Tag Archives: Franklin D. Roosevelt

He Knew his ABCs

FDR and some of his New Deal federal agencies

Perhaps feeling justified during a time of war, in 1943 Congressman Hampton P. Fulmer decided to push back against a cranky voter.  The South Carolina Democrat, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, had received a complaint from Eugene M. Biggers of Houston, Texas concerning the plethora of federal agencies created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—“Alphabetical Agencies,” as they were called, because of the acronyms by which they were known: the NRA (National Recovery Act), WPA (Works Progress Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and so on. 

“I would like to know just what line of business you are engaged in,” the congressman challenged Biggers.  “In the next place, I would like to know whether or not you would prefer going back to the conditions which existed in every line of business in 1930-33,” referring, of course to America’s tumble into the Depression.

Biggers, meanwhile, had been busy compiling a list of agencies and offering copies to interested parties.  The response, he found, was overwhelming.  Small businesses, taxpayers associations, educational groups, farmers, and the press clamored for confirmation of what many had long maintained: that these “damnable Bureaus,” as Biggers wrote, were wasteful, oppressive, and manipulative, run by “fan-tailed theorists” burdening the American people with regulations and regimentation.  In a three-page reply to Congressman Fulmer, Biggers railed against the “Roosevelt New Deal Party” and, despite the war, presented an unapologetic indictment of the “experimenters in Washington” who had imposed themselves between producers and their markets and upended the laws of supply and demand.

And just what was Biggers’ line of business?  Unfortunately for Congressman Fulmer, it was printing.  Even without the internet, he was well positioned to “go viral” with his views.  He offered, for the low price of $1 per hundred, a reproduction of the congressman’s letter, his own response, and his list of 104 “Alphabetical Agencies” (out of a total of 2,241 agencies, bureaus and commissions that he had uncovered) as souvenirs of “the goofiest period in America’s history.” 

These printed materials created by Eugene M. Biggers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Railroad Man

Bowling Green depot, 1936; Morehead Hotel, 1921

Bowling Green depot, 1936; Morehead Hotel, 1921

Edwin “Ed” Tanksley (1898-1975) joined the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in 1925.  By the time he retired in 1960, he had witnessed many changes in the railroad industry and its significance for his home city of Bowling Green, Kentucky.  The transcript of a 1967 interview in which Tanksley talks about his long career is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

As a clerk and then a yardman, Tanksley became closely acquainted with the mechanics of train operation and the skill of his fellow workers.  There was Smith Wood, “one of the grandest men you ever saw handle a throttle,” able to “tool those big steam engines around these bends in the track and not spill a drop of coffee.”  There was engineer “Grandma” Garr, known for his love of buttermilk, and John “Dink” Petty, a wizard on the air brakes who could give his crew in the caboose a whiplash-free ride.  Their jobs could be stressful: Tanksley recalled the anguish of engineers unable to stop their trains to avoid hitting someone on the tracks.  There were also hazards in the yard, especially for those handling the couplers between rail cars.  “I used to work with men that didn’t have but two or three fingers left on a hand because they would get them pinched off,” he remembered.

Tanksley became familiar with many of the Bowling Green hotels that catered to railroad employees and the traveling public in the 1920s and 1930s.  There were the upscale hotels, the Mansard and the Morehead, the smaller Webb Hotel, operated by a former railroad conductor, and the Rauscher House, known for its good food.  Travelers on a layover in Bowling Green could pass the time at 5-cent picture shows, or at the Potter Opera House being entertained by minstrel companies whose actors and scenery came to town via the railroad.

The railroad also brought many VIPs through Bowling Green.  Tanksley remembered evangelist Mordecai Ham and whistle stops by governors, senators and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  FDR was a “railroad man’s friend,” said Tanksley.  The Railroad Retirement Act, a piece of New Deal legislation that provided pensions to those two- and three-fingered retirees, was “the reason a railroad man is pretty crazy about Franklin D.”

Click here to access a finding aid for Ed Tanksley’s interview.  For more collections on railroads, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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