The beginning of the 1942 Christmas season in the United States was an exceptional time. The country was entering the second year of a global war, which led to many men and women being away from their families, either in uniform, or working afar in war-related industries. Common consumer goods were subject to shortages, rationing, and higher prices. There was a demand to increase wages to reflect a higher cost of living and also due to labor shortages. The need to keep the economy in check from both raising wages and prices resulted in the federal government creating a number of regulatory boards. One such entity was the National War Labor Board (NWLB, or War Labor Board), created by Executive Order 9,017 on January 12, 1942.
The NWLB had the authority to set wages for different industries and occupations. This power was expanded under the provisions of titles II and III of Executive Order 9,250, of October 3, 1942. Section 1 of Title II of this executive order provided
1. No increases in wage rates, granted as a result of voluntary agreement, collective bargaining, conciliation, arbitration, or otherwise, and no decreases in wage rates, shall be authorized unless notice of such increases or decreases shall have been filed with the National War Labor Board, and unless the National War Labor Board has approved such increases or decreases.
As with almost all other labor areas during WWII, the duties of Santa Claus, particularly those of his public helpers who greet shoppers and children, came to be examined by the NWLB. On December 4, 1942, the board issued a press release concerning pay increases for Santa’s public helpers.
The Board felt that due to the need for speed, Christmas being less than three weeks off, and the likely small amount of wages involved, raises for Santa would not fall within its normal administrative review. However, the Board only applied this decision to what we would think of as “traditional Santas,” those who wear “…red robes, white whisker and other well recognized accoutrements benefiting their station in life…” and who had a “…kindly and jolly disposition…” In other words, no Santas like the grouch in A Christmas Story, who shoved Ralphie down the slide after lecturing him about the safety of his desired air rifle!
Also, due to the scarcity of sugar, Santas were no doubt told to dispense more joy and jolly laughs and fewer candy canes!