Esch, John J.
State Historical Society of Wisconsin
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53706
24.5 c.f. (64 archives boxes, 9 flat boxes, and 10 volumes); plus additions of 0.3 c.f.
Papers of a La Crosse, Wis., resident who served as Republican congressman from 1899 to 1921. The collection consists largely of incoming and outgoing correspondence plus a series of letterbooks containing copies of outgoing letters. Also included is a group of letters of prominent Wisconsin and national political figures, preserved by Esch primarily because of their autograph value. As a member or as chairman of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce from 1903 to 1921, Esch had considerable correspondence on transportation legislation, particularly that pertaining to railroad regulation. His correspondence includes letters relating to the Esch-Townsend bill (1904-1906), the Hepburn Act (1906), and the Mann-Elkins Act (1910). Many papers deal with transportation problems of World War I, and a few relate to the Esch-Cummins Act of 1920 authorizing the return of railroads to private ownership. Scattered letters throughout the collection deal with inventions of railway safety appliances and the need for legislation requiring their use. Letters exchanged with the Upper Mississippi River Improvement Association discuss the problems and importance of river commerce. The major portion of the collection pertains to American participation in World War I and includes material on the restriction of immigration, espionage, preparedness, selective service, censorship of the press, taxation, and demobilization. Numerous incoming letters contain complaints about military and governmental regulations and services. Other letters discuss the agitation for prohibition and the various means by which trade in intoxicating liquors could be legally restricted. The correspondence of the years 1912-1919 also reflects the activity of the proponents of woman suffrage. Correspondence exchanged with officials of the Indian school at Tomah contains information on conditions at the school and its needs. Some papers relate to Wisconsin politics, especially in Esch's district, which included La Crosse, Jackson, and Monroe counties and some adjacent areas. A few letters indicate the changing relationship between Esch and Robert M. La Follette during the period. Numerous papers deal with the Wisconsin campaigns in 1906-1908 and 1916 and Esch's defeat in the election of 1920. Other papers include addresses and speeches by Esch and drafts of bills introduced into Congress. The collection contains a few personal papers giving information on Esch's business investments, especially a sugar firm, the Mexican Plantation Company of Wisconsin. Scattered items also give glimpses of La Crosse's local history.