Tag Archives: 1930s

Should Be Retired With Unsafe Cars

Should Be Retired With Unsafe Cars

 

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the United States automotive industry saw the development of innovative engineering in automobiles such as semi-automatic transmissions, hydraulic brake systems, and engines with more and more cylinders. Fatal car accidents and traffic safety caught the attention of legislators in Texas and all over the country during that time. In the late 1930’s, politicians and their constituents feared that older cars posed a large threat to public safety. However, few people realized the overwhelming threats were actually new high-speed cars combined with people’s reckless driving and disregard for traffic laws.

The political cartoon by John Knott titled, “Should Be Retired With Unsafe Cars”, published on February 27, 1938, in the Dallas Morning News, illustrates the undeniable danger reckless drivers and high-speed sports cars manufactured at the time posed for passengers in other vehicles as well as pedestrians. In the cartoon, a man in a suit and tie labeled “Chronic Wild Driver” is illustrated in a sports car driving away from a crash where two people are left on the ground. One of the victims of the crash appears to be crawling away from the crash as he looks in the direction of the reckless driver, while the other victim is left lying on the ground unconscious or dead. The wild driver appears to be driving a 1938 BMW 328 Sports Coupe (Goodwood Revival). Released in 1938, the car was among the finest of its class at the time with a 6 cylinder, 4-speed manual engine and a then astonishing top speed of 93 miles per hour. Even in 1999, the car was a finalist for the “Car of the Century” award by a worldwide panel of automotive journalists (Law).

The title of Knott’s cartoon, “Should Be Retired With Unsafe Cars” directly correlates to the editorial that was published in the same edition of Dallas Morning News; the editorial, titled “Logical Car Retirement” is written in line with public opinion at the time and focuses on the danger of older cars and their increased likelihood of breaking down or losing brake control in a highway. Although the main focus of the editorial is older cars, it does state that, “admittedly, the major portion of fatal accidents (was) in the new and high-speed car class.” By illustrating a high-end sports car in the cartoon, Knott appears to have agreed with this point, however, Knott labeled the man in the car a “Chronic Wild Driver” expressing his belief that cars were not only the ones to blame.

At the time, the development of car safety features was almost nonexistent compared to the development of faster engines (World Health Organization). Because of this, Texas began to establish laws that regulated certain driving habits, instating it’s first mandatory drivers license examination in 1937 (U.S. Department of Transportation). The original driver’s license law of Texas took effect on February 14, 1936, and required each driver to possess a license issued by the County Tax Collector.Unfortunately, these early public safety laws did little to stop the massive loss of lives. During that time, cars became a typical household item. Vehicle ownership in the United States rose 150.44% from 1920 to 1930 (Davis).

In the U.S. in the late 1930’s, legislation was passed with the intention of making highways safer. However, these laws did not have a large impact on people’s driving habits at the time (Gibson and Crooks 453). At the time, people’s driving habits were predominant over their attention to traffic laws. The journal article, “A Theoretical Field-Analysis of Automobile-Driving” by James J. Gibson and Laurence E. Crooks explores the human behavior and self-awareness while driving. The article states that of the skills demanded by contemporary civilization, driving an automobile is the most important to humans because a defect in it has the greatest threat to our lives. Furthermore, in 1938, the sense that traffic laws were absolute agreed with the act of dangerous driving (467).

The need for more driver’s education in the public school system at that time was overwhelming (470). Additionally, the public needed to gain a common attention to the danger they were causing themselves through their ignorant driving habits. The mixture of chronic wild drivers and fast cars was detrimental to the highway safety of Texas in the late 1930’s and in his cartoon, John Knott emphasizes the danger of this combination.

 

Works Cited

Davis, Stacy C. Transportation Energy Data Book. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2013.

Department of Public Safety records. Texas Department of Public Safety, 1931.

Gibson, James J., and Laurence E. Crooks. A Theoretical Field-Analysis of Automobile-Driving. 1938.

Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015: Supporting a Decade of Action. World Health Organization, 2013.

Heck, Katherine E., and Keith C. Nathaniel. “Driving Among Urban, Suburban and Rural Youth in California.” University of California.

Highway Statistics, Summary to 1995. PDF ed., U.S. Department of Transportation, 1997. Federal Highway Administration Office of Highway Information Management.

Hugill, Peter J. Good roads and the automobile in the United States 1880-1929. PDF ed., Geographical Society, 1982.

Knott, John. Should Be Retired With Unsafe Cars. 27 Feb. 1938, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, Austin.

Law, Alex. “Car of the Century.” Auto123, 22 Dec. 1999, web.archive.org/web/20060308141111/http://www.auto123.com/en/info/news/news%2Cview.spy?artid=1082.

“Logical Car Retirement.” Dallas Morning News, 27 Feb. 1938. Editorial.

1938 BMW 328 Sports Roadster Chassis no. 85378 Engine no. 79280. Bonhams, 12 Sept. 2015.

Texas, Legislature, Senate. Senate Bill 15. 1835. 44th Legislature, 2nd session.

Traffic Safety Facts 2015. U.S. Department of Transportation, 2015, crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication812384. National Highway Safety Administration.

There’s an Idea

A steel worker and the steel corporations contemplate an agreement over the Chrysler sit-down strike in 1937.
A steel worker and the steel corporations contemplate an agreement over the Chrysler sit-down strike in 1937.

Published on March 19, 1937 in The Dallas Morning News newspaper, the cartoon titled “There’s an idea” by John Knott illustrates the measures that the industrial unions took during the 1930s to attain better working conditions, higher wages and improved job security through the depiction of the Chrysler sit-down strike of 1937. In his cartoon, one man, labeled ‘STEEL WORKER,’ is sitting on top of a factory which is specified as ‘CHRYSLER CORP.’ With his hands clutching the two edges of the roof, the worker uses the building as a bench. Alongside the worker stands a man representing ‘STEEL CORP.’ as he holds a document which states ‘Injunction’ as well as having on a fancy suit and top hat. Both the men look off in the distance at themselves signing a contract for an ‘AGREEMENT TO AVOID STRIKES FOR ONE YEAR.’ The signing takes place atop a different structured factory while the men use the building as a table.

Sit-down strikes throughout 1936 and 1937, towards the end of the great depression, were important components in the social movements at this time that gave the Committee of Industrial Organization (CIO) power to unionize many workers in this era’s industries. In late December of 1936, a sit-down strike was held in Flint, Michigan against General Motors (GM). The strike was unplanned and pretty spontaneous. This 44 day strike eventually proved to be an extremely influential event during this time period. Initially, shop radicals, communists, and socialists had led the way but soon were replaced, as commanders, by the United Automobile Workers (UAW) and the CIO. Even though the proportion of who participated in the strike was outnumbered by the rest of the occupants in the factory, the whole ceased production. The ultimate goal of the protest was to urge and require management to obey and enforce labor law. A resolution was achieved on February 11, 1937, between General Motors and UAW. The Company recognized that the union is the consolidated voice of its workers and agreed to work with the UAW on a multi-plant basis. As a result, thousands of unsure auto workers beforehand, now joined the UAW. The chain reaction began with “47 sit-down strikes in March, 170 in April, and 52 in May.” (“Sit-Down Strikes” 2003) While many outside perspectives acknowledged that the act of sit-down striking legally violated corporate property rights, the worker viewed the act as an ethical response to the management’s misstep of not abiding by the law.

After the sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan, around 60,000 workers sat down in all 6 Chrysler plants in Detroit and completely halted production on March 8, 1937. The workers demanded higher wages, better working conditions, and stronger job security. The author of the editorial, titled In the Chrysler Plant, and John Knott were definitely in agreement that the labor workers in the Chrysler plant organized there protest in the wrong way. The author of the editorial wrote, “The sit-down strike is not collective bargaining. It is organized hijacking.” It is evident that the author had strong feelings on the subject. Indisputably, he felt that the workers were in the wrong and should not have handled their dilemma the way they did, as they broke the law during their course of action. On the other hand, Knott titled his cartoon ‘There’s an Idea,’ as if to indicate the solution to the protest is obvious. Knott seems to feel that the decision the workers made, to do a sit-down strike, was ridiculous, that they should have just proposed there demands formally. When the strikes started, supervisors were given the boot, entrances and exits were blocked off and secured by workers, and security guards were replaced by union men. Because, in the plants the workers had established many communities and committees. Similar to the strike in Flint, the workers had committees such as publicity, security, and entertainment. Each committee had a job to perform respectively. For example, the entertainment were to keep the workers entertained.

As a result of this strike being in the midst of plenty of strikes during this period, the protesters had precedented expectations. The workers continued their sit-down strike for 17 days in the Chrysler plants. On March 24, the workers made an agreement to evacuate the plants in return for nothing other than continued negotiations. A week later they signed a contract that did not agree to a single one of the workers’ wants and gave Chrysler a no-strike pledge. However, the contract also recognized the UAW and showed the strength of the workers, potentially when they are united. The workers considered this a major victory. They may not have been able to get everything they wanted at once, but they continued to show their dedication. All the way through World War II, pushing past the next three decades they continued to make gains in their progression as a community because the workers were ready to strike at any time.

Even though the workers had, what they thought of as, success, they also had some missed opportunities to strengthen their act of protesting. For example, with all the committees the workers had set up, they failed to assign a committee responsible for monitoring the officials of the strike who could replace the officials that went against their demands. Instead they had overwhelming power over the protest: what they said went. Although the ones appointed to be officials were mostly well-respected workers and held high status’ with the workers, if any corruption was to go on, they should have had a group of people in charge of impeachment. Another missed opportunity they may have prolonged the protest and could have possibly prolonged the protest for more better benefits in the contract, was assigning a committee responsible for conducting hands-on activities and not just entertainment performances that were only visual.

Over the next many decades the UAW continued to grow and gain respect. People and the government began to take the UAW serious after these events. Around the 1970s was when Japanese and German auto companies opened plants in the US. The workers that worked at those plants were not part of unions. Soon, around the late 1970s, is when the peak membership of the UAW occurred and began declining at the point. By 2010, almost ⅔ of its members were retired and covered under pension and medical care plans.

Work Cited:

“Little Steel Strike of 1937.” Little Steel Strike of 1937 – Ohio History Central, www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Little_Steel_Strike_of_1937.

“Minewar.org » Archive » Sit-Down In Wilsonville.” Minewar.org RSS, www.minewar.org/?p=643.

“Sit-Down Strikes.” Edited by The Gale Group Inc., Dictionary of American History, Encyclopedia.com, 2003, www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/us-history/sit-down-strikes.

“The Chrysler Sit-down of 1937: The Workers Organize.” The Chrysler Sit-down of 1937: The Workers Organize – The Spark #796, The Spark, 16 Apr. 2007, www.the-spark.net/np796401.html.

Come to Texas!

Come to Texas!

 

John Knott’s political cartoon Come to Texas! provides an illustration of the decentralization of highly-centralized industries to Texas during the late 1930s. Depicting the decentralizing industries as a crowd of businessmen with briefcases marked “fair practices,” many highly-centralized businesses during this time were branching out, coming to Texas because of its better conditions towards the end of the Great Depression (Southwestern Industry). However, Texas was not content to accept just any company since a number of these industries were coming to Texas from a wealth of problems, leaving in their wake issues such as poor worker treatment (Gardner). The sign above the Texan’s head exemplifies this concern, cautioning against industries seeking to exploit Texas’ more-business-friendly economic climate in an effort to protect Texans. Texas is still happy to have the industries, hence the cartoon’s depiction of the Texan giving a warm welcome to the arriving industries; however, if the incoming industries wanted to employ Texans, they must first take care of Texans. The editorial entitled “Southwestern Industry” that accompanied Knott’s cartoon helps provide additional historical context for the events in the cartoon. It explains that while Texas had an abundance of raw resources, “relatively little progress [had] been made in the manufacturing of cotton and woolen cloth” (Southwestern Industry). This meant that many of Texas’ raw materials had to be shipped to industrial centers in other states to be processed, manufactured, and reimported once completed. The editorial goes on to advise that there “should be no welcome sign in Texas for the manufacturer who wants to get away from some other State merely because he is unwilling to pay fair taxes or reasonable wages” (Southwestern Industry). In a nutshell, the editorial maintains that increased manufacturing in Texas would be good for the state, but not at the cost of shoddy work practices coming to Texas with the intent of exploitation. Overall, Knott’s depiction of decentralizing industries coming to Texas provides an overview of the decentralization of jobs to Texas as well as Texas’ concerns with fair work practices.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, the unemployment rate dropped as the US started recovering from the Great Depression (“Miss Perkins Urges Job Security Plans”). Although the Great Depression didn’t completely end until the onset of World War II, Knott’s cartoon and the accompanying editorial were published in 1937 when the economic situation of the nation was starting to improve. While the highly industrialized and centralized areas of the US were only just starting to get back on their feet, Texas’ economy had fared better overall throughout the Depression (Hammons). The hardships faced by Detroit, Michigan, during the Great Depression provides a prime example of how dissimilar the conditions of industrialized and non-industrialized parts of country were. In the case of Detroit, all of the nation’s car production was centralized in a single area to allow the heads of business easy access to all of their production sites. However, when the economy took a sharp downturn in 1929, it became much harder for the average person to afford a car. When car sales tanked, that region crashed (Nystrom). Conversely, the lack of compact industries in Texas “helped to buffer Dallas from the worst of the Depression” (Hammons). Because Texas wasn’t as industrialized, it wasn’t hit as hard. The Depression was still crippling, but comparatively speaking, Texas fared marginally better.

In order to combat the troubles of highly-centralized production, centralized industries began to spread out, decentralizing production to other areas of the country (Southwestern Industry). According to the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, decentralization “signifies the disbursement of power from the top down… lead[ing] to higher levels of efficiency” (Decentralization 250). To put it in layman’s terms, a centralized company branches out, setting up production in other places to take advantage of the different locations’ benefits, such as cheaper production, looser regulatory laws, cheaper labor, and closer proximity to resources. In this particular time period, decentralization was primarily used to diversify in response to the problems of highly centralized industries during the Depression (Bowman). Highly centralized industries began because of big-name tycoons, such as Ford or Rockefeller, because it was easier for management to oversee all of their productions by having them nearby (Jahn). However, just like the saying ‘having all one’s eggs in the same basket,’ the Depression hit those highly-industrialized areas the hardest, causing the highly-centralized companies to crash. Decentralization was harder on management since moving industries from Chicago to Texas meant no longer having immediate access to all nearby production; however, it was much better for the industries overall. The cheaper production costs and delegation of smaller tasks to other areas let management focus on the bigger picture instead of trivialities of day-to-day production (Jahn).

Due to its abundance of raw resources and available labor source, Texas made for a very promising-looking market for highly-centralized industries looking to decentralize. An especially alluring factor was Texas’ rapidly-growing market, meaning more workers in production and more buyers of finished products (Texas 822). In addition, by relocating branches of industry to Texas, companies didn’t have to pay such high transportation costs to import the raw resources and then ship the finished product from the North-East back to the South. Although Texas had an abundance of natural resources, such as cotton, wheat, wool, and cattle, it lacked the industries needed to process the raw materials, especially in the textile department (Southwestern Industry). By allowing industries centralized in other states to decentralize to Texas, Texas would also gain jobs and a boost to its economy. However, despite all the advantages the added industrial boost posed, both the editorial and Knott’s cartoon stressed the fact that there remained a number of possible drawbacks in allowing out-of-state industries to set up production in Texas.

That is the exactly the argument Knott’s cartoon presents. While the Texan depicted in the cartoon is happily receiving the incoming industries with his arms outstretched in welcome, the sign above the Texan’s head expresses the concern “No exploiters of cheap labor, tax dodgers or fly-by-night industries wanted” (Knott). The meaning drawn from Knott’s cartoon paints a picture of a state that wanted the benefits of industrialization – just not at the cost of adopting the problems that some of the industries brought with them. In looking at poor work practices in other areas of the country during the same time period, namely the case of the Radium Gals, the concern depicted in Knott’s cartoon becomes even more apparent. The Radium Gals were a group of women hired during the 20s and 30s to work at the Radium Dial company painting watch faces with a special radium paint (Suppan). Exploited by the company they worked for, these women were paid far lower wages than men and were slowly poisoned and killed by the radiation from the radium paint (Suppan). With such adverse publicity surrounding cases such as the Radium Gals, the editorial and Knott cartoon cautioned against accepting decentralizing industries that were seeking to exploit laborers or exercise dubious business practices (Gardner). Since companies that utilized shifty work practices were seen as “author of the general misery, … cutter[s] of wages, … and the tax-dodging embodiment of the general irresponsibility that pervades the American business community,” Texas was not keen on hosting industries that were going to exploit Texas’ market and workers (Castranovo 61).

In summation, Come to Texas! is a political cartoon by John Knott that provides commentary on the decentralization of industries to Texas towards the end of the Great Depression. Despite the fact that decentralizing industries presented numerous advantages to Texas, both the editorial and the Knott cartoon emphasize how important it was for Texas to be wary of allowing just any industry to relocate, stressing that if the decentralizing industries wanted to employ Texans, they had to take care of Texans.

 

 

Works Cited

Bowman, Joel. “The Great Decentralization.” Non-Dollar Report. Non-Dollar Report, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://nondollarreport.com/2014/11/economic-evolution-the-great-decentralization/>.

Castronovo, David. “The Artist as a Young Reporter.” Edmund Wilson Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1988. 51-71. Twayne’s United States Authors Ser. 695. Twayne’s Authors on GVRL. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Decentralization.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 250-251. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3045300532&asid=c07ec128b7f5c795f9358d1289944f66. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

Gardner, Virginia. “Former Watch Painter Faints; Halts Hearing.” Chicago Tribune 11 Feb. 1938: 1+. Chicago Tribune Archive. Web. 23 Oct. 2016. <http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1938/02/11/page/1/article/woman-tells-living-death-at-radium-quiz>.

Hammond, Carlyn. “The Great Depression and World War II – Texas Our Texas.” Texas Our Texas. Texas PBS, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://texasourtexas.texaspbs.org/the-eras-of-texas/great-depression-ww2/>.

Jahn, Christine. “Organizational Structure.” Encyclopedia of Business and Finance. Ed. Burton S. Kaliski. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. 669-674. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3402700343&asid=fbfa946d055263c2440c408246c59a88

Knott, John. “Come to Texas!” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News. 27 March 1937. Sec 2: 2. Print.

“MISS PERKINS URGES JOB SECURITY PLANS.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 11. Jan 01 1937. ProQuest. Web. 17 Nov. 2016 .

Nystrom, M. A. “Second Great Depression in Detroit.” Second Great Depression in Detroit | M.A. Nystrom | Safehaven.com. SafeHaven, 3 June 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.safehaven.com/article/10420/second-great-depression-in-detroit>.

“Southwestern Industry.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News 29 Mar. 1937, sec. 2: 2. Print.

Suppan, Heinz-Dietrich. Marking Time: The Radium Girls of Ottawa. N.p.: Outskirts, 2016. Print.

“Texas.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of the States. Ed. Timothy L. Gall. 7th ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 803-31. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

It Was a Fool’s Paradise

A snake is wrapped around an apple tree labeled "tree of unlimited credit" the are many apple cores littering the ground and a couple in plain clothes are walking away from the tree holding their stomachs and looking sick
A snake is wrapped around an apple tree labeled “tree of unlimited credit” the are many apple cores littering the ground and a couple in plain clothes are walking away from the tree holding their stomachs and looking sick

In John Francis Knott’s 1933 cartoon “It Was a Fool’s Paradise,” we see a man and woman walking away from an apple tree labeled “tree of unlimited credit” (Knott). The snake wrapped around this tree makes the biblical allusion to Adam and Eve quite obvious. The couple is holding their stomachs with sick expressions on their faces. The obscene amount of apple cores found on ground tell the reader that this expression is likely caused by overindulgence. In the biblical tale of Adam and Eve the latter eats a piece of forbidden fruit and damns the rest of humanity to be compelled to sin. However when read with the accompanying article “We Just Thought We Had” it becomes obvious that Knott’s cartoon is not commentary on original sin, but rather on the frivolous spending of unsound credit in the United States a few years prior, and how it ultimately caused the Great Depression.

The humor of this cartoon is found in its incongruity with the original story. In the Bible Eve only took a single bite of an apple whereas this couple has eaten far too many to count. The innumerable apple cores littering the ground represent the greed and gluttony of 1920’s America, and Knott even goes so far as to imply that this is worse than original sin. This discrepancy also points blame at the American public and their careless spending,  as well as the tempting “unsound credit” mentioned in the accompanying article (“We Just Thought We Had”). Knott parallels the immense spending of credit to this couples binging. The couple in the cartoon are clearly not dressed in the fig leaves like the biblical Adam and Eve, but rather in the plain clothes of  1930’s middle class Americans. Not only does this set them apart from Adam and Eve, but it sets them apart from the upper class, who are not affected by the economic crash as greatly as the lower and middle class (“Everyday Life 1929-1941″).

In the accompanying article, “We Only Thought We Had,” the Dallas Morning News comments on the use of unstable credit in 1929. They claim that the use of credit in the 1920’s was taking business away from the early 1930’s . The article is highly critical of this credit and employs multiple rhetorical questions throughout the article in order to force the reader to think about what was really going on. By asking the reader “where is all the money we used to have?” or “where is all the business we used to do?” the author is implying that there is no money and business anymore (“We Just Thought We Had). These rhetorical questions lead the reader into thinking a in a similar way to the author.

The forbidden fruit depicted in Knott’s cartoon is the seemingly unlimited credit of the previous decade. During the 1920’s the American economy was booming, and playing the stock market was all the rage. This ‘game’ of stocks became so popular that investors began to buy them “with little or no money down”, and soon the American use of credit would cause the market to collapse (Woodard). The stock market had seemingly become an embodiment of the American dream, and it soon became flooded with “small scale investors” looking to go from rags to riches overnight (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”). The brokers who were handing out credit were playing a risky game, but as long as the market was growing they couldn’t lose (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”). However, as they always do, the stocks inevitably went down and “the great sell-off of 1929” brought the market, the brokers, the investors, and the entire American economy down with it (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”).

Knott’s cartoon compares the credit crisis of the early 1930’s to the story of Adam and Eve. The allure of the credit had been so strong to the American public, as well as the brokers, that in Knott’s cartoon unlimited credit is analogized with the proverbial apple that Eve ate. The most important aspect of this comparison is that of original sin. As the Dallas Morning News writes the economy of 1929 was conducting business that “legitimately belonged to 1933-35” just as Eve’s sin caused the downfall of human kind in the future, the gluttony of 1929 affected the future indefinitely (“We Just Thought We Had”).

Works Cited

“Everyday Life 1929-1941.” Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. Ed. Richard C. Hanes and Sharon M. Hanes. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002. 305-329. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John Francis. “It Was a Fool’s Paradis.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 29 Jan. 1933, sec. 3: 8. Print.

“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash.” Social History of the United States. Ed. Daniel J. Walkowitz and Daniel E. Bender. Vol. 3: The 1920s. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009. 372-375. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.

“We Just Thought We Had.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 29 Jan. 1933, sec. 3: 8. Print.

Woodard, David E. “Stock Market Crashes.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed.      Thomas Woodard. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2013. 722-724. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.

Do Something!

Do-nothing Congress gets ready to jump into vacation and crush the remaining issues.
Do-nothing Congress gets ready to jump into vacation and crush the remaining issues

In the winter of 1931, only a few years after a debilitating Stock Market crash and in the midst of the Great Depression, unemployment was at a staggering sixteen percent and the holiday season was approaching rapidly (Darity, Shmoop). Nearly eighty years later in 2007, the housing bubble popped and the stock market came crashing down once again (Ferrara). In these times of economic calamity, Congress is placed in the spotlight. The pressure was on to pass legislation to help the country’s suffering citizens (“The Hungry Years”). In a cartoon illustrated by John Knott and accompanying article published on December 19, 1931 in the Dallas Morning News, Knott established just how hard Congress had worked to pass relief efforts before the holiday season. However in the midst of the more recent economic problem, this wasn’t the case. In 2012, an article by Amanda Turkel of the Huffington Post described just how unproductive the 112th Congress was. Many, such as John Darkow, a cartoonist for the Columbia Daily Tribune poked fun at Congress for being so lazy and useless. Congress has gone through cycles of productivity, but throughout history one thing has stayed the same: the American people always want them to do more.

The editorial in the Dallas Morning News in 1931 titled “A Disposition to Work” gave an optimistic view of the work congress had done during the Depression. The author clearly held a very optimistic view on how much work Congress had done. Knott’s cartoon reflected the views of the article, illustrating a very productive and obedient Congress. However in the editorial, the author hinted that others were not quite as pleased about Congress. “The notion that Congressmen are numbskulls and scalawags has its humorous possibilities”, hints that even in 1931, people did not trust congress nor the member within it. This is still an ongoing problem, as of October of this year only thirteen percent of citizen trusted Congress to actually do its job (Gallup).

In 1948, President Harry Truman coined the term “do nothing congress” when he bashed the work done by the 80th Congress (“Truman”). While Truman saw the Congress as being slow to act, they still managed to pass 906 bills into law during the session (“Truman”, Terkel). In the 1960’s, in the midst of civil rights activism and the beginning of the Vietnam War, Congress was passing around 1500 bills each session (“Vital”, Baughman). In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan pledged to cut down big government and passed legislation that often cut funds to government programs (Valelly). Congress passed around 900 bills each session during Regan’s time and public approval for congress hovered around thirty five percent (“Vital”, Gallup).

In 2012, with only a week left until the end of the session, the 112th Congress had only managed to pass 219 bills. This put the congress on track to be one of the least productive sessions of Congress in US history (Terkel). And although there were a multitude of issues during the time which could have used some Congressional intervention, Terkel of the Huffington Post argued that a number of the bills that were passed have not been of particular importance. With “at least 40 bills… [that] concern[ed] the renaming of…public buildings [and] another six [that] dealt with commemorative coins”, it is no wonder that congressional approval ratings dropped below twenty percent (Terkel).

An enduring theme over the decades has been a negative attitude about Congress. Journalists and comedians find humor in the futile Congress, many poking fun at the members being lazy and stubborn. In August of 2012, John Darkow published a cartoon about the 112th congress in the Columbia Daily Tribune. It depicts a robust man labeled “Do-Nothing Congress” with his clothes and briefcase in a pile behind him, jumping into the shallow end of a swimming pool. He is shouting “Five weeks of summer recess! Boy do I need this! fussin’ an’a feudin’ can cause a lot of stress!” “Congress” is about to land on a frightened man in an intertube labeled “issues”. Darkow paints congress in a negative light by portraying him as a heavy man, implying that the US Congress is lazy. The physical size of “Congress” compared to the size of the “issues” makes it clear that “Congress” is about to destroy all of the issues that are important and floating right on the surface. The quote from “Congress” is humorous because it implies sarcasm. Congress has no reason to be stressed, since he has done nothing. “Congress” also uses an unexpected dialect when saying “fussin’ an’a feudin’” which makes him seem undereducated. This pokes fun at the fact that congressmen and elected officials in government are supposed to be elite and educated. Darkow makes it clear that he disapproves of the little work the 112th Congress did by humorously rendering Congress lazy, unintelligent, stubborn, and unable to tend to the issues at hand.

In 1931, some citizens of the US may have seen Congress as “numbskulls and scalawags”, but in the end, they were able to pass bills involving important issues at the time (“A Disposition”). In 1948, Harry Truman may have believed Congress was “do nothing”, but they did manage to pass over 900 bills (Terkel). In the 1960s and 1980s Congress was a little more productive but was still overall disliked by the public. In 2012, the historically disapproving attitude toward Congress became more justified when the 112th Congress had passed less than 300 bills right before the end of the session (Terkel). And although there was a lot of work to be done in the US, many people, like John Darkow, turned to humorously judging Congress. And with approval ratings so low, it is clear that the rest of America was laughing along.

 

 

 

Work Cited

“A Disposition to Work.” Dallas Morning News 19 Dec. 1931: 2. Dallas Morning News Historical Archive [NewsBank]. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

Baughman, Judith S. “The 1960s: Government and Politics: Overview.” American Decades. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Gale Virtual Reference Library [Gale]. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

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