Oral History Interview with
Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration,
1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice-President
and Director, Defense Plant Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director
of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator,
1945; Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46.
Secretary Snyder was a longtime close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning
with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
John W. Snyder
February 28, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
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and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
February 28, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Snyder, the first subject on our list this morning is housing.
SNYDER: Mr. Hess, before we go further into the housing program I think it would be well--we've discussed different phases of it from time to time--but I think in our discussion I ought to give you some of my impressions and theories about the housing shortage problem of the post-war period. In government there is the greatest facility for creating, amplifying and promoting crises. We can have crises about most everything when we want to promote legislation, when we want to get headlines, and when we want to get a point across. We've had all sorts of shortages. We've had labor shortages; we've had all sorts of shortages from time to time that have been played up and enlarged to
real crisis level. Now there was no one that was more in accord with the idea of having ample housing than was I in 1945, or as I am right today when we have practically as big a shortage as we had in those days. The truth of the matter is that those interested in the housing program in 1945 were determined to build it up into one of the largest undertakings of the postwar period. In preparation for it--back during the war they prepared a questionnaire and sent it out to all the G.I.'s in the service. They asked them: "When you return from the service, would you like to live in a house or in an apartment? Would you like to live on a farm? What are your plans? If you're not married, how soon do you plan to get married? We want to try to make preparations for your return so that we can supply you with the type of home that you so richly deserve, and in order to help us in that preparation would you mind
answering the questions in the enclosed questionnaire." And they started in by asking: "Do you want to build a home in the city or in the country or in a small town? Do you want a brick house, or a wooden house, or what material would you like for the construction of your home? How large a house do you want? How many bedrooms--3, 4, or 5?" Then it gave a list of all the different types of rooms--living room, den, recreation room--"Check the ones that you want in your home. What kind of flooring do you want in the house? Do you want carpets on the floor? What kind of draperies did you have in mind? What kind of heating would you like to have--hot air, electric heating, steam heating, coal or oil burners? Do you want your house wired for radio installation? Do you want this or that?" It went on at great length on every conceivable item. "Do you want an electrified kitchen, and if so, just what do you want in it?" And it gave a list
of all the things you could put in kitchens that were electrified. Well, this was a field day for a serviceman. You can imagine, if nothing else, it was at least a short time morale builder, because you can picture him sitting out on a little atoll down in the Pacific in his undershirt looking over the questionnaire. It was hot. The occasional firing reports in the distance or maybe close by, and he is sitting down there filling out this questionnaire. Well, the results were absolutely amazing. Nearly everyone of them wanted a house, and they wanted a nice house and they just described it to a fare-you-well by the checkmarks. It was utterly amazing how the compilation of the data swelled the demands for homes that were going to be required. Then our economic planners went further than that. They took that as part base and then they planned cleaning up all the slums at once and adding
it on top of this terrific demand from the returning G.I. There was not a great deal of specific planning for how it was to be financed by the individual, but the idea of having Government financing was already beginning to take place in these large Government projects; and fortunately that was toned down to some extent and private industry was brought in, although with considerable help from the Government in the insurance program and in the loans on multiple housing. But actually it was built up into a crisis that the papers and the radio played up a great deal--at the time we didn't have T.V., it came in a little later--we faced the housing problem under considerable pressure that was somewhat engendered and somewhat propagandized as to the intensity and extent of it. We have always had a housing shortage. Before the war we had a housing shortage. We will always have a housing shortage.
But before the war we hadn't learned propaganda usages quite as well as we did during the war. As the war came to a close we brought into Government a great many planners who just enjoyed building up these crises and then make a grand plan to meet them. So, with that preliminary you get some idea of how the problem was enlarged when it was already a pretty serious problem.
HESS: I read something along the same line that you just mentioned about housing being chosen--proper housing shall we say--after the war as sort of a reward for the servicemen that were out fighting. Why was this particular subject chosen over what other subjects that might have been chosen--increase in jobs might have been emphasized, but here housing seems to have been chosen as the reward.
SNYDER: Well, I think that it was the psychological
thing. Here the soldier had been at the front; he'd gone through mud and deprivation and he had had a rough time of it and that was something to look forward to--a morale builder for him. Actually, I think, that the demand for the G.I. training had a greater appeal and actually worked out that way when the soldier got back, but he made a field day of this opportunity to express what kind of housing he wanted. Of course, the demand wasn't anything near the initial tally of the response. What I meant by that, it was entirely different. There were more small houses; there were more economical houses as was evidenced some years later when we put in the ceiling of $10,000. The whole procedure accenting the housing crisis in a way was unfortunate. Builders, material people--the laborer, plumber, electrician--they all got the notion of an enlarged demand for their particular product or service, and it made
realism difficult. It forced prices up. When they played up how derelict the program of building houses was and the tremendous demand, why, we had to put a ceiling price on old houses because it was just running the cost of real estate up alarmingly and actually above any reality of values of the time.
HESS: Isn’t this really playing with political dynamite to raise the hopes of all these people? You send out all these questionnaires and you say, "What would you like? What type of house?" And then after the war they come marching home and they don't get these houses. The party in power at that time, being the Democratic Party, wouldn't it make these people who are returning with their high hopes mad at the party in power that had raised their hopes and then not been able to satisfy them?
SNYDER: There may be considerable truth in what you
just said, but that never gets home to the formulators of these plans. They get a great idea; it has appeal; it's something they think will warm the hearts toward the administration--that's how they sell it to the administration that's in power at the time--and it does have the effect of creating these crises and demands that are over-heated, that are too large, and it brings a great deal of disappointment to the one who was influenced by it when it doesn't work out. That's why, I think, that the greatest thing we did for the soldier was this G.I. training because there weren't very many of them that were disappointed in that, and they took great advantage of it and put it to good uses.
HESS: This is a promise that paid off whereas housing did not. Just on the general subject of housing, now we've mentioned how through
the thirties and much further back than that, there had always been a housing shortage. There was a housing shortage through the war and here at this time after the war, we're promising to build so many houses. Now we've discussed why more houses weren't built--there weren't enough journeymen--but is there any one thing that could have been done, are there two or three things that could have been done to help build more houses at this time?
SNYDER: No, not in my belief. I think we got as many houses as we had the capacity to build. The demand for housing, due to many of the Government's own actions in the slum clearance programs and in the multiple housing programs brought on badly planned, badly financed, badly constructed projects that hurt the program as a whole. There were many of these low cost housing projects that are in a very
bad state of maintenance and rehabilitation within a few years. The increased demand resulted in many, many of these instances of improper construction, which didn't last for the period that they were supposed to last, thirty or forty years, and they began to show pretty heavy depreciation after fifteen or sixteen years, so I think we overplayed to the public, and to the soldier, this housing program which would have been a tremendous one if we'd just tried to meet it intelligently. Having generated a crisis, we tried to control the situation through material, labor and price controls. Now my feeling was that we could have done better if we hadn't tried to exaggerate the demand--it was there to start with, because for four years a great many materials had been withheld from the market--clothing, shoes, automobiles, tires, as well as housing and furniture; commodities of all characters had been withheld. We
had been on rationing. We had built up a big savings log of purchasing power and everybody was anxious to get in and make up for those four years, so we had a tremendous demand there already, and then to have fanned it up to an even brighter blaze brought about a great deal of disappointment as you have read about in some of the accounts of the times and the failure of some of these particularly heavy drives like Mr. Wyatt experienced when he tried to overtax the capacity of the Nation to construct in unrealistic quantity and quality.
HESS: For my first question on housing this morning I took some dates and facts from Somers' book, which we have already mentioned, and Somers mentions that in July of 1945 you appointed Hugh L. Potter as Construction Coordinator in OWMR.
SNYDER: Mr. Potter's appointment was brought about
by considerable pressure of the different groups interested in housing--the materials people, labor and suppliers. During the war there was built up a great respect or hope, let's say, for a czar. We had a rubber czar appointed to coordinate the rubber manufacture of synthetic rubber. We had a czar in steel; we had a czar in aluminum. It was a great name that was brought in as a coordinator to get greater cooperation and production into certain areas of the economy. So, after the war that same notion carried through and the appointment of Mr. Potter was somewhat in response to a demand for a czar in housing--a man who was going to pull everything together and get it in motion. Now the difference between a czar in peacetime and a czar in wartime is that you have greater leverage in time of war on priority items and you can give him some authority to put priority numbers onto certain things from
certain plants to go to certain places. In peacetime we don't have that and we don't want to have it, in my opinion. I don't believe in a planned economy and I think that you have to bring the forces of free enterprise to play in order to get the best results. Certainly controls had to be held on immediately after the war because of the tremendous demand that I've just mentioned, but as soon as there was the slightest opportunity of expecting that ample supply of a certain product was on the market we should have moved towards the release of controls covering that product. There was an objection to that because it would show a sign of breaking the straight front of strict control of the economy. Well, when are you ever going to get through with controls unless you break off at some time or other. It's the same way with our tax program. We have built up a tremendous conglomerate mass of taxes since the depression—
we started in with some of the tax revenue bills to help with the plans to alleviate the depression, and when the war came on, why, when we'd need some additional funds for this or that and we'd find a source of funds and tack a new tax on to the structure, and there never came a proper time to take any of those off. The idea behind these taxes was that they were temporary tax measures, revenue measures, and that as soon as that crisis was over, they would be released. The truth of the matter is no one was ever willing, except the one affected by the tax, to discontinue a revenue measure.
HESS: As they say: There's nothing so permanent as a temporary tax.
SNYDER: That's right, or a temporary building in Washington. So, there is one of the great problems. Right today we are in the greatest need (which we may discuss later when we get
around to the Treasury) of revising the tax structure. We have a considerably imbalanced tax structure that ought to be improved--we've tried it from time to time--I made several attempts while I was in the Treasury--but it goes back to the same problem that is facing us now in our session this morning in the housing situation, and that is that once having that control it is hard to ever remove it. Because you've always got pressures, you've always got dislocations, you've always got the impropriety of groups of persons determining where material or labor or equipment should go in the housing program. How can you say whether a housing project is more important in Connecticut than it was in Nevada? You have to get the free enterprise forces to work to get a balance there. You can't dictate it from a chair in Washington, or in any other center.
HESS: Regarding Mr. Potter, what kind of a job did he do? How successful was he in carrying it out?
SNYDER: Well, unfortunately the times were against him, and conditions were against him. He was, I thought, an intelligent, well-balanced, businessman. He understood real estate very well; he understood construction very well, but he just came into being with the wrong title at the wrong time and how much good he did can only be measured by examining the number of things that he was able to accomplish. I think that he made some progress in our problem during the time of his administration. According to many people, he did not make a success because he didn't promptly accomplish what the job was played up to be.
HESS: On the subject of the release of controls, Somers say that on September the 1st Potter
recommended that Order L-41, the wartime regulation controlling construction materials, should be dropped, and that you announced that it would be repealed, effective October the 15th. Now I have heard that described as somewhat premature. What is your view of that?
SNYDER: Well, yes and no. It was premature in one sense; it was not in another. Up until that time I had experienced great difficulty in relaxing to any extent on the priorities and on the controls of labor and materials in the housing area. Everybody that was in back of the different departments, that had housing as part of its goal, wanted to retain 100 percent control on every-thing and to direct that the entire available materials--that means pipe, plumbing, electric wiring, heating equipment and everything should be directed towards housing. Well, of course, that was not exactly
fitting in with trying to rebuild the whole of our economy. We had factories to build; we had stores to build; we had cities that had held back for four years from building necessary construction in their eleemosynary institutions, in their courthouses, in their city halls, and to hold all those people with a tight rein was an impossible thing. So, from that sense L-41 ought to have been released. If we could have trimmed it 50 percent at that time, I would have agreed, but no one agreed to that at the time. We did release it. A great protest went up from all of the planners and fanned many newspaper columnists into terrific protest. There were a few sound--I call it "sound" from my point of view--sound editorials and stories and comments about the propriety of removing L-41, but after trying it out for awhile, it became evident that we were not going to get the wholehearted support of the construction
industry that we had hoped to get. So, after considerable negotiation I recommended to the President that we should restore the controls on materials--lumber and various other materials having to do with housing--but said that we should limit it to 50 percent of the available material that should go into housing. Now had we been able to get such agreement back in October we might have avoided the storm.
HESS: This was in December.
HESS: And at the same time they put a $10,000 ceiling on all new homes.
SNYDER: Well, we found, as I mentioned awhile ago, that the houses that we were talking about were entirely too costly; they were averaging up around $18,000 to $20,000 and you just
couldn't build any volume of houses and actually get the ultimate buying in that area, so it was determined that $10,000 was about the top level so that you could get a large volume of houses.
HESS: Was that higher level caused by the requests of the servicemen that had been made in the questionnaire?
SNYDER: Well, no, not entirely. It was because of the improved type of houses. A house that was built in the prewar days in the thirties did not have near the equipment and the things in it as did the houses that were contemplated by these planners and designers. They got the very finest architects to working on these multiple housing plans and naturally to build the thing up to the expectation, why, they all had central heating in them and electrical equipment that was many times--well, the majority of the times--was left out of the housing in
the days before the war. So, it was like the automobile of today. You could take the Ford of 1920 and it would chug along and take you from one place to another but it wouldn't do it quite in the style that the Ford of today does. So, that was one of the causes that made the price go up and then the better homes that were expected and in apparent demand at the time. The higher real estate values also had considerable to do with it.
HESS: On the subject of the construction of homes, do you think that if Lustron had been supported more than it was, earlier than it was, that that type of home, a prefabricated home made in a factory and then assembled on the site might have worked? This was a new idea at this time, is that right?
SNYDER: Somewhat, yes, but we had had prefabricated homes before the war that were on the market
for summer houses and things like that on the lakes and in the mountains...
HESS: Summer cabin type things.
SNYDER: Yes, that you could get a prefabricated home, but the idea of building a permanent home out of prefabricated materials was new and it had an immediate appeal in that it could probably meet the great demand for mass housing. As a matter of fact, there have been some very successful prefabricated housing project--two or three large companies that made a tremendous success of housing, where you have about half-a-dozen patterns that you can choose from and it's shipped right in on the truck and unloaded and you can put it together there on your site. But, that didn't have the appeal--the financing of it was difficult, and it just didn't have any appeal to the general public. And there are not too many of us who can look at a blueprint
and envisage a house. So, the most successful type of production was in housing projects where they built the house and you saw it and you could go and see samples of the kind of house in which you were going to live. Then the housewife or the householder could determine what he really wanted. To look at a blueprint is a difficult thing for a great many people and that, of course, was what the prefab industry relied on for the most part. They had certain locations where they had models set up, but except for a mass operation you couldn't travel to Detroit or someplace to look at a house and decide. And there were not a great many of the projects that were opened up as an addition that had prefab houses in them. Well, it was found that by gang construction that they could go into an area and build a whole series of houses somewhat to the same pattern making a few alterations. Of course, in many
cases they made none and it looked like eeny, meeny, miney, mo, but they soon learned that that had its drawbacks in sales.
Unfortunately, a lot of inferior planning and inferior construction was rushed off on the purchasers in the early days when there was such a demand for a roof over your head.
HESS: George Allen helped block the first loan to Lustron, as I understand, when he was in RFC and they wanted to borrow many millions of dollars and actually had only a few thousand dollars to put up. Perhaps that latter situation was the basis of their trouble.
SNYDER: Well, it was not a sound proposition that they offered.
HESS: In your report to the President on December the 8th--this is probably part of what went into the directives of December the 12th when the
ceiling was put on and also the 50 percent of the available materials channeled into housing contruction--but in your report to the President on December the 8th, you recommended the appointment of a special Housing Expediter with: "Responsibility for coordinating and expediting the housing program and for recommending new steps that may be needed." And four days later on December the 12th the President appointed a Housing Expediter with OWMR. Who recommended Wilson Wyatt?
SNYDER: My recommendation grew out of a series of discussions with Foley, Bowles and some others. It was called to my attention the other day that Mrs. Sam Rosenman, who was very active at that time in the housing project, supported the appointment of Wilson Wyatt, and I upon reflection remembered that that was the case. Wilson Wyatt had been the mayor of Louisville,
Kentucky and had had some experience in housing and was a member at that time of a national housing organization, and he was a very personable chap. This idea of appointing an expediter was a modified form of the potter appointment, and it was groping for some leadership that could put across this massive plan. Mr. Wyatt came into the picture with a thoroughly inflated idea of what could be accomplished. Unhappily he had been so thoroughly briefed by those who believed that holding controls on and channeling materials and so forth, without full analysis of the availability of skilled labor, of new types of material that would be needed, the new shapes, the new metal forms, the availability of unskilled labor too, and the preparation of the sites of the houses, those were somehow or other pushed off in a corner and not given any consideration; the notion was that
you could rule by edict and that, of course, just didn't turn out to be the case. And so when Mr. Wyatt came in he was all charged up with doing a terrific job in a terrific way. As a matter of fact, in our first conference with him when I tried to point out some of the hazards along the way, why, he was somewhat annoyed by me putting the handicaps out in front of him and attempting to discourage him and he said to me then, "Now the President has issued a pretty strong edict to me to get this job done, and he said to me 'Do no small things,' and that impressed me a great deal."
I said, "Well, it impresses me too and I know the President was sincere in saying it, but on the other hand, you can't put up a circus tent without having the poles and the ropes and everything to hold it up and tie it down." I said, "Now, you might get the canvas by a direct
order but you're going to have to get the poles cut somewhere and get some timber man who is willing to cut those poles and agree on a price for them and you've got to get people who are experienced in knowing how to raise those poles and put the canvas on top of it so it will be stable and stand there." I added, "It takes experience to do those things. You and I probably just couldn't go out and put up a circus tent. That's the same with building a house. I doubt if you and I could go and put the plumbing in."
"Well," he said, "now, John, you're telling me nothing but the handicaps that are ahead of us and I want to look forward to the greater goals."
I said, "Let's go over and talk to the President." And we walked across to the President's office and I told President Truman
that Mr. Wyatt and I had had a lengthy conversation on housing and rather than to handicap him I'd like for him to take this project of his out from under the OWMR and give him a free hand in the program he's going to undertake as Expediter. I further said that we would consult with the various parties and try to give him as much authority as he could under the laws. And we would certainly insist that everybody cooperate with him to the fullest extent, and that I had told him about the problems with skilled labor and proper materials and so forth but that didn't seem to deter him from his eagerness to go at it in a big way. Well, Mr. Truman said, "I think he ought to stay under your supervision but if you feel that way, let's give him every chance."
I said, "That's what I would like to do and I will cooperate with him to the fullest extent."
That was why and how he was taken out from under any supervision of OWMR. Unhappily some of the folks over in the housing authority got him together with some magazine writers and they just played this situation up--at least they had the man who was going to lead the folks out of the wilderness--and Fortune magazine did a superb job on him, and I say "on" him because that's what it turned out to be. They just dressed it up so it was an impossible job. From the day you looked at the magazine you knew it was doomed for failure. It took about a year to convince Wilson that you just couldn't do it that way. And, while he accomplished a great deal--a great deal was done--but I don't think it was any more than could have been done without all the fan-fare, and without the label of failure.
HESS: Mr. Wyatt served from December the 12th, 1945
until December the 5th, 1946. During the time that he was Housing Expediter, Mr. Wyatt had a good deal to say about the numbers of starts of housing units but he fell far short of that number in the completions column.
SNYDER: Well, again that is believing your own propaganda and not only his particularly, but his staff that would bring inadequate, improper, unseasoned estimates to him. And, he was so eager in making this appear as if progress was being made that he never stopped personally to analyze those reports as to the possibility of their being effective and that's where he fell down. He did not take into consideration the availability of skilled labor and of materials. Everybody wanted housing. Everyone of the forty-eight states, as it was then, wanted housing projects, as well as our territories. So, if you decided you're going
to have so many starts in Boston, so many starts in Chicago, and so many in New Orleans, you soon have a short distribution of available labor materials and so forth with which you just couldn't produce results. And, then when you would put those into a composite--"We're going to have 40,000 starts in the first quarter"--and then the individual areas didn't fill their part of that quota, you're going to have a failure.
HESS: Was there a bigger problem in obtaining labor than in materials or was it about equal?
SNYDER: It was about equal because, as I think I mentioned the other day, it was a matter of fabrication and matter of getting the timber cutters. You had to start right with trying to find the skilled timber cutter. You just can't pick a man up off the street and have him go
out and become a lumberjack. They were developing new techniques in reforestation as they cut the timber, and all those things took planning and preparation. There were sawmill techniques and new shapes of materials. They had been cutting things for the defense programs, for the War Department and for the Navy and they had to reshape their sawmills, their planning mills, their semi-finishing mills, all those things had to be redesigned and refitted plus the skilled labor to operate them. So, there was a problem of supply of raw materials. We began new types of production and construction. We learned a great deal about conduits during the war and instead of the old seam pipes that we used to have we had extrusions that press the pipe out that had no seam in it at all. We changed the materials for our electric conduits, and before the war we had done a tremendous
amount of what's called knob and tube work where you just hang the wires along on the rafters of the house on knobs and when you went down, you put it through ceramic tubes. Now we run wires through in loom or the wires are self-insulated now so that you can run them down through the walls in different ways or you had these conduit pipes now that are laid as part of the original construction, and your wiring is done later by fishing the wires through these various conduits. The plumbing had all been new types of plumbing. The plumbing fixture manufacturers had to revamp from the mass production they were doing for these large cantonments and factories and things of that sort, to go back into designs for homes. They were slow in coming through and again it was a matter of skilled labor in the suppliers plant, don't you see, in addition to the actual
artisan or journeyman who worked on the house itself, and labor was very reluctant to permit an apprentice to come in and learn to be a master carpenter or a master plumber or a master bricklayer, and it was with great difficulty that pressure was put onto the labor people themselves to permit more apprenticeships. And then we ran into some civil rights problems because the civil rights people took the occasion immediately after the war to start making pressures, which I had no reluctance in going along with, but it's a matter of practicality of getting everybody to cooperate with you. The union leaders initially had a tremendous amount of reluctance to ignore the racial situation and just hire all the people who applied for jobs as apprentices who wanted to learn a certain trade. We tried to do a tremendous amount on short notice in many areas, and in many fields--in sociology, and in
construction, and in psychology; we tried to do it all within a short time and it took some adjustment.
HESS: The situation of the apprentice programs in the unions is still with us today but what pressures can be brought to bear on a union to try to enlarge their apprenticeship program?
SNYDER: It is an appeal to the leaders, and they of course, have to go down through the rank and file. It's just like in an automobile factory, you have a foreman and he has built his boy up to succeed him and he has certain training. They want to keep that to a minimum until his friend or his son or someone is ready to step in and take over his job and they don't want the impeded. So, it isn't just the boss up at the top that is on the problem, it's the next layer, the next layer, and right on down into the project itself. You have your local
labor unions right here in the city who are looking after their own flock and as long as they deal out these apprenticeships so as to hold the skilled manpower in controllable numbers, they have a better leverage over their union. So, that's been the problem. We had some great leaders in labor who were at the head of the unions--always have had--and right after the war the top men put great effort to try and increase the number of apprentices that were admitted into training that would develop them into skilled journeymen.
Then, of course, we developed a great deal of mass production as a result of that. Even in a house that is not considered prefab, there are many precut pieces of material that come into that house and the carpenter on the job doesn't have to do a thing but install them. Lumber is handled so differently now from what it was back in the thirties. It comes
much more complete and ready to go into the building than it used to, and you can go out and see the finer appearance of the material in the lumberyards, much finer than it used to be in the old lumberyards back in my days, certainly.
HESS: What could Mr. Wyatt have done to have carried out a more effective job?
SNYDER: This is pure conjecture talking about...
HESS: Awfully "iffy" question.
SNYDER: Well, it's conjecture trying to go back and take advantage of twenty years' happenings now and say that this could have happened or couldn't have happened. My personal belief was and is that had he taken a little more time to study the realities and to consult with the labor leaders, the manufacturers, the suppliers, the furniture people, about their capacities and to
what extent it could be expanded and what delivery dates could have been given him, he would have been in a much better position to have made the determination about the size and scope of his announced plans later on. He announced the plans and then had to come back and find he had built added resistance because with this fanfare that was given to the prospective great volume of houses planned, it just forced real estate prices up, it forced material prices up, and it forced labor prices up.
HESS: The report that you submitted in December advised the President that OWMR was taking action on the housing situation under a six-point program, and the six objectives were:
1. To increase the supply of building materials.
2. To strengthen inventory controls to prevent hoarding.
3. To strengthen price controls over building materials.
4. To discourage unsound lending practices and speculation.
5. To enlist industry support in increasing production and fighting inflation.
6. To provide information and advisory service on home values to the public.
What do you recall about that particular report?
SNYDER: Well, I recall a great deal about it. As a matter of fact, while we set it out there as a six-point program, each one is somewhat reliant upon the other and tied in with the other, particularly, to increase the supply of building materials: That immediately is part and parcel of enlisting the industries' support to increase production and to hold down cost, so those two are tied very much together. And, that was one of the basic plans, as I just mentioned to you, that Mr. Wyatt might have found useful had he approached it from that perspective.
Number one: We had numbers of conferences with the heads of the building industry to see just what could be done. As I have mentioned, if Mr. Wyatt had been willing to work along with us, we had these plans underway. We were going to try to accelerate the production of the industries that produced the equipment for housing, and that went all the way from the timber cutter in the field clear on through to the electric range manufacturer for the kitchen.
HESS: Did you tell him you had these plans underway when you first talked to him?
SNYDER: I told him that we were working on them, because we had not rounded them out. It was a progressive effort.
HESS: It's something that was underway.
SNYDER: We had an idea that we thought was going to work. Yes, I discussed this with him, but
he had a different notion as to how to get things done. Someone had told him--I don't think it was his own idea--but someone had told him that if you create enough pressure you get the thing done. Well, that has been the failure as well as the success of many of our big projects. Now, on the inventory controls, human nature will be human nature, and as the pressure developed we did learn of certain groups or certain individuals going out and buying up large quantities of essential material or equipment and holding it for a price rise that they felt sure was coming when that much pressure was put on. So, the same kind of pressure of public opinion that some folks thought would bring about a greater effort also influenced people to try to take advantage of it. So, we had to try to put certain controls on materials to prevent
hoarding. It wasn't as simple as writing out the formula.
HESS: It wasn't as easy as it sounds.
SNYDER: No, it wasn't as easy as it sounds. And then, of course, an effort was made to hold prices down but with labor pressing for higher wages, prices just zoomed. Well, you just can't keep a tight grip on such a situation. If you're driving a pair of horses down the road and your near horse decided that he wants to go faster than the off horse, why, you've got to have some tempering of your control to keep him in line, and if one of them gets to pressing forward faster than the other one and you can't keep the laggard up you're going to have an uneven draft on your vehicle unless you control the fleeter of the two. Well, that was the same problem with labor pressing forward for increased wages with less restraint than on the
price side of it. Yes, we had some very irritable manufacturers in industry who wanted their prices to go up without controls. The objective to discourage unsound lending practices and speculation, of course, was equally necessary in many areas of our economy in the postwar period when the great demands were increasing. There were all sorts of schemes for financing houses and financing equipment--time payment plans. We had folks that were greatly disturbed about the rapid growth of installment business, that it was going to throw our whole economy out of gear. It not only did that, but it amplified the purchasing power available for a limited supply of materials in the earlier days and yet it's the very pressure of the free enterprise system that has made up the great Nation today with the 760 billion dollar gross national product. It's the drive of the
individual to do a better job, to do a big job, to do something for himself, the incentive there.
HESS: The profit motive.
SNYDER: The profit motive--the free enterprise system. So, it was a constant effort, and we had discussions with bankers, discussions with financial people to try to hold matters down, and some legislation was passed from time to time to prohibit certain practices and certain procedures. Our effort to explain to the public the value of houses, both old and new, was a very difficult one, because to get uniform appraisals in different parts of the country was not too successful, it got to be almost an ad hoc proposition. You couldn't say that a five room house had certain value because that five room house might be in a very desirable neighborhood or it might be in a much less desirable neighborhood, it
may have a much better view of some of nature's beauties or one that has a big tall building looking at it; and so it was a difficult problem to work out, although, as always, we had those who believed that they could draw up a formula for any problem that came up. And I'm sure that if we had had the computers working back in those days as we do today, we would have had even more plans and suggestions than we had then.
HESS: Concerning the Taft-Ellender-Wagner housing bill which was very much in the forefront during these days, did you have any discussions with Senator Robert A. Taft about that particular bill and what could be done to try to get it through Congress?
SNYDER: Senator Taft was one of my very close friends. I found that I could rely on Senator Taft to listen--I learned this way back in the Defense Plant days--that if I had a problem
that required some legislative action, some act of Congress, that if I would take this problem up to Mr. Taft--now he was one of many; I'm not singling him out, but you asked about him--he would sit and listen and study the proposition till he felt like he understood it. If it had legislative holes in it, he'd bring them up and we would try to find a remedy. I talked with him a great deal about this housing problem as I did with Senator Ellender, who was also a good friend of mine, and Senator Wagner who was really the creator of the housing program, you know, it was his early thinking that got Congress to studying the housing problem, and we had continuing discussions on problems that I would take to them as to what we were running up against, and they were telling me the problems that they were having in getting their bill passed and the different objections or the
different opponents of it and we worked--yes, to answer your question--we worked very closely together. Not with just Senator Taft, although I do have to pay him a tribute and say that he did do his homework awfully well on matters that came before Congress.
HESS: Who were 'a few of the others that you worked with on housing?
SNYDER: Well, I would have to go back. I was up on the Hill probably 40 to 50 percent of the time on one problem or another, and I'd have to check back to see who was on those various committees.
HESS: Did Senator Taft have any suggestions about what might be done to get this particular bill passed?
SNYDER: Well, he particularly wanted to know how certain segments of the economy were responding. He wanted to know where the biggest
backlogs of resistance were building up, where maybe we could break a certain log jam. That was particularly what he was feeling for all the time, and then going to the Senators or the Congressmen that were in the steel area or in the timber area, like the northwest or places like that, and getting them interested in bringing pressure, don't you see? It was that sort of feeling your way through and putting out the fires as they developed.
HESS: It seemed to be quite a surprise to many people that such a conservative as Senator Taft would back a housing bill with such a strong public housing provision in it. Did you ever discuss that with him?
SNYDER: Yes, I did, and he felt that housing was a vitally important program in our postwar economy to help lift the standard of living and to bring about better living conditions
and thereby upgrade the general level of our citizenry.
HESS: Jumping ahead just a little bit, during the preliminaries for the 1948 campaign President Truman seemed to focus the view and attention of the people in the United States on domestic matters, and one of the main domestic matters that he brought up many times was the housing situation and it seems to me that he tried to focus the Americans' view on the conservative record of the Republicans in Congress. He didn't mention that Senator Taft had supported housing legislation in Congress, for instance. He tried to lump all of the Republicans in Congress as opponents for housing legislation. And, as you know, during the special session there was a bill passed but it was an emasculated bill, more or less--Senator McCarthy's bill.
SNYDER: President Truman, I thought, was very
skillful in his managing of his legislative programs, and of the tremendous job that lay before him when he was handling international problems as well as national problems each day, and to try to get as effective legislation for the postwar reconstruction period, rehabilitation period, he used great skill, I thought, in bringing that about. President Truman had a very high regard for Senator Taft. He used to chide him considerably as did Taft Truman, but they actually had a very warm regard for each other.
Mr. Truman once told me--I frankly was disturbed about his spending too much time with certain groups and he said, "Now don't be disturbed about that. I have a certain percentage of results that I want from that group and I am aiming at that. I'm not getting over-influenced one way or the other. Now you just
watch, that's my system."
I found that he had that ability to evaluate the help that he could get from different groups and get the best out of that, and he had that same program for individuals also. He was able to get a great deal of help from individuals by measuring the amount of help they could give, and so while he did tend towards calling it the "do nothing" Congress, I think it helped him get elected, but that certainly didn't mean that the President and those individuals didn't have a very warm rapport, and the individuals who were really putting their shoulder to the wheel and trying to get good legislation through Congress, regardless of politics, realized the spirit in which those words were spoken.
HESS: The last question I have on housing has to do with Mr. Raymond M. Foley. He was commissioner
of the Federal Housing Administration from July, 1945 and took over the position of administrator of the National Housing Agency in December of 1946, the same month that Wilson Wyatt left. In a speech before the National Housing Association of Homebuilders in Dallas, Texas on October 25, 1947, Mr. Foley referred to himself as, "the champion of free enterprise in housing," and stated: "The chief activity of government in housing should be to aid and stimulate private enterprise in reduction of housing costs and in attack upon its problem areas." Just how would those statements square with your understanding and assessment of Mr. Foley?
SNYDER: I had no problem there whatsoever. I believe that Mr. Foley actually stated the proper concept of a permanent administration. His was a long range point of view. This wasn't a crash
program, it wasn't something that was to be rushed through to meet a certain deadline. They were building for a long range, continuous attention to improved housing and improved quality and quantity of housing in the years to come. So I think that those objectives which he stated were certainly in my mind at all times in dealing with the housing problem. Mr. Foley, as I recall it, never particularly got himself involved in some of these crises. He was more or less working for the long range program and establishing proper administration that would continue the work of seeking out better housing proposals, holding prices in line and getting a greater value for the purchaser throughout the years.
HESS: Did he do a fairly effective job?
SNYDER: I thought he did a very good job. The
Housing Administration, the FHA and all that was set up on a pretty sound basis and had been most effective. The amount of assistance that the FHA operation brought to housing just can't be measured. It was sound; it's turned out that way, and it added a great deal, both to the quality and quantity of housing that was forthcoming in the postwar years.
HESS: We've talked for about an hour and a half. Shall we call it a day?
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