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William K. Divers Oral History Interview, February 19, 1970

Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers

Member of the staff of the Federal Emergency Public Works Administration, 1933-37; member of the legal staff of the U.S. Housing Authority, 1938; regional director of fifteen midwest states, U.S. Housing Authority, 1939-40; assistant general counsel and special assistant to the director of the defense housing division, Federal Works Agency, 1941; regional representative of the National Housing Agency, 1942-43; special assistant to the National Housing Expeditor, 1946; assistant administrator of the National Housing Agency, 1947; chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, 1947-53, and member, 1953-54.

Washington, D.C.
February 19, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History Transcripts]

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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Divers Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
William K. Divers

Washington, D.C.
February 19, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Divers, in our last interview we mentioned that you and Mr. Blandford had testified before the Truman Committee regarding the housing at the Ford bomber plant. Just what were your impressions of Mr. Truman at that time?

DIVERS: Well, I think I mentioned once before that my father was from Missouri and a lifelong Democrat, and as a result, I was favorably disposed toward any Senator, any Democratic Senator from Missouri. I was not disappointed. I was very much impressed by then Senator Truman. I felt that he was completely objective, he asked pertinent questions. He was a little bit sharp at times but it was only in the interest of obtaining information and getting on with the job. Generally speaking, I was very


much impressed by him and also felt that we had been treated quite fairly when we testified there.

HESS: You also mentioned that Mr. Hugh Fulton was there at the time. Do you recall any other of the staff members of the Truman Committee who might have been there?

DIVERS: No I don't. I don't recall anyone outside of Mr. Fulton.

HESS: Did you testify before the Truman Committee at any other times other than the Lustron Company matter which we'll defer for just a few minutes?

DIVERS: Not that I can recall.

HESS: I have a few general questions that I think we should fit in at this time to keep things in chronological order and one: What do you


recall of Dorothy Rosenman's interest in housing matters? She was, of course, Mrs. Samuel I. Rosenman.

DIVERS: Yes, she was Judge Rosenman's wife and all I can recall is that she was important. I knew that she was important. I knew that she was influential. She never held any official position as I recall with the possible exception of one with the National Association of Housing Officials, NAHO. I think she held some position with that organization. I don't know, maybe we should mention that this National Association of Housing Officials was originally organized out in Chicago and was an offshoot of the University of Chicago group that was interested in housing. Originally they were interested in all types of housing; privately financed, publicly financed, and all different prices I might say.


HESS: Who was involved in that? Do you recall any names?

DIVERS: Well, Coleman Woodbury was one of the organizers as I recall. And a man who taught out there and later became head of the Housing Administration, I forget his name right now, but I'11 remember it later on. Subsequently, NAHO became interested almost exclusively in public housing and, as a consequence, they lost the interest and support of a lot of people who were interested in the overall housing picture and didn't want to just confine their efforts and their knowledge and their limits--I mean to public housing.

HESS: What do you think spurred their interest in public housing; the fact that they were a downtown urban university?

DIVERS: No, I don't--I don't think so. I think that


they were interested in organizing different groups of public officials. I think that they may have been responsible for organizing the mayors and the public safety officers and the different groups, and this was another group of public officials that they were interested in bringing together and organizing.

HESS: Was this a rather unique thing at the time? The cooperation between the academic and business world in the matters of housing?

DIVERS: I think it probably was. I know it was unique in the housing field and it may have been even unique in some other fields because it was at a time when business and the academic field were kind of far apart and didn't seem to have any interplay at all.

HESS: All right, moving on, where were you when you first heard of the death of President Roosevelt


and what was your reaction?

DIVERS: Well, I was in an elevator in a hotel in downtown it was in downstate Illinois. I'm not sure whether--I believe it was in Peoria. And the elevator operator told us that we--that he'd just heard a flash to the effect that President Roosevelt had died, and I went down in the lobby and one of the things I remember was the shock I had when I heard some of the people there were exalting over the death of a great man. I was stunned and very sad to learn of the death of a great President. At that time I remember that a man named Joseph Karlson, who was the regional architect for the Housing Agency was with me and, as I recall, I called my wife that night so that we could exchange sympathies with each other, and with my children.

We used to go to Denver for vacation. My


wife is from Denver, Colorado, so we went out to visit her family each summer and I--one of my earliest political recollections was of my younger daughter who was then about two, parading through the club car of the train with a--announcing to everybody that she was for Roosevelt.

HESS: She was getting into politics early.

DIVERS: Yes, she was getting into politics early and she's always been interested in politics.

HESS: Had you ever met President Roosevelt in person?

DIVERS: I had met him at a reception before the war started. I'm sure that I met him--you know it's--I don't think I imagined it now, but I can't place the time or the date.

HESS: Do you recall what your impressions were of him at the time?


DIVERS: No, I don't. I was probably so young and so stunned that I didn't have any real impression. I'd never talked to him. I never talked to him, I know that. And, likewise, I shook hands with Mrs. Roosevelt and never talked to her, never had any discussions with her. When I came to Washington in 1933, I was just twenty eight years old and had a minor position in the Government as a fledgling attorney so that I didn't have any immediate contacts with any of the important people in Washington.

HESS: Shortly after hearing the news of President Roosevelt's death, and at that time, just what kind of a President did you think that Mr. Truman would make? Looking back on those days.

DIVERS: I would say that I probably thought that he would make a better than average President. The Presidents that I remembered were Roosevelt, who was--who had been President a good part of my adult life and whom we all thought was a very great man and a great President. And there was Hoover, who had not had very good public relations, and the newspapers had probably given us a little


distorted view of the man because I think he probably would have done a better job than he was credited with.

HESS: You think he deserved better than he got?

DIVERS: Yes. And Harding, who was not classified as a great President by the historians, certainly, so that ...

HESS: What about "Silent Cal?"

DIVERS: Well, Coolidge was--had a good reputation and had taken us through some good times--so that and I guess that that takes me back a good ways. So, I thought that Truman would probably--at that time I had the impression that he would be below Roosevelt and above the others in terms of the Presidency.

HESS: All right, moving back up to a little closer to our time period. In October of 1945, now that


was near the end of your period as Regional Representative of the National Housing Agency, and in October of 1945, wartime restrictions were removed from the use of building materials for forty days, and at the end of that time, the restriction had to be reimposed, and the person responsible for their removal was John W. Snyder, who at that time, was Director of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. Do you recall that? When restrictions were removed for forty days in the fall of 1945 and it was found that they had to be reimposed?

DIVERS: There was a difference of opinion at that time as to whether it would be desirable to remove restrictions or to continue them. Some people were of the opinion that the Government regulations were hampering the flow of materials and the distribution of them. That there were ample supplies and that if the restrictions and


regulations were taken off that everything would be everything--would take care of itself.

HESS: What was your view?

DIVERS: As I recall I thought that it was too early.

HESS: To remove the restrictions?

DIVERS: Too early to remove the restrictions. I thought that we should work towards the idea of removing the regulations, but I thought that this was too early for us to do it. There was a terrific pent up demand for construction of all types. And since the people who would build could make more money from building commercial structures, or industrial structures, the materials and labor all gravitated in that direction, and as a result, it created even greater shortages in materials that could be used in both types of buildings. I mean both commercial, industrial,


and residential. And the residential suffered because of even greater shortages of materials than they'd previously had. Actually, the builders of homes, the limited number of homes that were permitted, after V~E Day and before V-J Day, the builders suffered from shortages of materials and had to use substitutes and I'm sure that the quality of construction was not up to prewar standards, but they did manage to find materials that they could use with the priorities that they were given by the Government agencies. And I think that, as I recall, that it was largely as a result. of the complaints of the homebuilders that they couldn't get materials, that the regulations were reimposed.

HESS: Do we have part of that problem remaining with us today? Is it more economical for a builder to go out and build an office building, for instance, rather than a residential building?


DIVERS: Today there isn't any shortage of materials. There is some skilled labor that is short, but I don't think it's in the building trades now. That the shortage today is in money and the lending institutions can get a higher return on their money by lending it to people who are investing in commercial or industrial structures, than they can by lending it on residential properties. And, as a result, a higher percentage of the money is going into commercial and industrial properties, and a smaller percentage than usual is going into residential.

HESS: Should that be rectified? Could that be changed to make more money flow into residential housing?

DIVERS: I think it will take care of itself because the indications are that the volume of money to be spent on plant improvements by industry in


1970 is going down and will probably be less than in 1969. The commercial portion includes high rise buildings with apartments in and so on and so forth which adds to the housing supply. And, it's really been the one-family home market that has suffered over the course of the last eighteen months as a result of the shortage of money. But, I think that this will begin to ease up. This money has to--the money that goes into housing, into single-family homes, has to come from some place, and the Government can't print the money and supply it because that would just create more inflation and we would be worse off than we have been the last year or two with an attack of inflation. So, the money has to come from savings, really. And during the course of the last two years the savings have people haven't, have not been putting as much money into the savings banks, savings accounts, and savings and loan associations,


and savings accounts in commercial banks as they had been before.

HESS: Why?

DIVERS: Well, the reasons, so far as we know are these: That they've been taking money that would ordinarily go into savings accounts, and in 1968, and the early part of 1969, were putting it in the stock market. And since the middle of 1969, they've been investing it in United States Government bonds, corporate bonds, short term obligations of Government agencies where they could get 8 percent or mo