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John J. Carson Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
John J. Carson

Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission, 1949-1953.

Washington, D.C.
November 8, 1971
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened June 2015
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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Oral History Interview with
John Joseph Carson

 

Washington, D.C.
November8, 1971
Jerry N. Hess

[1]

HESS: Okay.

CARSON: I was born (and that’s what you want to know isn’t it), in Smith Valley, Indiana, about ten miles south of Indianapolis, and went to Indianapolis when I was about a year old and lived down in the 12th Ward, which was about 90 percent Irish and about 90 percent Democratic. And my father was an emigrant from Ireland, and my mother was a second—her father was an emigrant, she was the second.

HESS: What year did your father come over, do you recall?

CARSON: No, but he was very young. I remember he told the story about—my father told the story, there was three or four brothers came over and he was the youngest and they told the story how he stood up in the boat coming over, cold, his trousers against the stove, and he

[2]

burned the whole seat of his trousers out and they had the laugh on him for all the years. But anyhow, he eventually got into politics, had been into politics, and Tom Taggart, the famous Tom Taggart, who was probably the greatest of all the—ablest of all the Democratic chairmen. I think Tom was chairman for—national chairman for, oh, through three or four administrations. He was with Bryan and so on.

And I can remember in the Bryan campaign, I was only seven years old, was born in ’49, and in the Bryan campaign, the first one in ’96, my father bought these little Zouave caps with the black peak around them, and across the front was Bryan – Stevenson, and I, and I and my other four brothers who had—had five brothers, but my four that were old enough, we had to wear those caps all through the campaign. I didn’t know Taggart in those days, and—but because I was only a child—but I had been told by two or three different people that—school teachers—that you can write, and you have to write, and so on. I made up my mind to try to write, but I had to go to work.

So, I went to work in the first place for a—well, I went to work when I was thirteen in Van Camp Packing Company, capping catsup bottles. And then I got through two years of high school and I went to work—at sixteen

[3]

I left school, had to, because there were other brothers coming along to get an education. And I got a job, a little office job, and then a job—an interesting thing about this for me, I got a job as a messenger boy for the president of the American National Bank in Indianapolis. The man’s name was John Perrin, and I stayed there about six months and then the Van Camp Packing Company—I had a friend in the accounting department, and he asked if I would take a job with them at two dollar a week increase in wage, from four to six. I went to Mr. Perrin and told him I was resigning and he said, "Well, sorry to hear that because I had planned to put you in a cage, as an assistant to the teller in a few weeks and I wish you would stay, but if you have accepted."

I said, "Yes, I have accepted, Mr. Perrin."

Well, that is only of interest because of this: I left and went to—I left there and didn’t see Mr. Perrin again until about 1921. I had made a date with the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in those days, I’ll think of his name in a minute or so—later he went back to New York and became part of the Morgan outfit. He was a very good guy and I was correspondent for the Baltimore Evening Sun, and I made a date because I was

[4]

against the payment of the soldier bonus at that time and the Sun went along with me when I wrote a lot of stuff about it against it, because I was sure that the payment of soldier bonuses would result in just inflation and increased prices. The soldier should pay in and get nothing out of it.

I went to see—I started—it was that morning, it was either a holiday or Saturday. Of course, in those days we were permitted to go into the Treasury and they knew my face. I was in there all the time, they knew me by sight. And I went in and as I went in I noticed quite a few men going into one office on the first floor, well-dressed men. There were nobody—no one else, except the guards in the Treasury—in the Treasury building, that I knew of except this fellow, the assistant Secretary. I went up to his office and we sat and talked for about two hours, and when I came down these fellows were going out of this office and there were probably thirty or forty in there, and I jumped in behind a pillar to see what I could see and learn, there might be a story in this.

Well, lo and behold, I looked up and there came Mr. Perrin and I went up to him and said, "Mr. Perrin, you won’t remember me." I told him that I was John

[5]

Carson and, "I was your messenger away back in 19"—that was about 1906 I guess, or '05. And I said "Now I'm of the Baltimore Sun, down here as a correspondent, I'd like to know what's going on in that office in there today."

He said, "Well, Mr. Carson, we have agreed, all of us have agreed in there positively that it will never be known what went on in that office."

Well, John Perrin then was governor of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. I went out and I did seek to find out, in one way or another, what went on in that office, but I absolutely failed, and I told nobody else about it, but I knew there was something there.

But a couple of years later the paper where I called on—the business paper where I called on, the Manufacturers Record, published the whole story of the minutes of that meeting, and that was the famous meeting at which they had agreed to increase the discount rate, to stop the inflation at that time. You remember at that time, well, I remember that—well, I just remember one price. I think you’ll find at that time that sugar got up to 27 cents a pound that was the 1921

[6]

inflation, and then came the tremendous bust that came. First we had in 1919, the farmer's rebellion, and that resulted in the farmer's bust, and then we had this inflation later and then they tried to stop it that way and that became the day—that was big in the Congress, and that became the subject of more discussions. Oh, throughout the years every now and then you’ll hear them talk about that famous meeting that I just missed from getting. But that’s what I came here—to get back to the story.

Van Camps, oh, up until about 1909, and I got up to where I had—was a bookkeeper and accountant, assistant on books, and I was twenty or twenty years old and I had saved enough money to pay my board bill at home for two years, so that none of the family, my kid brothers would suffer, and my mother. We were very poor, all of us, and I could stay there and live for two years.

So I made up my mind that I’m now going to get me the job I want, I’m now going to get into the newspaper business. So I went to the poorest paper in town, and I think I campaigned for three months at that paper and finally got the job because I agreed to work for nothing until I—they wanted me. And I got the job and …

HESS: Why were you interested in entering the news field?

[7]

CARSON: To get an education, that was the best thing—to write.

And I think I, of course—just to justify that I wrote—but I was just years later, oh, many years later down in the Federal Office Building one day I—one of the very, very able correspondents in Washington came up to my desk, and we talked for a minute, and I said something about, “Well, you know Jerry, I’ve never—I’ve always been a little bit sensitive about the fact that I never got any formal education to speak of, I’ve never got through high school, I didn’t get to college.”

He said, "Hell kid," he said, "you’ve got the finest education." He said, "I’ve been through three universities," he said, "I know this, you’ve got an education far superior to anything you could have got for just"—I told him it was true as far as my newspaper work, because I only had—when I became city editor out in Indianapolis, I only got one applicant for a job from the journalism school. I don’t remember what school it was, but a pretty good one. I got—that stayed with me—I had other applications, but they didn’t make, couldn’t succeed, they weren’t good enough. But the reporters I got in out of the street, maybe with only a high school education,

[8]

with some experience on small town newspapers or something, they were the guys that were good reporters and good newspapermen. But I never found—didn't find—this one fellow he was articulate, verbose, very good guy, very pleasant guy, but after a month or two I told him that I thought he had better look for something else, because he was just unable to know the point of a story of where he was and to get the job done. And he agreed and he went up—I think he became, in one of the advertising departments of General Motors up at Detroit and became a very successful advertising man. But that’s why I went in the newspaper business and I stayed with it. Oh, it was only in the campaign—in the Woodrow Wilson campaign in 1912, March of 1912, the fellow who was ahead of me on the paper, one of the experienced—men of experience, forget his name, but he went with the Teddy Roosevelt campaign in the publicity.

HESS: The Bull Moose campaign.

CARSON: The Bull Moose campaign, yeah.

HESS: Did you see Theodore Roosevelt in that campaign?

CARSON: No, I saw him before that, but I didn’t see him in that campaign.

But anyhow, he was—he left, he was covering the city hall, and they didn't have a city hall reporter

[9]

and I remember the city editor, I was then just on assign—a man to go out and cover a church meeting or something of that kind. And I—he came to me and said, “Carson, we haven’t anybody to put on city hall except you, go over and see what you can do.”

I went over and got into city hall and I stayed there for about a year and a half or so on the city hall, and then went—the fellow who was over at the statehouse for us was fired by the managing editor, soon became a man of very great distinction in the newspaper business, the managing editor, or acting managing editor, at that time was a fellow named Barry Faris, who came to our paper from Denver where he worked out there on the Rocky Mountain News or one of them. And later on he became head of all of the Hearst services in New York, the national services guy there.

Well, anyhow, I went over to the—stayed there. Barry Faris had fired a fellow named Morris Judd from the paper, and the managing editor, who was on leave at that time, he had gone with his boss, a fellow named Boice, Boice weekly papers or something, Boice had taken the managing editor, a fellow named Horrace Howard Herr, and Herr’s name is a little bit of interest later. Herr and Boice had gone to northern Africa to write a

[10]

series about northern Africa and Horrace appointed Barry Faris the assisting managing editor.

Well, while Boice was gone Barry fired Morris Judd. And I walked into the office and told—Barry told me he wanted me to take over the statehouse run, and I said, “Well, now Morris Judd is a very able newspaperman, and unfortunately, our opposition over there, the Bick paper, they have three men on that run, and Morris was beaten occasionally and will be, anybody else would be.”

But he said, "Yes, but I know he wasn’t telling the truth about something."

And I said, "Well, you got—I think he’s a great guy," but anyhow he fired him and he put me on the run.

So, I then stayed at the statehouse for up till about 1916 when I wrote some politics and other things I did in the meantime around town. About 1916, 1917 I guess it was, yes it was 1917, and then the chairman of the state committee, a fellow named Charlie Greathouse, Charles Greathouse, came in one day and said, "John would you agree to take a job? Your job would be to go to Washington and become the first chairman of the Young Men's Democratic National Committee. You’d have to organize it, and you have to stay as chairman

[11]

until you get enough members of the committee to form a committee and to elect officers. But you can be the chairman and then you can go on to the national committee and do what you want there, then Mr. Taggart has asked me to see that you take this job."

So, I said to Charlie Greathouse, "I don’t want the damn job, I want to write."

And he said—well, I had been pretty active in the Woodrow Wilson campaign and they knew it, although I wasn’t known to be active, because my paper was for Theodore Roosevelt. But I worked with the Democratic committee and then I was pretty active with Taggart when the rest of them were out of town, politicking. And so I finally said—Charlie Greathouse said, "You’ve never been East at all of Indiana have you?"

And I said, "No."

He said, "Well, take our money and go down and talk to them down there and see what you want, whether you’ll take it or not."

And I finally agreed and on—I think it was a day or so after Christmas in 1917 I came to Washington, went in the national committee and there were three fellows—no two fellows and a woman in there, that was all. And they were just something in the issue of a receivership, trust, the committee had stopped functioning, they had been beaten sometime that year, that time, and there

[12]

was a rebellion going on in the party against Woodrow Wilson too at that time, and so on. But I found that these people were people that I wouldn’t want to be associated with, I wasn’t going to join a committee in bankruptcy until I…

HESS: Was this after the 1920 election?

CARTER: No, in 1917. Then I told them no and I went back into Chicago where the Boice Publications offered me a job as the editor of their weekly magazine or newspaper I forget which, newspaper, W. Boice, the voice of the paper. It had a national circulation in those days and I remember sitting up in a hotel, the LaSalle Hotel, and the young fellow who Boice’s chief administrative officer, who had told Mr. Herr, now Mr. Herr told him to get me to go on the paper up there. And I said to him—talked to him about it, and he said, "of course, this—you will be interested in this, being a small town boy," he said, "Mr. Carson, your success on this paper, of course, will be determined by your ability to buy stuff cheap," this was after about a half hour or so, that they offered me the job.

And I said, "What do you mean cheap, what do you mean by the word cheap?"

[13]

He said, "Oh, you know, we’ve got a lot of country boys that all, whenever they don’t have anything to do at home, write, and they write and write and they send it in here." And he said, "We get s