Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gaines Foster


During the 1920s, chain stores exploded in numbers throughout the country. Chains claimed to provide mass distribution for a mass production age. According to their executives, traditional retailing raised the cost of living and interfered with prosperity. Small retailers countered these claims by arguing that corporate retailing endangered prosperity because it concentrated ownership in the hands of a few and stripped wealth from the local community. In 1929 and 1930, anti-chain radio broadcasts sparked popular interest in the chains. Critics accused the chains of using their financial might to sell products below cost and drive competitors out of business. They also alleged that chains bilked the public by selling shoddy or short weight products, evading taxes, and cutting services like credit and delivery. Encouraged by these attacks, trade associations throughout the nation sponsored boycotts of the chains. When these campaigns failed to close the chains, retailers shifted their focus to government action. The Capper-Kelly bill would have allowed manufacturers to set retail prices, but it failed to pass through Congress. On a state level, storeowners succeeded in passing special taxes against the chains in more than half of the states, but independent retailers continued to falter. Many storeowners hoped President Roosevelt's recovery efforts would protect them against chain growth. Although the National Recovery Administration disappointed most storeowners, the experience encouraged them to push for other legislation. After the demise of the NRA, small retailers lobbied for the Robinson-Patman Act and the Miller-Tydings Act. These laws controlled chain buying and selling practices. As the 1930s progressed, however, small retailers realized that these laws would not stop the growth of the chains. Because of concerns about consumer prices and the efficiency of the economy, the Roosevelt administration resisted attempts to control the chains further. Independent retailers could no longer hope for government attacks on the chains.