Today In History: FDR Rolls Back ‘Franksgiving’ Policy
Today in 1941, president Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be held on the fourth Thursday of November. It was a reversal of a disastrous policy he had attempted to implement, moving the holiday earlier in the month.
Thanksgiving was established as a federal holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Lincoln established that Thanksgiving would always fall on the fourth Thursday of November. A rule that held, unchallenged, until 1939. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in an attempt to bolster the American economy in the waning years of the Great Depression, declared that Thanksgiving would take place on the second to last, rather than the last, Thursday. He believed that this would improve retail sales. It was a very unpopular decision, nicknamed “Franksgiving” by a disgruntled Thomas D. Taggart, Jr, mayor of Atlantic City. The name stuck.
The Roosevelt administration made its decision after goading from Lew Hahn, head of the Retail Dry Goods Association. Hahn believed that the 1939 Thanksgiving was so late (November 30) that it would cut into Christmas marketing time. In 1939, it was poor taste to put out Christmas merchandise before Thanksgiving had passed. Backlash against Franksgiving was immediate, issuing mostly from centers of Republican influence in New England. Alf Landon, who had run against Roosevelt in the foregoing election, even compared him to Hitler. Mostly, Americans were incensed that the late announcement forced them to change their Holiday plans on short notice. An estimated 62% of all Americans opposed the switch, though Democrats favored it significantly more than Republicans.
Despite the pushback, Roosevelt announced that the same early date would be upheld for the following year, and then once again in 1941. The Commerce Department took a survey in 1941 that indicated no noticeable improvement in retail sales due to the switch.
On November 26, 1941, Roosevelt re-designated the fourth Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day. Most states, who had been permitted to choose whether or not to celebrate Thanksgiving on the traditional date or on Roosevelt’s advanced timeline, switched back to the fourth Thursday. Some states celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, though that stopped for good in 1956.