operating a bookkeeping service . . . by Charles H. Sevin, under the direction of E. R. Hawkins. Washington, D.C. : Markting Division, Office of Domestic Commerce, Unites States Dept. of Commerce [1947]
  • Establishing and operating a confectionery-tobacco store . . . by George F. Dudik. Washington, D.C. : Foodstuffs, Fats and Oils Section, Office of Domestic Commerce, United States Dept. of Commerce [1946]
  • Establishing and operating a dry cleaning business. Trimble, Paul C. [Washington, War Dept., 1945]
  • Establishing and operating a gift and art shop . . . by Arthur J. Peel ; written under the supervision of the Marketing division, Office of domestic commerce.
  • Establishing and operating a grocery store, by Nelson A. Miller, Harvey W. Huegy, and associates: E. R. Hawkins, Charles H. Sevin . . . [and others] under the direction of Walter F. Crowder, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce . . . in co-operation with the National Association of Retail Grocers and members of the trade. Trade Review Committee: Mrs. R.M. Kiefer, National Association of Retail Grocers; Carl Dipman, the Progressive Grocer. [Madison, Wis.] United States Armed Forces Institute [1945]

Branches of the federal government (including the War Department) published dozens of books, drawing on thousands of accumulated wartime personnel hours of experience in everything from acquisition to distribution, to help homecoming service members who wanted to become entrepreneurs. There are some sixty “Establishing and operating . . .” guides on starting a business in hardware, heating and plumbing, jewelry, mail-order distribution, music, real estate, insurance brokerage, etc. All were published by government agencies except one title (possibly a copy-cat) from McGraw-Hill on establishing and operating a drug store.


Helping small businesses get started

There were more publications for small business. The U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce published books on small business finance, books on how a small business could obtain loans, on dealing with regulation, on dealing with a bank, on government financial aids to small business, on trade marks, on employee suggestions, etc.

All of this was part of a concerted action undertaken by the administration, which also encouraged supportive legislation in Congress: at least 187 bills were considered in the 1943-44 Congress on behalf of small business, according to a digest by Burt W. Roper (1946). Some Republicans in Congress supported boosting small business—partly because some of them had been in business themselves, as had Harry Truman, and partly because they preferred it to supporting labor unions—while others quietly opposed it. Incidentally, there had also been serious work on the impact of the war itself on small business.

Administration policy was of course guided by political instinct: the people of America in 1944 were looking forward to the end of the war. Patriotic Americans knew world war to be unnatural and obscene, a collapse of law and justice, the reverse of life and vitality. Americans viewed themselves as significantly different from Germans, or at least from Germans who grew up under the Third Reich and before, and were proud of it. That was partly why they were so supportive of the war against fascism. Thus in 1943 the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, was already publishing books such as Community action for post-war jobs & profits. In 1944 the GPO put out A sound plan for post-war roads and jobs, by Charles M. Upham, who also authored A study for the consideration of the American road builders’ association Committee on the postwar highway program in 1943, published by the American Road Builders Association.


Jogging the motivation to look ahead, populist presses and leftwing publishers were also putting out books, pamphlets and articles on post-war planning, of course, and on a vastly broader scale, every recruit and family knew that coming home at the end of World War II would not be the end of the story. They knew that after surviving, the next step would be making a living. They also remembered the Depression and did not want a repeat.

Postwar jobs approved

Fortunately for the United States, in 1943, 1944 and beyond the nation was not beset by a huge and hugely funded lobbying industry trying to define this awareness as somehow unnatural and wrong. Quiet efforts at union-busting continued, and top executives tried to be persuasive in Washington—and succeeded—but any large U.S. company that had openly tried to relocate offshore at that time, or that had tried to replace U.S. workers with overseas hirees in undeveloped nations, or that had tried to evade U.S. taxes by doing so, would have been pilloried.


More later

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