During the Great Depression, Father’s Day was promoted as “second Christmas”

The path to widely celebrating Father’s Day was paved with neckties.
The path to widely celebrating Father’s Day was paved with neckties.
Image: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Father’s Day started without a profit motive in 1909, when a woman named Sonora Louise Smart Dodd heard a church sermon in honor of Mother’s Day and thought her father, a widower who had raised six children on his own, deserved to be honored in the same way.

But it wasn’t long before establishing Father’s Day on the American calendar became mostly about the gifts, and the companies that sell them.

At one point in 1929, the tobacco and necktie industries realized they had set two different dates for Father’s Day celebrations. While women’s clubs and necktie organizations favored June 21st, tobacco companies had planned campaigns for June 14th. “The parent in whose honor the day has been set aside was said to be less interested regarding the proper day for the celebration than were the mothers and the various stores which had expected to do good business,” noted the New York Times.

The commercialization of the holiday continued as it became more popular. At the end of the Great Depression, the National Retail Dry Goods Association promoted Father’s Day to merchants as a “second Christmas” and released a 16-page publication entitled “How to Sell More Goods for Father’s Day.”

While there were other factors that helped Father’s Day transition from a mocked and debated custom to a mainstream holiday—including the shifting role of fathers in the household—industry devoted itself to the cause.

The same year the National Retail Dry Goods Association spread its tips for turning Father’s Day into Christmas, industry leaders formed a National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day. Among their projects were  hosting a $5,000-prize competition for painting a Father’s Day poster.

Two years later, in 1940, the president of men’s clothing company F. R. Tripler & Co. urged retailers and manufacturers of men’s clothing gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to promote Father’s Day by using Father’s Day stamps on their mail and setting up window displays.

Father’s Day did not become an official national holiday until 1972, almost 60 years after Mother’s Day. At that point, according to American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia, retail sales associated with the holiday were worth more than $1 billion per year.

This year, the National Retail Federation estimates they’ll be worth $15.5 billion—a new record.