Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/298

This page has been validated.
294
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

Creation of the Waterways Commission

Of the conventions of 1906, two were especially effective; that of November in St. Louis, out of which grew the Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway Association, and the Washington session of the Rivers and Harbors Congress in December, at which the attendance and interest were beyond precedent. During the latter, strong delegations called on the president, the speaker of the house, the chairman of the Rivers and Harbors Committee; and later the Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway Association led in petitions to the president from organizations of citizens in the interior to "appoint and empower a commission or board of five persons to prepare and report a comprehensive plan for the improvement and control of the Mississippi River system and other inland waterways in such manner that the rivers of the country may be fully utilized for navigation and other industrial purposes." Meantime the Rivers and Harbors Committee reported a bill providing for a somewhat similar commission, though in the pressure attending the closing days of a short session it failed of final action. A score of petitions reached the president during the first week of March, 1907; and on March 14, after combining the two movements toward the same end, he created the present Inland Waterways Commission of nine members, through an instrument of signal vigor and originality:

In creating this Commission I am influenced by broad considerations of national policy. . . . Our inland waterways as a whole have thus far received scant attention. It is becoming clear that our streams should be considered and conserved as great natural resources. . . . The time has come for merging local projects and uses of the inland waters in a comprehensive plan designed for the benefit of the entire country. . . . The task is a great one, yet it is certainly not too great for us to approach. The results which it seems to promise are even greater. . . . The present congestion affects chiefly the people of the Mississippi Valley, and they demand relief. When the congestion of which they complain is relieved, the whole country will share the good results. . . . It is not possible to frame so large a plan. . . for the control of our rivers without taking account of the orderly development of other natural resources. . . . The cost will necessarily be large,. . . but it will be small in comparison with the $17,000,000,000 of capital now invested in steam railways,. . . [which] investment has been a constant source of profit to the people, and without it our industrial progress would have been impossible.

These fundamental utterances, with requisite explication of details, outlined a policy to which people and press responded with enthusiasm.

The commission began active work on the Mississippi in May, followed by inspection trips through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi and lower Missouri in September and October. They were accompanied by the president from Keokuk to Memphis in what was designed as a simple inspection yet proved to be at once the most notable pageant in the history of the Mississippi Valley and the most impressive demonstration any president ever saw—for in addition to the