Griest: William Walton Griest Collection, Series 05 Business Affairs, Political, 1907-1928

Call Number:  MG-65, Series 5 Business Affairs, Political

3 boxes     36 folders     1.5 cubic ft.

Repository: (Lancaster, Pa.)

Shelving Location:  Archives South, Side 2

Description:  This collection contains business and personal correspondence relating to politics, education, immigration, roads and waterways, railroads, economic issues, agriculture, trade and commerce, taxes, the Postal Service, the Susquehanna Iron Company, the Susquehanna Bridge, and many other topics. There are also Congressional bills and speeches, financial information for the businesses William Walton Griest was involved with, and papers reflecting his efforts to improve Lancaster County’s road system and to survey the county’s waterways for expanded uses.

Creator:  Griest, William Walton, 1858-1929.

Conditions for Access:  No restrictions.

System of Arrangement:  Griest’s original folder titles and contents have been retained. The collection has been organized by subject into 26 series.

Conditions Governing Reproductions:  Collection may not be photocopied. Please contact Research Staff or Archives Staff with questions.

Language:  English

Source of Acquisition:  Gift of W. W. Griest’s daughter, Rebecca W. Griest.

Administrative/Biographical History: 

In 2003, the Lancaster County Historical Society received a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission grant to rehouse and inventory the William Walton Griest papers. Many of these papers date from the 1880s to the 1930s and focus on Griest’s business and political interests. The grant has allowed the historical society to open this previously inaccessible collection to researchers of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and United States history.

William Walton Griest was a prominent member of Congress from 1909 until 1929.  His papers reflect his influence not only in matters of national concern, but also those of Lancaster County.  His term in office spans a tumultuous era of United States history, dealing with such topics as Women’s Suffrage, Prohibition, and the First World War.  The collection sheds light on what members of Congress felt about these issues, and also what Lancasterians felt about them.  Numerous letters and petitions were written to Representative Griest on issues which divided the nation and Lancaster County.

William Griest did not begin his career as a politician, but rather started as a public school teacher. After graduating from Millersville State Normal School in 1876,  he taught at schools in East Donegal and Mount Joy townships for three years before taking another career path.  His education led him to become a writer and later editor of the Lancaster Inquirer, a weekly newspaper published by his father Ellwood Griest.

Griest was an unostentatious man; nevertheless, he was a well-respected man in the community.  He lived on South Queen Street with his wife Elizabeth Paxson Smith, son George W. Griest, and daughter Rebecca Walton Griest. The family was extremely close. Files containing personal correspondence between the family give insight into the quiet life of such a public man.

His first election to public office, as a member of the Lancaster City School Board in 1884, probably derived from his background as a teacher. With this success, his political career had been born and Griest continued to run for increasingly more prestigious offices. He was Chief Clerk for the County Commissioners, leader of the Republican party in Lancaster County, delegate to Republican National Convention from 1896-1920, and finally a representative to Congress from 1908 to 1929.  His political career of more than forty years extended over an era of great change in both the county and the country.

Griest was heavily involved in the economy of Lancaster County.  Not only was he a noteworthy Congressman, he was an equally shrewd businessman.  He became an investor in many of the local public utility companies, the most prominently featured in his papers being the Lancaster County Railway and Light Company. Documents in the collection shed light on Griest’s involvement in the company as well as the company’s financial information and its interactions with other utility companies. Under his leadership, the company turned around from a dying operation on the brink of bankruptcy to an operation netting a profit of more than $100,000 a year. 

Griest invested in another failing company, the Susquehanna Iron and Steel Company, at Columbia.  He purchased the company in an attempt to save the mills from closing and losing the industry in the area.  His papers contain many of the financial ledgers and employment records of the company.  The documents give further insight into not only Griest’s business dealings, but also the lives of local men that worked for the company.

A large portion of the collection deals with Griest’s Congressional career.  He held many influential positions while in Congress, including chairman of the Personnel of the House Service Committee and the Post Office and Post Road Committee, one of the largest committees in the Congress. He also sat on the Committee of Committees.  The documents in this part of the collection contain bills that were proposed to Congress, speeches given by members of Congress, and reports given by many of the committees.  Griest kept records on topics ranging from agriculture, veterans affairs, income tax, and child labor, to commerce and trade.  On many of these issues, the collection has letters and petitions from voters from Lancaster County urging Griest to remember Lancaster County in congressional deliberations. 

Griest’s major accomplishments in Congress included creating the Lincoln Memorial, improving mail service, and assisting returning World War I veterans to cope with entrance back into their local community.  Locally, he assisted Lancaster County in pushing bills that would benefit the county with its economy based in agriculture and by creating a local farm bureau.  He also sought to improve the road systems in the county and to survey waterways throughout the county for expanded uses. 

William Griest was very close with many of the leading political figures of Pennsylvania during the early 1900s. The collection contains correspondence between Griest and men such as Gifford Pinchot, Boise Penrose, William Vare, and William Cameron Sproul.

The William Walton Griest collection is a wonderful source of information on one of Lancaster County’s leading 20thcentury citizens. Thanks to the generous support of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission this collection will be available to both professional researchers and students of history.  Those interested in the period and in local history will find these papers extremely valuable as a primary source.

Processed by:  KC, 2002-2003.

Note:  This project was funded by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Archives and Records Management Grant, ME 230340, 2002-2003.


Box 16

Folder 1  Flag, 1907-1909. Contains an act for the registration of trademarks of Indians; a bill to prevent desecration of U.S. flag; notes on flag bill; and national flag design.

Folder 2  Forestry 1924. Contains correspondence.

Folder 3  Farm works, 1912-1916

Folder 4  Economic Commission, 1913-1915. Contains text of commission bill; a speech of Swager Sherley; and a bill on commission economy and efficiency.

Folder 5  Sugar Bill, 1928

Folder 6  John A. Coyle, 1921

Folder 7  Disease of Cattle, 1916. Contains a bill for the publication of special report on diseases of cattle.

Folder 8  American Federation of Labor, 1915. Contains a letter from Samuel Gompers.

Folder 9  Constitutional Amendment, 1912

Folder 10  Appointments and Promotions, 1916. Contains information on appointments and promotions act.

Folder 11  Mail Transportation, 1916

Folder 12  Bureau of Education, 1916. Contains correspondence.

Folder 13  Farm Association, 1914. Contains a letter to the American Farm Bureau on agricultural legislation.

Folder 14  John Fields, 1925-1927. Contains an act for appropriations for military.

Folder 15  Dairymen’s Association, 1913

Folder 16  Daylight Savings Bill, 1919

Folder 17  Dyestuff Industry, 1916. Contains a bill for revenue for the manufacture of dyestuff.

Folder 18  Farm Loan Rural Credits, 1913-1917. Contains the opinion of co-operative rural credit in Canada.

Folder 19  European War, 1915. Contains “The World Court,” by Huber S. Houston; an invitation to International Peace Forum; an Organization of American Women for Strict Neutrality petition; pamphlet on International Conference of Women Voters; International Peace pamphlet; and a petition to Congress for peace.

Folder 20  Col. Davis, 1920-1921. Contains notes on the career of Robert Davis. No date.


Box 17

Folder 21  Mrs. Dumont, 1920-1921

Folder 22  Capital Punishment, 1912-1916. Contains a bill for code of law for District of Columbia; the number of homicide cases tried in supreme court; bills concerning death penalty in DC; and a bill to amend the code of laws for District of Columbia. No date.

Folder 23  Mailing Lists, 1917-1919

Folder 24  Fuel Administration, 1916-1918. Contains an announcement of the price for lignite slack; maps of bituminous coal zones; pamphlets on coal prices at the mill; rules governing distribution of fuel oil; “America’s Coal Problem;” regulations of cleaning and preparation of coal; maximum prices of coke; rules governing the distribution of coke and coal; pamphlets on gasoline; regulations of inspections of coal mines; licenses of coal and gas; regulations of handling the sale of coal; regulation of fuel supply; a classification of coal information sheet; U.S. Fuel Administration notices for clean coal; regulation for public holiday; maximum gross margins of coal dealers; a ruling of the fuel administration; fuel supplies for railroad; regulation of coal generated electricity; an amendment to fuel in illuminated signs; and anthracite coal prices.

Folder 25  Book on Edward Coles, no date

Folder 26  A Woman of the Century, no date. Contains Miss Ann Preston’s biography.

Folder 27  Historical Items, 1911-1927

Folder 28  Curtis-Reed Bill, 1926

Folder 29  Proposed Bills, 1915-1926. Contains proposed bills on caustic acids; the distribution of acids; the creation of a department of education; First Columbia National Bank court of claims findings; the sale of acids; and prohibiting of the sale of misbranded articles.

Folder 30  History of the Orient, 1926-1949. Contains History of the Orient, revised by Rebecca Walton Griest.

Folder 31  Army Bill, 1910-1926. Contains a rule for exemption of noncombatants; General Orders no. 31 for application of furlough; and information on Quakers’ creed.

Folder 32  Farm Bill, 1911-1913. Contains information on farm management field studies and demonstration work of Office of Farm Management.

Folder 33  Farm Bill, 1911-1913


Box 18

Folder 34  Lye Bill, 1923-1926. Contains a resolution of the Pittsburgh Academy of Medicine; a safeguard of the distribution of acids; and a booklet by Louis H. Clerfon on Lye Preparations.

Folder 35  Lye Bill, 1924-1927. Contains an outline of the law against lye; a memorandum on the federal caustic poison bill; a speech on the need to make lye legislation; a report of the Committee on Lye Legislation; and a categorical list of reasons for lye legislation by Cheavalier Jackson.

Folder 36  Lye Bill, 1913-1927. Contains a report of the Lye Committee; reports to regulate sale; the results of swallowing of alkalis; a copy of the Pennsylvania Acid Law; and information on poison by grocers.