Thursday, April 13, 2017

Newspaperman and Pure Food Enforcer James Wallis [otd 04/13]

J. H. Wallis. Photo from Rytting biography.
Newspaperman and pure food crusader James Hearknett Wallis was born April 13, 1861 in London, England. The family moved to a town near Liverpool when he was twelve. Four years later, James converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Having apprenticed in the printer’s trade, Wallis found work at a newspaper in Liverpool, where he met his future wife.

In 1881, James and his prospective bride emigrated to the United States as part of a Mormon party, and were married in Salt Lake City. After six months in Salt Lake, he and his new wife moved to Paris, Idaho. There, he served as Editor and publisher of the Paris Post, a newspaper started the year before by officers of the LDS Bear Lake Stake. Over the next twenty years, Wallis left and then returned to manage the Post several times.
Linotype machine, Rexburg Standard, ca. 1906. Rytting biography.
In fact, for nearly thirty years, Wallis would operate (and sometimes own and then sell) a bewildering succession of Idaho newspapers: the Montpelier Post, the Sugar City Times, the Rexburg Standard, and more. He also dabbled in the Utah newspaper business.

Many newspapers of that day served as unabashed advocates for specific political parties and candidates. In that context, Wallis decided to go into public service himself. He also studied law and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Nebraska in 1896. Among his public-service jobs, his years as Idaho State Dairy, Food and Sanitary Commissioner had the most impact.

Three years after passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, Governor James Brady [blog, Jun 12] appointed Wallis to head the Sanitary Commissioner. (It was perhaps no coincidence that Brady was a newspaper man himself.) Wallis found plenty of problems and attacked them aggressively. No longer could meat markets display cuts in open trays, with no protection from flies or wind-blown contaminants. Milk had to be properly handled, and dairy barns had to be kept as clean and neat as possible.
Railroad dining car, 1905. Library of Congress.

Wallis became famous nationally for his activities. The New York Times printed (June 1, 1913) a long interview with the Commissioner, who proudly extolled his methods. On several occasions he had even "stopped a through train and forced the dining car chef to throw most of the food out onto the right of way."

As for substandard milk, Wallis said, “We just seize it and sell it for pig feed or destroy it.”

But, as could be expected, Wallis also stepped on a lot of toes. Eventually, his enemies found an opening. The details are beyond the scope of this article, but in October 1914, Wallis was forced to resign for “misappropriation of state funds” – five charges for amounts from $10 to a $50 over-payment of vacation time to an employee. He eventually paid a fine for the over-payment charge. The Idaho Statesman reported (May 5, 1915) that “even the judge and prosecutor [felt] that Wallis had been more careless than sinning.”

Still, the Statesman later noted (September 28, 1916) that the state of Utah had hired him to help with their food safety efforts. That also got him back into the newspaper business. Except for excursions related to LDS activities, he lived in Utah until his death in August 1940.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Illust-State]
"Fly Man Boosts Buzzless Boise," The New York Times (June 1, 1913).
Gloria Wallis Rytting, James H. Wallis: Poet, Printer, and Patriarch, R & R Enterprises, Salt Lake City (1989).

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