Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989 (Record Group 233)
Chapter 7. Records of the Commerce Committees and Its Predecessors
Table of Contents
Records of Committees Relating to Claims 1794-1946 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States
Committees discussed in this chapter:
- Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (1795-1819)
- Committee on Manufactures (1819-1911)
- Committee on Commerce (1819-1892)
- Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (1892-1968)
- Committee on Industrial Arts and Expositions (1903-1927)
Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (1892-1968)
7.49 The Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce came into existence in 1892 when the name of the Committee on Commerce was changed "apparently in order to placate a losing candidate for Speaker of the House who was to become its chairman, by providing a more dignified sounding name."5 Though the name change was not due to a change in jurisdiction, the committee did experience some jurisdictional changes during the 1880's and 1890's.
7.50 During most of the 19th century, there had been some inconsistency in the referral of certain customs-related matters. After 1895, however, the jurisdiction over customs districts, ports of entry and delivery, the transportation of dutiable goods, and officers and employees in the customs service passed to the Committee on Ways and Means. Similarly, for many years after the establishment of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee in December 1887, the division of jurisdiction over various matters relating to water transportation between the new committee and the Committee on Commerce (later, the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee) was inconsistently applied, but progressively more of these issues were referred to the Merchant Marine Committee. In 1935 the House rule that defined committee jurisdictions finally dropped the phrase that referred matters relating to the Lifesaving Service and lighthouses to the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. That same year, however, the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce acquired jurisdiction over radio-related matters from the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.
7.51 After passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the House rules defined the jurisdiction of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee as follows: Interstate and foreign commerce generally; regulation of interstate and foreign transportation, except transportation by water not subject to the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission; regulation of interstate and foreign communications; civil aeronautics; weather bureau; interstate oil compacts; petroleum and natural gas, except on the public lands; securities and exchanges; regulation of interstate transmission of power, except the installation of connections between Government water power projects; railroad labor and railroad retirement and unemployment, except revenue measures relating thereto; public health and quarantine; inland waterways; the Bureau of Standards and the standardization of weights and measures and the metric system.
7.52 Because of the pervasive influence of commercial activity in American life, it was perhaps inevitable that the jurisdiction of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee frequently overlapped with that of other committees. A committee print from 1974 stated that the committee's jurisdiction overlapped with the jurisdiction of over half of the House committees.
Records of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 52d- 79th Congresses (1892-1946)
|Record Type||Volume||Congress (dates)|
|Minute Books||23 vols.||53d-56th (1893-1901), 60th-78th (1907-44)|
|Docket Books||45 vols.||53d-78th (1893-1944)|
|Petitions & Memorials||49 ft.||52d-69th (1891-1927), 71st-79th (1929-46)|
|Committee Papers||74 ft.||58th-79th (1903-46)|
|Bill files||81 ft.||16th-51st (1819-91)|
|TOTAL:||204 ft. and 68 vols. (7 ft.)|
7.53 The records of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce include a nearly complete set of bound minutes and docket volumes for this time period. The entries in the minute books include information on dates of committee hearings and witnesses who testified, as well as minutes of other committee meetings. Minutes of subcommittee meetings also appear in the volumes for the 67th Congress (1921-23) and the 72d-78th Congresses (1931-44). Roll call votes of the committee are also recorded in the minute books beginning with the 67th Congress.
7.54 Docket books list the bills, petitions, and other documents referred to the committee. From the 53d to 59th Congresses (1893-1907), entries for those matters that were referred to the executive branch for comment include brief notes regarding the executive agency position on the proposal. Two docket volumes are available for some time periods. For the 60th to 64th Congresses (1907-17), separate docket volumes were created to track bills the committee received that had originated in the Senate. From the 70th to 78th Congresses (1927-44), there are volumes containing entries on all subjects referred to the committee but also separate volumes that track only bills relating to bridges.
7.55 Petitions and memorials, with resolutions of State legislatures and other groups, are occasionally accompanied by a number of other types of documents, such as trade association newsletters, maps, and reports and communications from Federal agencies. The petitions and memorials themselves take several forms. They may be manuscript, typewritten, or printed. Many of the documents are letters, telegrams, or postcards, rather than petitions and memorials in the more formal sense. As is the case during other time periods, the committee sometimes received numerous copies of identical petitions, memorials, or letters from different persons or groups. There are also some rolled petitions. Besides State legislatures and private individuals, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, trade associations, labor unions, farm groups, church congregations and other religious groups, and women's clubs appear as petitioners and memorialists.
7.56 Transportation issues continue to be the focus of many memorials referred to the retitled committee, although the focus is no longer on water but on land transportation, reflecting the enormous expansion of railroads and the development of motor vehicles during the period from 1892 to 1946. During the 1870's, the Midwestern States became the first to enact regulatory legislation in response to charges by farmers and businessmen of unjust discrimination in railroad rates, but in 1886 the Supreme Court, in Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railway Company v. Illinois, severely restricted the ability of the States to enact laws that affected interstate commerce. In response, on February 4, 1887, the Federal Government enacted the Interstate Commerce Act. The act, which originated in the Senate but was referred to the Committee on Commerce in the House, prohibited railroads from engaging in such practices as rebates, long and short haul rate discrimination, and pools involving ratefixing and profitsharing agreements among railroad companies. A permanent board, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), was appointed to supervise administration of the new law. The Interstate Commerce Act set the stage for an explosive increase in governmental regulation of commerce in which the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce would play a leading role. This activity is a dominant topic among the petitions and memorials.
7.57 The original Interstate Commerce Act did not fare well in the Supreme Court, and by 1897 the ICC had become virtually powerless. Legislation enacted during the first decade of the 20th century, however, did much to reinvigorate it. Petitions referred to the committee from 1891 to 1913 called for strengthening of the ICC's powers in general (52A-H9.1, 55A. H9.2, 56A-H10.1, 57A-H11.1, 62A-H14.7) and the power to set reasonable rates in particular (55A-H9.6, 58A-H10.5, 58A-H10.12, 58A- H10.13, 59A-H11.1, 60A-H16.17). Other petitions deal with specific grievances against the railroads, such as difficulties obtaining railroad cars for shipments and slow delivery time (59A-H11.7, 60A- H16.16, 65A-H6.3).
7.58 Some of the petitions and memorials object to the restrictions on railroads. There are, for example, memorials calling for legalization of pooling under certain limited circumstances (53A-H14.7, 60A-H16.3), as well as memorials against such a change (55A-H9.11). Newspapermen who had received free railroad passes in exchange for publishing railroad schedules in their newspapers sought an exemption to the provision of the Hepburn Act of 1906 that prohibited free passes to anyone but railroad employees (62A-H14.10). From the 71st to 78th Congress (1929-44), there are petitions for a rollback of some of the regulations that had been enacted, such as the requirement that the ICC approve mergers and prohibitions against certain ratemaking procedures (71A-H7.1, 74A-H6.6, 76A-H12.5, 78A-H8.5). Other petitions, dating from 1925 to 1933, call for regulation of motor buses and trucks as a matter of fairness to the railroads (69A-H6.11, 71A-H7.3, 72A-H6.4).
7.59 Regulation of railroad labor practices were the subject of petitions from railroad employees, their unions, and other interested persons during the early 20th century. These pertain to such issues as employment qualifications, passes for employees and their families, the number of hours that employees could work, strikes, retirement, and other issues (58A-H10.10, 59A-H11.5, 63A-H12.12, 64A-H11.9, 65A-H6.5, 73A-H8.8, 74A-H6.3, 76A-H12.8, 79A-H8.13). Railroad safety appliances and procedures, such as automatic couplers, air brakes, electric signals, accident reporting, automatic cleaning of ash pans, and punishment of trainwreckers and robbers, received the support of numerous memorialists and petitioners (52A-H9.11, 53A-H14.8, 57A-H11.11, 59A-H11.8, 60A-H16.15, 63A-H12.18).
7.60 The railroads were the first industry to come under strong Federal regulations, but others soon followed. Calls for regulation of the food processing and drug industries led to the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 and subsequent legislation, though not without protest from business interests. Numerous petitions and memorials, dating from 1897 to 1915, concern such issues as the mixture of flour, imitation dairy products, ingredients in baking powder, labeling and standardization of product ingredients and weights and measures, grain inspection, food preservatives, and cold storage requirements (55A-H9.15, 56A-H10.5, 57A-H11.9, 58A-H10.7, 59A-H11.6, 60A-H16.14, 62A- H14.6, 63A-H12.3).
7.61 Petitions and memorials, dating mostly from before 1920, address issues relating to the regulation of numerous other industries, including the telephone and telegraph (53A-H14.6, 54a- H14.6, 60A-H16.19, 63A-H12.10, 65A-H6.13), coal (63A-H12.2; 65A-H6.3; 66A-H10.4, 66A-H10.12; 72A- H6.2), paint (60A-H16.12), and clothing industries (62A-H14.11, 63A-H12.13, 66A-H10.18, 69A-H6.19), and later the airline (75A-H7.2, 78A-H8.1) and petroleum industries (76A-H12.7).
7.62 Clearly the new governmental activism was not viewed by everyone as an improvement. Several memorials from the 60th Congress (1907-09) call for a friendlier legislative attitude toward corporations so that business might have a chance to recover from the economic slump (60A-H16.2). Letters from paint manufacturers in 1908 counsel Congress that, while "each Congressman's constituency apparently expects him to prove his stewardship by the introduction of legislative bills, nevertheless we take the liberty of suggesting to you that the present is an excellent opportunity for letting well enough alone." (60A-H16.12) Some small businessmen, on the other hand, led the call for certain restrictions on commerce, calling for taxation of the interstate mail order business (63A-H12.22, 64A- H11.18) and price maintenance legislation to prevent the price cutting associated with the developing chain stores (63A-H12.16, 69A-H6.12, 71A-H7.1, 74A-H6.5). As World War I was raging in Europe, the committee received petitions asking Congress to impose embargoes on exports of food, petroleum, and munitions in order to keep prices from escalating at home, while a few farmers wrote to object to an embargo (63A-H12.4, 64A-H11.4, 64A-H11.10, 64A-H11.12).
7.63 Americans turned to the Federal Government with its exclusive power over interstate commerce to resolve a host of perceived imperfections in society. Petitions from the years 1893 to 1921 called for laws to suppress interstate traffic relating to lotteries and gambling (53A-H14.11, 60A-H16.5, 66A-H10.8), smoking (55A-H9.13), liquor (58A-H10.8, 60A-H16.11, 61A-H13.6), obscene material (54A-H14.10), pictures of suicides (55A-H9.14), and pictures or descriptions of prize fights (55A-H9.19). During the 1930's, the committee received numerous petitions deploring the moral standards of Hollywood movies and asking the Federal Government to require licenses for films intended for interstate and foreign distribution and to prohibit the film studios from imposing block booking requirements on local movie theaters (71A-H7.2, 72A-H6.3, 74A-H6.4, 75A-H7.7, 76A-H12.6).
7.64 Another substantial section of the petitions and memorials concerns water transportation issues. Even though most of the committee's jurisdiction over these subjects had passed to either the Committee on Rivers and Harbors or the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries long before 1946, there remains a considerable body of records referred to the committee on these issues. They cover the entire period, 1892 to 1946, but most date from before 1925. Included are documents regarding proposed bridges and dams (52A-H9.1, 53A-H14.1, 54A-H14.3, 56A-H10.1, 57A-H11.2, 58A-H10.1, 62A-H14.2, 63A-H12.7, 65A-H7.1, 67A-H7.5); the interoceanic canal (52A-H9.2, 53A-H14.1, 54A-H14.7, 55A-H9.9, 56A-H10.3, 62A-H14.13, 63A-H12.8); lighthouses and other aids to navigation (52A- H9.7, 53A-H14.5, 55A-H9.1, 56A-H10.8, 58A-H10.3, 60A-H16.10); registry laws, subsidies, and other issues relating to American shipping (52A-G9.6, 55A-H9.12, 58A-H10.11, 60A-H16.20, 63A-H12.19, 65A- H6.14); the Lifesaving Service, Revenue-Cutter Service, Marine Hospital Service, and Coast Guard (52A- H9.4, 56A-H10.11, 57A-H11.6, 58A-H10.9, 60A-H16.9, 61A-H13.5, 62A-H14.16, 63A-H12.20, 66A-H10.3, 67A- H7.8); and, from 1931 to 1946, proposals for a waterway from the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes (72A-H6.8, 73A-H8.1, 76A-H12.9, 77A-H7.5, 79A-H8.7).
7.65 Two-thirds of the committee papers for the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce from 1892 to 1946 consists of records relating to the committee's investigation during the 73d Congress (1933-35) of the ownership and control of communications companies. Most of the records of the investigation are arranged by company and consist of company responses to the committee questionnaire, with organization charts, annual reports and other printed materials relating to the companies, historical background and statistical information, notes, charts, analyses of information collected, and drafts of the sections of the committee report pertaining to the companies. There are also investigative work papers; memorandums; data provided by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Department of Commerce, and the Federal Radio Commission; lists; an abstract of the Communications Act of 1934; magazine articles and newspaper clippings; correspondence with companies and Federal agencies; and a card file containing information regarding licensed radio stations. Drafts and published copies of the committee's preliminary and final reports on the investigation are also included (73A-F15.2, 51 ft.).
|Theodore Roosevelt, Records of Office of the Chief Signal Officer, from NARA's ARC database.|
7.67 The papers generally parallel the petitions and memorials in terms of subject matter. There are, for example, committee papers relating to amendments to the Interstate Commerce Act and other matters involving regulation of interstate and foreign commerce (52A-F20.5, 53A-F19.2, 59A-F18.4). Records regarding railroad issues include correspondence of November 1919 between former Member of Congress William Jennings Bryan and the president of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway System concerning the distribution of railroad passes to legislators (66A-F22.4). There is a letter from the Department of the Navy containing information about its high-powered radio transmitting stations (65A-F14.1). Transcripts of hearings are included on such matters as establishment of a Department of Commerce and Industries, national quarantine policy, the Commerce Court, and aeronautics (55A-F16.2, 55A-F16.8, 62A-F19.1, 69A-F23.1). There are numerous documents concerning aids to navigation, bridges and dams over navigable waters, life saving stations, ports of entry, and other subjects relating to water transportation, including a copy of an 1896 letter of former Member of Congress William A. Newell of New Jersey regarding the role he played in the founding of the Lifesaving Service in 1848. Accompanying it is an 83-page typewritten response from the General Superintendent of the Lifesaving Service, dated May 17, 1898 (55A-F16.3). The numerous documents relating to the interoceanic canal include letters received; the draft of a proposed treaty with Nicaragua; the February 16, 1899, statement to the committee by the American Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company, with related material; hearing transcripts; messages from President Roosevelt regarding the report of the Isthmian Canal Commission on the proposal of the New Panama Canal Company to sell its rights and property and unfinished work to the United States, the need for a canal with locks, and his visit to the Canal Zone; and annual reports of the Isthmian Canal Commission (55A- F16.5, 55A-F16.7, 57A-F16.1, 59A-F18.5, 59A-F18.6, 60A-F27.6).
7.68 Executive agencies whose annual reports or other communications to Congress are among the committee papers include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor, the Navy, and State; the Interstate Commerce Commission; the Federal Trade Commission; the Federal Power Commission; the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Lifesaving Service; the Isthmian Canal Commission; the Lighthouse Commission; the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics; the Civilian Aviation Administration; the U.S. Railroad Labor Board; the National Mediation Board; the Federal Works Agency; the Board of War Communications; and thke U.S. Public Health Service (numerous Congresses).
7.69 Legislative bill files consist of copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, executive agency comments on the proposals, and committee reports. Some of the files also contain letters and telegrams from persons and groups interested in the legislation. Other types of documents appear occasionally among the records, including transcripts of hearings, memorandums, maps, surveys, photographs, proposed amendments, petitions, printed copies of laws, nongovernmental publications, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles.
7.70 A few examples may serve to convey a sense of the variety of documents available among the bill files. The bill file on H.R. 9123, 60th Cong., to establish a Tuberculosis Commission includes a letter from Capt. Paul C. Hutton, surgeon at Fort William H. Seward in Haines, AK, with a report of the U.S. Grand Jury for the District of Alaska, dated December 1907, concerning tuberculosis among native Alaskans (60A-D13). Also from the 60th Congress, the file on H.R. 17707 concerning a power dam across the James River in Stone County, MO, includes the enrolled bill returned by the President and his veto message of January 15, 1909, as well as a report to the President, dated the previous day, from the Commissioner of Corporations in the Department of Commerce and Labor regarding the concentration of the control of water power (60A-D13). One very unusual file includes an enrolled bill with the signatures of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate lined through. The bill is H.R. 12197, 64th Cong., concerning a bridge across Bayou Bartholomew in Ashley County, AR. Accompanying it is the transmittal letter from the President stating that he was returning the bill in compliance with H.Con.Res. 46, as well as a letter from the Secretary of War informing President Woodrow Wilson that the bill contained an error in the description of the location where the bridge was to be built (64A-D8). For S. 2009, 76th Cong., the Transportation Act of 1940, there are copies of the Senate, House, and conference reports; copies of the bill; agency comments; a committee print that compares the proposal with existing law; and copies of statements made during the House-Senate conference on the bill (76A-D18).
Records of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-68)
|Record Type||Volume||Congress (dates)|
|Minute Books||12 vols.||79th-90th (1947-68)|
|Docket Books||18 vols.||79th-90th (1947-68)|
|Petitions & Memorials||6 ft.||79th-90th (1947-68)|
|Committee Papers||36 ft.||79th-90th (1947-68)|
|TOTAL:||126 ft. and 30 vols. (5 ft.)|
7.72 The Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce is unique among all standing committees of the House in that the National Archives holds full sets of committee minute books and docket books for the period from 1947 to 1968. The minute books contain typed pages pasted into the volumes which give the following basic information on meetings: Date, time of day, presiding official, subjects discussed, witnesses heard, and amendments approved or rejected. In addition, copies of committee prints with proposed text changes and mimeographed copies of amendments occasionally can be found pasted into a volume.
7.73 The docket books have entries arranged in chronological order by type of measure: House bills, House Joint Resolutions, House Concurrent Resolutions, House Resolutions, Senate bills, and Senate Joint Resolutions. Generally each docket entry includes the measure's date of introduction, the bill number and name of Representative introducing it, the bill's purpose and whether it was superseded by another measure, and a full account--with dates--of what happened to the measure (comments from agencies and departments, subcommittee and full committee meetings, committee disposition, passage by House, and enactment into public law).
7.74 In quantity, two-thirds of the total amount of petitions and memorials are petitions which call for an end to alcoholic beverage advertisements on radio and television (80A- H7.3, 81A-H7.3, 82A-H9.1, 83A-H7.3, 84A-H8.3, 85A-H9.4). Other subjects that generated considerable numbers of petitions included amendments to the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937 (80A-H7.2, 81A-H7.1, 83A-H7.1, 84A-H8.2, and 85A-H9.1), amendments to the Natural Gas Act of 1938 relative to the Federal Power Commission having the right to regulate well-head prices of field producers (84A-H8.1, 85A- H9.1), the establishment of national compulsory health insurance (81A-H7.2, 82A-H9.1), and the possibility of governmental approval for pay-television (85A-H9.3, 87A-H7.1).
7.75 For a typical Congress such as the 87th Congress (1961-62), memorials came from the legislatures of Idaho, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Arizona, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Alaska. Subjects covered included freight rates for the lumber industry, a fish sanctuary for the Salmon River, regulation of hydro-electric facilities by the Federal Power Commission, water pollution controls, representation on the Travel Advisory Board, Federal Communications Commission regulations regarding evening broadcasts, efforts to eradicate narcotic drug addiction, drug distribution controls, the establishment of a Federal narcotics hospital, the establishment of a Federal medical school, automotive safety, and air service (87A- H7.2).
7.76 Committee papers consist primarily of numerically arranged executive communications, messages from the President, copies of printed hearings and reports, final editions of committee calendars, and 1958-63 executive session transcripts for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Approximately 23 feet, nearly two-thirds of the committee papers, consist of executive communications. For the most part these are letters and publications sent to the Speaker of the House and then referred to the committee. They include draft proposals of legislation, reports submitted in compliance with U.S. law, and governmental publications and reports. These executive communications came from a variety of entities including the Federal Aviation Agency; the Civil Aeronautics Board; the Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Power Commission; the Federal Trade Commission; the Interstate Commerce Commission; the National Mediation Board; the Department of Commerce; the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and the Government of the District of Columbia.
7.77 Presidential messages generally are nothing more than brief transmittal statements. Among those of substantive significance are letters from Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower concerning national health insurance policies (83A-F10.1).
7.78 Printed hearings comprise approximately 9 feet of the total amount of committee papers (80A-F9.1, 88A IFC.3, 89 IFC.2, 90 IFC.5). These hearings exist for the 80th (1947-48) and 88- 90th (1963-68) Congresses. Topics focus on a wide variety of subjects, including matters relating to aviation, communications, the Federal Trade Commission, public health, railroad retirement provisions, and surface and water transportation.
7.80 The two and a half feet of executive session transcripts from the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, 1958-63, are filed with committee papers for the 91st Congress. The main subjects discussed were television quiz shows, "payola" and related deceptive methods in the broadcast field, and broadcast ratings.
7.81 The heart of the committee's unbound records for this period are its bill files, which make up two-thirds of the total quantity. Bill files are arranged by type of legislation and thereunder in numerical order. The main set of bill files contains copies of bills and committee reports. Occasionally bill files are several inches thick, as is the case with files from the 80th Congress for both H.R. 2185 on proposed amendments to the Natural Gas Act and H.R. 2298 on amending the Interstate Commerce Act (80A-D6). In these cases the files also include background correspondence, proposed amendments, and/or transcripts of hearings.
7.82 For the 83d (1953-54), 85th-87th(1957-62), and 89th-90th (1965-68) Congresses, sets of "legislative files" ranging in size from 5 to 20 inches per Congress follow the main bill files. The "legislative files" for the 83rd Congress contain files on S. 2846 (Securities Exchange Act amendments), H.R. 5069 (Flammable Fabrics Act), and H.R. 5976 (Natural Gas Act amendment); those for the other Congresses are arranged by subject categories of health, transportation, consumer legislation, and/or energy with files thereunder in numerical public law order. These "legislative files" contain full documentation on the measure in question, including relevant pages from the Congressional Record.
5 U.S. Congress, House, Select Committee on Committees, Monographs on the Committees of the House of Representatives, Committee Print, 93d Cong., 2d sess., 1974, p. 98. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1974. See also H. Doc. 234, 85th Cong., 1st sess., "Historical Data Regarding the Creation and Jurisdiction of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce."
Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (House Document 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.