Lewis B. Schwellenbach

Lewis B. Schwellenbach

Lewis Baxter Schwellenbach (September 20, 1894 – June 10, 1948), was an American lawyer, politician, and judge. He was born in Superior, Wisconsin.

Early life

When Schwellenbach was eight years old, his family moved to Spokane, Washington. Later he attended the University of Washington, where he first became active in politics, becoming a Democrat because (according to Time) he could get in on the ground floor, since the state was full of Republicans. He became a lawyer in 1921, gaining some prominence for his unsuccessful defense in a well-publicized murder case.


He had a very active practice working with and for labor unions, eventually becoming active in businesses which were owned by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. He was a director of the Brotherhood Bank and Trust Company. He became the president of Superior Services Laundry Inc., which eventually failed. He unsuccessfully ran for governor of Washington in 1932, but he succeeded in winning election to the United States Senate in 1934.


As a senator, Schwellenbach led the supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation in the senate. He was an ally of senators Sherman Minton of Indiana, Joe Guffey of Pennsylvania, and Harry S. Truman — the future president of the United States — of Missouri. The Senate opposition to the new deal was then led by Huey Long of Louisiana, who tried to organize a filibuster campaign against the New Deal.

Schwellenbach was one of the few national figures to support Truman in his uphill battle against Governor Lloyd C. Stark in Missouri's democratic Senate primary in 1940 for renomination. Truman won by less than 8,000 votes cast.


While Schwellenbach reportedly wished to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Roosevelt instead appointed him to a federal district court (for the Eastern District of Washington) in 1940. In 1943, he inadvertently stumbled onto the then-extremely secret Manhattan project — the development of the atomic bomb — in connection with a large land condemnation deal for a DuPont processing plant.

Secretary of Labor

In 1945, Schwellenbach was named Secretary of Labor, replacing Frances Perkins, by then-President Harry S. Truman, who wanted a more politically-aware secretary. He was a more active secretary than his predecessors. He changed the labor department from a department primarily interested in statistical information gathering to a policy-making department, actively trying to conciliate labor with management and promote a high-wage economy based on unionized labor. The Employment Act of 1946 codified his policy of promoting maximum employment. He also presided over the end of the wage and price controls which had been in effect during World War II. The Republicans (who had regained control of congress in 1946) were able to pass the Taft-Hartley Act, overriding President Truman's veto, in order to roll back what they saw as the growing power of labor unions. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service became an independent part of the federal government, removing that function from the labor department.

Schwellenbach tried to use his judicial temperament to negotiate agreements. At one point during his term, the nation faced a major crisis — large unions in the oil, coal, automobile manufacturing and railroad industries demanded high (30%) wage increases and threatened strikes which could, through secondary effects, cripple the economy. When the oil companies would not agree to Schwellenbach's proposal to negotiate a smaller increase (between 15% and 30%), the federal government seized the oil refineries. He and Truman continued to try to get their political allies who headed unions to compromise. The government was finally able to avert a strike when Truman signed orders seizing the railroads in the presence of the union leaders.


Schwellenbach served as Secretary of Labor until his death in 1948 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. He is buried at the Washelli Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.

Lewis B. Schwellenbach's great nephew, Vincent Schwellenbach announced his elections hopes in 2007, essentially laying the ground work to run for governor in Illinois.Fact|date=January 2008


* Time, October 15, 1945 (A likeness of Schwellenbach was on the cover)
* Truman, David McCullough (ISBN 0-671-45654-7
* Department of Labor archives

External links

* [http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/schwelle.htm U.S. Department of Labor Biography]

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