Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Victor H. Metcalf

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METCALF, VICTOR HOWARD, secretary of commerce and labor, is the second cabinet officer to hold that portfolio, entering upon his duties on July 1, 1904. The first secretary was Honorable George B. Cortelyou, under whose direction the initial steps of the department’s organization were taken. The creation of the Department of Commerce and Labor is a just recognition of the importance and magnitude of the nation’s commercial and industrial growth and expansion. Under the organic act its province and duty are to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce, mining, manufacturing, shipping, and fishery industries, labor interests, and transportation facilities of the United States.

In addition to the above definition of its scope, the department was given many of the functions which up to that time had been discharged by other departments; functions which often did not pertain to those departments in their original organization. This was notably true of the treasury department, to whose control had been assigned many affairs unrelated to the work of the treasury, merely because there was no specific department to which these duties could more properly be assigned. From the treasury department to the Department of Commerce and Labor have been transferred the Lighthouse Service, the Inspection of Immigrants, the Seal Fisheries of Alaska, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, the Bureau of Standards, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and the Bureau of Statistics; from the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of the Census. The Department of Labor and the Fish Commission were independent branches of the Government, which have been brought into this new department, and the Bureau of Foreign Commerce, of the Department of State, was consolidated with the Bureau of Statistics.

In addition to these already existing functions, and in order that the great manufacturing and industrial interests of the country might be directly cared for, congress created the Bureau of Manufactures, stating that it should be the province and duty of that bureau, under the direction of the secretary of the department, “to foster, promote, and develop the various manufacturing industries of the United States, and markets for the same at home and abroad, domestic and foreign.” There was also authorized by congress the establishment of the Bureau of Corporations, “to investigate into the organization, conduct, and management of any corporation or joint stock company engaged in interstate commerce; and to gather such information and data as will enable the president to make recommendations to congress for the regulation of commerce, the information obtained to be reported to the president, who may make such portions of it public as he thinks proper.”

Already in this department in its first year over ten million dollars have been expended, and it has had in its employ nine thousand two hundred and ten persons continuously in service, and many hundreds temporarily in service. Since labor and commerce are at the basis of all our national prosperity, it is time to systematize and more fully to supervise in the interest of the public the widespread network of supply and demand.

For the head of such a vast and intricate work, when Secretary Cortelyou resigned in June, 1904, the president found a man eminently fitted by natural aptitudes, wide experience and legal knowledge. He is the third man from the Pacific coast to hold office in the cabinet; and Secretary Metcalf comes to his responsible and exalted national position in his prime and in the full vigor of life.

He was born in Utica, New York, October 10, 1853, the son of William and Sarah P. Metcalf. His preparatory studies were carried on at the Utica free academy and at the Russell military school at New Haven, Connecticut. He entered the academic department of Yale with the class of 1876, remaining with the class until his junior year, when he entered the law department of Yale college, and was graduated in the year 1876 from that department. He was admitted to the Connecticut bar in the same year. In 1877 he was also admitted to the New York State bar, and he engaged in the practice of law for two years at Utica, New York. In 1879 he removed to California; and from 1881 to 1904 he was a member of the law firm of Metcalf and Metcalf, of Oakland. He was elected to the fifty-sixth, fifty-seventh and fifty-eighth Congresses. He was an efficient member of the Ways and Means Committee, rendering most excellent service. He resigned as a member of the fifty-eighth Congress, July 1, 1904, to accept the position of secretary of commerce and labor in the cabinet of President Roosevelt.

His home is in Oakland, California. He married April 11, 1882, E. Corinne Nicholson, daughter of John Henry and Emily Virginia Nicholson. They have two sons, one of whom is engaged in business in California, while the other is a student at Annapolis.