Oral History Interview with
Appraiser for the Farm Credit Administration, 1933-34; in the Field Service of the Central Bank for Cooperatives, Department of Agriculture, 1935-38; employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1938-49; employee of the Rural Electrification Administration, Department of Agriculture, 1949-52; and Chief, Farmers' Service Division, Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, Technical Cooperation Administration, Department of State, 1952-56.
Phillip W. Voltz
Glen Echo, Maryland
November 14, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Phillip W. Voltz
Glen Echo, Maryland
November 14, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Voltz, for the record, would you tell me a little about your background, where were you born, where were you educated and a little bit about your early life and some of the positions that you've held?
VOLTZ: Mr. Hess, I was born on a farm in southern Wisconsin. The closest trading town in Wisconsin was Salem, just a few miles from the Illinois line, and the metropolis of that day in my early history, early life, was the little town of Antioch, at that time probably a population of
about a thousand. But I was born on a farm and stayed on the farm until I was about fourteen or fifteen. As Clarence Darrow said, "I stayed on the farm until I was old enough to work and, according to my wife, I haven't worked much since." But, from about 1912 or 13, in the year 1912 or 13, my father and my mother and myself, moved into Kenosha and I was a graduate of the Kenosha High School in 1915. After 1915 my first job was with American Brass Company at Kenosha and I worked there for about a year and saved a little money. And in the fall of 1916 I went to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. World War I broke out, I think, April 7th, 1917, and I quit school and enlisted in World War I about ten days after war was declared. The thing that caused me to leave college and enlist in the Navy was Woodrow Wilson's great speech, "Let's make the world
safe for Democracy," and I took the words to heart and enlisted in the United States Navy. All during my naval career I was assigned to posts within the United States, spending a lot of time at the Naval Air Station at Rockaway Beach. At that station, the planes that were the first planes to fly the Atlantic started from there; but I wasn't there at the time.
I got a discharge to return to school. I think my discharge was dated January 10th, 1919 and the following fall I went to the University of Wisconsin where I studied agriculture with a major in agricultural economics and cooperative marketing and I've spent, practically, the balance of my life, or the major part of my life, working with cooperatives and other non-profit organizations. This work, fortunately, or unfortunately, has taken me to most of the densely populated countries
of the world with the exception of the Iron Curtain countries. I've never been behind the Iron Curtain but I've been, in my travels and in my work, in most of the states in the Union and in most of the major countries. My wife and I were fortunate enough to go around the world in 1954, just incidentally at Government expense, and in 1956 while I was stationed in Taipei, Taiwan, I resigned, or was riffed, and decided to quit Government service, and I returned to the States and have been in a state of retirement since that time. That's probably too much in detail, but that's my background.
HESS: When did you begin your Government service?
VOLTZ: I think it was about 1933 or 34, shortly after Roosevelt was elected, shortly after Roosevelt took office. When was that, '34?
VOLTZ: Yes, 1933. No it wasn't….
HESS: March the 4th, 1933.
VOLTZ: It was shortly, let's see, yes, it was either in 1933 or 1934. My first job was a Land Bank appraiser with the Farm Credit Administration out of St. Paul. I appraised farms for Federal Land Bank loans, and as a rule we could only work during the summer months. In the winter months I either was on leave or was called into the Land Bank in St. Paul and served on the loan committee. After about a year or two of work with the Farm Credit Administration I was called into Washington into the Cooperative Branch of the Division of Cooperatives, USDA and assisted in working on USDA Bulletin 57 which was an inventory of the Farmer Cooperatives in the United States. About 1938 I accepted a position
with the Tennessee Valley Authority, also, again, in the Cooperative Division and I stayed with TVA for eleven years. I left TVA about 1949 and went back to Washington with the Rural Electrification Administration. After about four years in Washington, I transferred to the, what was generally called, the point IV program, at that time under the State Department. I was assigned to Free China and I was chief of the farmers' organization division under an organization more generally known, at least to the Chinese, called JCRR, the Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction. I stayed in Taiwan for about four years until I retired in 1956.
HESS: During the Truman administration while you were with the Government, did you ever have occasion to meet Mr. Truman?
VOLTZ: Yes. I had the opportunity, a very pleasant
opportunity, of shaking hands with him one time in the Raleigh Hotel. He had been asked to meet with and to make a speech to a small group of leaders of the Rural Electrification program, but things in his office were so, I won't say hectic, but probably unsettled, that he originally turned this group down. But at the last minute, however, he accepted the invitation and dashed over and made a very brief, but very pointed, speech to this particular group. After his preliminary remarks, he said, "As I was going out of the door somebody handed me this speech that I should read, but I don't like to read speeches," he said, "I want today to talk off-the-cuff." And he did. I suppose some place, someone has got a pretty good record of that speech. I remember some things that he said. He said he had torn out a sheet of paper, an ad of the privately-owned and tax-
paying private utilities, and he held that advertisement up and he said, "When I get an Attorney General, I've had a little difficulty in getting and keeping Attorney Generals lately, I'm going to have my Attorney General do something about this." And for the first time I heard the President use words which probably wouldn't be permitted on TV or even on tape today. But shortly after that meeting, a few of us had the opportunity to shake hands with the President and I enjoyed meeting him very much and always was a great admirer of his frankness, his honesty, and his enthusiasm.
HESS: Do you recall any other incidents pertaining to Mr. Truman?
VOLTZ: Well, under the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary [Charles] Brannan, they had a little
difficulty in getting the type of person that they wanted as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. They finally settled on a very dear friend of mine, now dead, Knox T. Hutchinson, and Mr. Hutchinson and I would often drive out to Beltsville, or some other place together and quite often we would start talking shop and things that we were both mutually interested in. One day I remember Mr. Hutchinson telling me about the time the President officially gave him his appointment and the story is, Mr. Hutchinson tells me, was about like this: He was called to Washington and a time was set up for him to meet the President prior to his appointment. And he said, "The President sat behind a rather big desk in a big room and as soon as my time for meeting the President came, and I entered the room, the President didn't wait for me to get to his desk. He got up from behind his desk
and walked a half or three quarters of the way to meet me, and I remember his first words was, 'Mr. Hutchinson, I'm so pleased to meet you.' He said, 'Secretary Brannan has told me that you're something that we've been looking for for a long time. You're a farmer that has experience with cotton, corn and with livestock. You're from Tennessee, which is one of the finest agricultural states in the nation, and that you're one of the best farmers in the state, coming from that same territory where Andrew Jackson selected his farm. Mr. Hutchinson, please sit down. I'm so glad that I have this opportunity to meet you."' And with a flourish, the President signed Mr. Hutchinson's appointment. And after a few minutes of, should I say, chit chat, why Mr. Hutchinson got up to go. The President said, "Mr. Hutchinson, do you raise any sheep?"
And Mr. Hutchinson said, "No, Mr. President, I never raised any sheep. I have some dairy cows and beef cattle and I have twenty or thirty acres of fruit, but we don't raise sheep."
"Well," he says, "don't tell anyone this, but I'm kind of glad you don't raise sheep. I never liked sheep and I want to tell you why. When I was a boy on a farm in Missouri, our family kept about forty or fifty sheep and every once in a while one of these old ewes would die and it was my job as a boy to take that old stinky sheep out in the field and dig a hole and bury her. You know, to this day I have never liked sheep."
Now, that's the story as Mr. Hutchinson told me. Of course, I've run across some other things but not directly related to the President.
HESS: Do you recall what Mr. Truman's attitude on