Re-enter the Guilds

Here’s a fact of FDR’s biography which has been almost completely lost to history: exactly 10 years before being elected president, he was elected president… of the American Construction Council.

The highlights of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s political chronology leave a gaping hole in the middle. First he served as a New York state senator from 1911 to 1913, then President Woodrow Wilson named him Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920. That year, he ran as the Democratic vice presidential candidate under nominee James M. Cox, but lost to the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, though it still served to greatly increase Roosevelt’s national name recognition.

Then there comes an eight-year gap, in which his biography becomes rather sparse. The most consequential thing that happened was he contracted polio in 1921 at age 39, which left him paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Then things picked up stream for him again, big time. In 1928, he was elected governor of New York. In 1932, he was elected president of the United States and undertook one of the most consequential presidencies in American history, between the Great Depression and World War II. He served a record 13 years as president until his death in 1945.

So what exactly happened during that eight-year “doughnut hole” period? This 1922 New York Times Magazine article describes one development:

Business is interested in copying the pattern laid down by the guilds because it sees a chance to settle industrial troubles behind closed doors, instead of in the full light shed by printer’s ink. Penalties visited upon offenders against the common good would be expected to compel observance of a rigid trade standard. This new scheme of interior regulation is to get its first trial by business in the construction field, with Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting in judgment.

About two months earlier, on June 21, 1922, another New York Times article (not in the Magazine section) described FDR’s new responsibilities:

The council was organized as a central body for the whole of the building and construction industry of the country to coordinate and standardize efforts for increasing the efficiency of all kinds of construction.

A program was adopted calling for immediate steps toward the solution of the important problems of the construction industry, including the formation of a code of ethics acceptable to the industry and the public, collection of needed statistics, reduction of the national shortage of building mechanics, and the establishment of a necessary apprenticeship system and recommendations for stabilizing the construction industry to mitigate the evils of seasonal employment and the trade migration of labor. 

My research was unable to tell precisely when Roosevelt left that job, though I found confirmation he was still serving in the role in 1927. Presumably, he resigned either later in 1927 or at some point in 1928, because there’s no way he could concurrently serve in both that role and as governor of New York.

Re-enter the Guilds

Published: Sunday, August 27, 1922

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