Griest: William Walton Griest Collection, Series 17 Military Affairs, 1896-1929

Call Number:  MG-65, Series 17 Military Affairs

4 boxes     40 folders     1.5 cubic ft.

Repository: (Lancaster, Pa.)

Shelving Location:  Archives South, Side 2

Description:  Series 17 contains documents relating to the Treaty of Ghent, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, veterans affairs, pensions, and the American Legion.

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 29

Folder 1  Ghent, 1913. Contains proposed bills on the commemoration of the Treaty of Ghent.

Folder 2  Bonus Work War Department, 1914

Folder 3  Discharge Information, 1917-1918. Contains a circular for information on pay corps of U.S. Navy; physical qualifications for Navy and Marine Corps; questions to be asked for appointments of Assistant Paymaster; General Orders for War Department; discharge of enlisted men for relief; and an education questionnaire of the War Department.

Folder 4  Army, 1917-1929. Contains bills on promotion; bills on military establishment; an act for the advancement of retired lists; an act for the Air Corps; appropriations for construction at military posts; and several resolutions.

Folder 5  Army Transfer, 1913

Folder 6  Circular, Letters, etc. 1917  (1916-1917). Contains Upton’s Military Policy pamphlet and several resolutions.

Folder 7  Letters 1914

Folder 8  Letters 1918-1920  (1916-1920). Contains a Universal Military Training League card; flier, “Why have Universal Military Training;” bills on military training; a Military Training School report; and military laws.


Box 30

Folder 9  Letters 1917

Folder 10  Letters 1913  (1913-1916)

Folder 11  Peace Preparedness, 1912-1916. Contains a booklet on mobilizing against militarism; “Plea for World Peace”; “Spiritual Danger of U.S. from Europe War”; an American Defense Society membership form; an Association of Military Committee report, and an outline of military policy.

Folder 12  Correspondence Concerning Army, 1916. Contains a bill of Commission for Peace; “Lessons from the Heathendom,” by S. P. Yoder; Terrible Peace flier; Military Training Camp information; and a bill on Reserve of Officer’s Training Camp.

Folder 13  Miscellaneous, 1910-1915. Contains a resolution of export of aims of Prohibition; a message from President Taft; an Executive Committee for Peace invitation; and a proposed bill on the Treaty of Ghent.

Folder 14  Miscellaneous, 1911. Contains a booklet about the International Peace Forum; a report on Treaty of Ghent; a Charity Ball program; and the resolution to celebrate the Treaty of Ghent.

Folder 15  National Peace, 1909-1914. Contains a report on the Anglo-American Exposition, 1914; an announcement of 2nd National Peace Congress; a flier on Congressional employees; a proposed bill on the Treaty of Ghent; an arbitration of treaties constitutional pamphlet; a list of speakers at the peace forum; and expansion of military expenditures. April 1911.

Folder 16  Muscle Shoals, 1928-1929. Contains a report on Muscle Shoals property and a resolution of completion of nitrate plant at Muscle Shoals.

Folder 17  Navy Building Program, 1926-1929

Folder 18  Horace Haldeman, 1897-1915. Contains a biography of Horace Haldeman.

Folder 19  Navy, 1925-1928

Folder 20  Pennsylvania Secretary of Sons of the Revolution, 1913

Folder 21 Credit for Special Delivery Services


Box 31

Folder 22  Veterans, 1926-1929. Contains a booklet on laws relating to Veterans Bureau and War Risk Insurance; World War veteran legislation; a bill to increase pension of soldiers; a resolution of the National Guard; a resolution of the American Legion; an act to have hospital care for World War veterans; a report on hospital care for veterans; and a proposed bill to amend the World War Veteran Act of 1924. 1926.

Folder 23  American Legion, 1921-1924. Contains a booklet regarding the adjusted compensation bill and a statement of A. Piatt Andrew on soldiers tax reduction.

Folder 24  American Legion, 1923-1924. Contains cost of bonuses information; a speech of Elmer Thomas; and a pamphlet on facts about a bonus.

Folder 25  American Legion, 1920-1925

Folder 26  Soldiers-Home Applicants for Admission, 1914

Folder 27  House of Representative Bills, 1918-1919. Contains “Home for Soldiers,” by Dick T. Morgan; a proposed bill to provide home for soldiers; names of men inquiring of plan to provide home for soldiers; and “What Canada has Done for its Returned Soldiers.”

Folder 28  House of Representatives, 1911-1915. Contains a proposed bill to increase pension of widows.

Folder 29  Speeches of Hon. Dick Morgan, 1919

Folder 30  Soldiers and Pension Record 1926  (1921-1924). Contains the Lancaster County Veterans Review Book.

Folder 31  Bonuses and Veterans, 1923-1924

Folder 32  Lists of Names and Addresses of Soldiers for Lancaster County, 1917-1922. Contains lists of names of 109 Machine Hun Battalion, Spanish War veterans, officers in the U.S. Marine Corps, white enlisted men who died, white enlisted men in U.S. Army, and enlisted men in the U.S. Marine Corps who died.

Folder 33  Veterans 1920  (1920-1928)

Folder 34  Army, 1914. Contains a report on Captain Gibbons reactive list.

Folder 35  G. A. R., 1905-1915. Contains a proposed bill to incorporate the Grand Army of Republic and an act to create a soldiers’ monument.


Box 32

Folder 36  Military Miscellaneous, 1914-1926. Contains a proposed bill on issue of magazine rifles and a proposed bill to pay clerks.

Folder 37  Veteran Soldiers Act, 1911-1924. Contains “Demands of Army 1783;” U.S. Laws granting lands to discharged soldiers,  1804; veto message of grant, 1870; an act for the relief of disabled veterans; state laws of soldiers bonus; rights of soldiers; grants to veteran soldiers; an act to fix status of soldiers from Alabama/Florida; and a proposed bill on organization of military.

Folder 38  Veterinary Service in Military, 1911-1913. Contains proposed bills to consolidate veteran service and to promote rifle practice.

Folder 39  Military Pension, 1911-1929. Contains a proposed bill to publish records of the Revolution; a memorandum on employees’ public health services; a proposed bill on maximum salary for rural carriers; a proposed bill on pension to children of soldiers; rights of the Cabinet; a report on agriculture; a proposed bill on the establishment of the Bureau of Statistics; views of the minority on interstate commerce; and a proposed bill on transportation.

Folder 40  Military Miscellaneous, 1896-1927. Contains Bethlehem gun measurements; an act of disposition of weapons; machine guns for donation; and requests for cannon.