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Walter Matscheck Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Walter Matscheck

Director of the Kansas City Civic Research Institute from 1921 until 1936.

Kansas City, Missouri
April 30, 1963
by J. R. Fuchs

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1963
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Walter Matscheck

 

Kansas City, Missouri
April 30, 1963
by J. R. Fuchs

[1]

FUCHS: Mr. Matscheck, I understand you’re writing a history of the Kansas City Civic Research Institute, which you once directed in Kansas City, but before we go into that and your subsequent activities in the county and relationship with Mr. Truman, I'd like to go back to the early days and ask you where and when you were born.

MATSCHECK: I was born in the little town of Medford, Wisconsin, in 1890. Shortly after, when I think I was about two years old, my family moved to North Dakota. I stayed there until I graduated with a B.A. degree in economics from the University of North Dakota. The next two years I spent at the University of Wisconsin where I took a master's degree in economics. Then I worked in Wisconsin on a survey of the state normal schools and one of the state university--which was conducted by a man from the Bureau of Municipal Research of New York City. That sort of got me into this field of municipal research.

[2]

FUCHS: About what year would that survey have been conducted?

MATSCHECK: That was in 1913 and 1914. I stayed in Madison until 1916 when I went to Dayton, Ohio, as a staff member of the Dayton Bureau of Municipal Research. I was in Dayton until January of 1918, when Mr. John M. Guild, who was secretary of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, asked me to come here as secretary of the civic department of the Chamber. Mr. Guild, before he came here in 1917, had been general secretary of the Greater Dayton Association which was the chamber of commerce of that city. I knew him there and that's why he brought me here. Mr. Guild thought that the civic department of the Chamber of Commerce could be made into a municipal research bureau for the city of Kansas City. And it was with that in mind that he asked me to take charge of the department. However, after two years, we all agreed that an independent, fact-finding, non-partisan organization without any ax to grind, was not the type of thing for which a chamber of commerce was best fitted. And so, a number of people in Kansas City who had been active trying to improve government operations decided the time had come to organize a governmental

[3]

research bureau. These people had been particularly active in the charter movements which had preceded the 1920's, especially those in 1917 to 1918. Three men, Mr. William B. Henderson, Mr. H. D. Faxon, and Mr. Howard McCutcheon were the leaders in the new bureau and were supported in all their activities by Mr. William Volker. He now provided the funds to start the research bureau. When I came to Kansas City, and the civic department was organized in the Chamber of Commerce, these people had said, "Well, if the Chamber of Commerce can do it, that's fine. So let's wait a while." But, as I said, after two years, they found it wouldn't work in the chamber. The bureau they then started was called at that time the Kansas City Public Service Institute.

FUCHS: Why did they decide it wouldn't work?

MATSCHECK: Well, you see, a Chamber of Commerce is a business organization and has a business angle. The principles upon which they are based are business policies, business activities, and they're not completely objective. An institute or a research bureau of this type must be objective without any ax to grind; must be non-partisan and non-political; must not represent business interests

[4]

or any other interests. It must be as nearly independent, fact-finding, non-partisan, all that, as possible. Also a chamber of commerce is a committee type of organization. Committees meet and discuss problems, and very frequently the committee action is based on the opinions of the members of the committee rather than on purely objective fact. Then too, a chamber of commerce, even a civic department, perhaps particularly a civic department, has to take part in too many things. In anything of civic interest that came up the civic department had to participate. You can't do that if you're going to make detailed studies and particularly when you have practically no staff. There just wasn't time. All these factors made the people who organized the Institute feel that it wouldn't work there, and the Chamber of Commerce agreed. The board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the new organization and wished it well.

FUCHS: This was in what year?

MATSCHECK: Organized in the fall of 1920 and actually started operation in the spring of 1921.

FUCHS: Was your staff increased from what it had been in the Chamber of Commerce?

[5]

MATSCHECK: Well, we started out in 1921--of course, I was the first staff--and then I had to build up what staff we had. The first man we hired was Ray W. Wilson, who was an accountant, who had been with the Akron, Ohio, Bureau of Municipal Research, young man with very good training and recommendations. So I brought him here as our first staff man and he remained with us several years. Later I recommended him to the Chamber of Commerce as the civic secretary for two reasons. First, it was a promotion for him--he'd get more money there. And, second, because I thought it would be awfully good for the Institute to have somebody over in the Chamber of Commerce who had our point of view and would be an ally to try to get the Chamber of Commerce to support the sort of thing we wanted to support. Of course, any organization has to use various methods of getting accomplished what it wants. One of the methods is to use other organizations. The Chamber could do things that we couldn't do. We did have very good support most of the time from the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Wilson, incidentally, remained with the Chamber of Commerce until 1940, when L. P. Cookingham became city manager here, and then he was made administrative

[6]

assistant to the city manager. He remained there until 1950 when he became city manager of Phoenix and made a phenomenal reputation. The city of Phoenix was pointed out nationally as one of the best governed city manager cities in the United States two or three times. He retired a couple of years ago. And just recently, when Independence adopted its city manager government, it got Mr. Wilson out of retirement to come here for five months to get it started. That's a little off the subject but he's the type of man we tried to get. He was an accountant. The second man on the staff hired shortly afterwards was an engineer. That doesn't mean that he had to do technical engineering work but we had to have a man who understood public works, plans, specifications, engineering phases. Those two were always the basic staff.

FUCHS: What was his name, sir?

MATSCHECK: I think the first one was George W. Hall, and he remained also for a number of years. I think he remained almost until the time I left. Mr. Wilson left us, I can't remember the date, but it must have been the early thirties, or late twenties. When he went to the Chamber of Commerce, we employed a man named Jesse Seaton. And

[7]

he was our accountant for nearly all the remaining time I was here. He left shortly before I did and went to Washington and worked in various governmental agencies there.

FUCHS: He was an accountant primarily?

MATSCHECK: He was an accountant primarily. He was a very good man.

FUCHS: Are the fields of accountancy and economics considered the best background for work in this--is training in those fields considered the best background for work in municipal research bureaus--civic research institutes of this type?

MATSCHECK: No. Usually, particularly as this type of organization became more sophisticated (at that time it was still rather new), the best background was training in public administration. And there are schools of public administration now, of course, and people later on were employed from those organizations. But, generally I should say, that the earlier research bureaus employed people who were accounting men, preferably with some municipal

[8]

experience, and engineers, again preferably with municipal experience. But it wasn't so much the previous experience in that type of work as their ability to do objective research work and their interest. We wanted people who were interested in government. And that is very important, of course.

Now, I don't know what more I can say about my background. That was it. The Institute was founded, as I said, in 1921, and without going into details, we operated until I left in April, 1936 and then another director was selected, but he left about the end of the year. Then a third man was selected, in January, 1937, I think. He remained until about 1941 when the fourth director was selected. The first two men I didn't know, except that I had met them. The fourth director, Mr. Loren Miller, who was director from 1941 to 1944, was a man who had had considerable experience in municipal work and in governmental research bureaus. He started with the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research, which was one of the outstanding ones of the country, and later worked in New York City with Dunn and Bradstreet on their municipal work. I think, at the time he came here, he was associate director of the Bureau of Governmental

[9]

Research of Newark, New Jersey. He stayed in Kansas City until 1944, and then he left to go back to the Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research as director there.

FUCHS: Do you remember the name of the gentleman who succeeded you?

MATSCHECK: Yes, Edward W. Harding, a man who had had very little experience in this type of work and was working for the Federal Government at the time he was hired. The man who succeeded him was Corbett Long. I don't recall his exact experience but it had been in some municipal work, and I think he had worked with the T. Coleman Andrews Company, a firm of certified public accountants in Richmond, Virginia. And he, I think had considerable experience; I had not known him before.

FUCHS: What was your knowledge of the situation in Kansas City while you were yet in Dayton, and had there been a comparable situation in regard to political organizations and so forth in Dayton when you went there?

MATSCHECK: When I went to Dayton, Dayton had the city manager plan. I went there in 1916 and they'd had the city manager plan since 1912. It was then the largest city with that type of plan and it was doing a remarkable job. They had a very good manager and the city was just doing fine.

[10]

Mr. Henderson, whom I mentioned previously as being one of the leaders there, in fact, the leader, and founded the Institute here, had gone to Dayton and had been there for some days and studied the plan. When he came back he was more convinced than ever that what Kansas City needed was a city manager plan and a municipal research bureau.

FUCHS: Had he acquainted you with the situation in Kansas City as far as machine politics and...

MATSCHECK: I didn't meet him in Dayton, I didn't meet him until I came to Kansas City. I suppose briefly that's the history of the Institute, at least, a broad sketch of who were the directors. Of course, during all that time we worked on almost every phase of city government, much of county government, some on schools and more on schools after I left. We didn't do much with the school system because we didn't have a person qualified to do educational work on the staff. And we did some on state government. I can remember that while I was still there, we wrote the budget law for the state which was adopted and finance provisions for the state which were adopted.

[11]

FUCHS: Were you apprehensive about how well a civic research or a municipal research bureau might work out in Kansas City in view of the Pendergast organization and, you might almost say, the violent conditions that prevailed here some times in regard to civic affairs. I might be over emphasizing the nature of that.

MATSCHECK: Well, at the beginning I wasn't apprehensive at all, because I thought it was just a normal situation. Kansas City was a city, which had an antiquated charter, an antiquated form of government, two houses of council modeled on Federal Government--all that sort of thing which was absolutely unfitted for city government. The city government was operating financially with deficits and didn't know it. The county system was so rudimentary that they didn't know where the money came from or how it went. That's stretching it a little bit, but they didn't know much about it. It was just a situation where a bureau would go in and try to learn all it could about the city government and then make suggestions. Now, of course, wherever possible, an organization of this type works with officials and that is a principle. .And we worked with the officials, particularly in the early

[12]

twenties--I'm talking about that period now. We worked with them, and we did make studies of city affairs. We confined ourselves to city affairs primarily, at the beginning, and the first thing we did after Mr. Wilson came was a study of city finance. We made a very thorough study of the city financial situation, and of its methods, organizations, accounting procedures, purchasing, and all that sort of thing, and wrote a rather extensive report and issued many issues of our bulletin Public Affairs. I perhaps should say here that another principle of an organization of this type is that you don't just make a study and then write a report and file it away. You endeavor to see that something is done about it, though you don't take part in any political campaign, you publicize your results.

FUCHS: You didn't deal in personalities?

MATSCHECK: We never dealt in personalities and, perhaps, as I shall indicate later, one of the few times we ever mentioned an official's name was when we mentioned the name of Harry S. Truman.

FUCHS: How often was your bulletin published?

MATSCHECK: Every week. All the time I was here and for some

[13]

time after that. I think it was in 1940 that they changed to a monthly issue, with interim issues as needed.

FUCHS: These were small bulletins?

MATSCHECK: They were small, four-page affairs, pocket size. The idea was something that somebody could read quickly. If you're writing a bulletin once a week, in several issues you can condense a report in all its major aspects. So, we dealt with city finance first, as I said, because finances are basic in any government. You've got to have money and you've got to know how it's handled, and you've got to budget it properly and all that, or you don't know