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William Bauchop Wilson

Government Car

Webmaster's note: This article appeared in one of the area newspapers, I don't know which one, as I only have a clipping. The date of printing was sometime in 1963.

Blossburg Politician Pulled Washington 'First'

 Washington (AP) - When William B. Wilson became the first secretary of labor just 50 years ago he accomplished a bureaucratic coup that has evinced appreciative whistles from top civil servants ever since.

A lot of people nowadays probably don't remember Wilson, a former resident of Blossburg, PA. But he's the fellow who sparred around until he became the first U. S. Cabinet member to acquire a government-owned automobile.

It took a bit of doing and brought howls from economy-minded members of congressional appropriations committees who had to come up with annual oil and gas money. But Bill bulled it through, thereby establishing the precedent for a motorized Cabinet that is still with us.

Wilson, a onetime coal miner, became a congressman -- a Democrat from Pennsylvania. Eventually, as chairman of the House Labor Committee, he helped pass legislation creating the Labor Department as a Cabinet-rank agency.

When Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated president in 1913, one of his first acts was to name Bill Wilson, no relation, to be the first labor secretary. Bill had a whole new department to build up from scratch.

The new secretary needed personal transportation so he borrowed a team of horses and a carriage from the Commerce Department. The trouble was one of the horses, as borrowed things often are, was fairly decrepit and often at the vet's.

Wilson examined the rules and found an authority to acquire vehicles might conceivably be stretched to include a motor car. So he traded the horses and carriage, along with some $800 in Labor Department fund, for a second-hand Oakland car.

Former Capitol Hill colleagues fumed, insisting he could have traded for another horse. They passed a law saying nobody else could use federal funds to buy a car without specific congressional approval.

Wilson's reasoning that he had saved big feed bills lost some luster when, at an appropriations hearing, questioning congressmen found the old Oakland was costing the government $1,400 a year maintenance. They relented however and bowed to the inevitable, letting Wilson junk the Oakland and get a new car, a Winton.

Labor Department researchers dug up Wilson' bold deed in assembling little-known facts to help celebrate the department's 50th anniversary.

President Kennedy is to attend a March 4 banquet here honoring the department birthday. In the ensuing several months there are to be other banquets and conferences in 15 states as well as in Puerto Rico.


The Wilson index:

• William Bauchop Wilson Main Page
• Coming to America
• Growing up in Arnot, Pennsylvania
• The Next 20 Years
• Secretary-Treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America
• Congress
• The Family
• Ferniegair Farm Blossburg, Pennsylvania
• Bibliography