Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, an archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
Ha, you probably thought I was speaking of that jolly old elf and the missus.
This story begins in 1936, soon after the publication of what would become a standard: Consumers Union Reports. It was the first publication devoted to dashing hyperbolically mellifluous advertising claims against the unyielding anvil of objective research. And it caught the attention of the reading public.
By the time the magazine’s first anniversary rolled around, National Archives employees found a notice in their newsletter offering discounts on membership to the organization.
One year after this newsletter was published, the House Un-American Activities Committee was established.
The Dies Committee, as it became known, was all about rooting out real and alleged subversives and Communists and their sympathizers nestling in trade unions, progressive social and economic organizations, and academia.
In a committee report, they cited Consumers Union as being a subversive organization. And of course as we entered World War II, the committee ratcheted up its activity, prodded along by informants.
Well, as it happened, some National Archives employees were fingered by their neighbors and co-workers in this paroxysm of wartime hysteria.
One such was Robert Claus, who happened to be a member of Consumers Union.
Claus ended up on a Dies Committee list of government employees possibly engaged in subversive activities, which prompted the FBI to conduct an investigation. They interviewed his and his wife’s neighbors, monitored the couple’s mail, and eventually interviewed Claus himself. The FBI asked Claus a series of questions including the infamous, “are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” To which he replied, “No.”
Toward the end of the interview, we find out that Claus and his wife were active in a tenants association, and he suspected the management complained to the Dies Committee about them.
The FBI sent the information to Archivist of the United States Robert D.W. Connor, asking him to follow up by informing them of whatever action he would take as a result of the investigation.
Connor, however, was no longer Archivist, so his successor, Solon J. Buck, promptly wrote to Hoover, saying that he found no evidence of improper activities and would not be taking any action.
And that was that.
Claus remained on staff doing good work, and enjoying his Consumer Reports.
In 1946 Claus won the agency’s tennis tournament, and then left to become the first archivist for the United Nations!
And as for Consumer Reports? It’s thriving after nearly 81 years.