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Newly Opened Collection: Paul Rand Dixon Personal Papers

 

by Christina Lehman Fitzpatrick, Processing Archivist

We are pleased to announce that the Paul Rand Dixon Personal Papers are open and available for research. Dixon was appointed chairman of the Federal Trade Commission by President Kennedy and served on the regulatory agency for twenty years.

Paul Rand Dixon was born on September 29, 1913 in Nashville, Tennessee. He attended Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida Law School before joining the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in July 1938 as a trial attorney. After a brief period with the U.S. Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee chaired by Estes Kefauver (1957-1961), Dixon was appointed FTC Chairman by President Kennedy on March 21, 1961. Dixon occupied this position until January 1, 1970. He also served as Acting Chairman briefly from January 6 to March 23, 1976. After his initial appointment, Dixon was reappointed to two additional seven-year terms and retired on September 25, 1981.

 

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The mission of the Federal Trade Commission is to promote economic competition and to protect consumers by developing and administering federal trade regulations. The Commission investigates such practices as price fixing, restraint of trade, unfair competition, false and deceptive advertising, exclusive dealings, untruthful labeling, and the marketing of dangerous products. It enforces the law by conducting formal litigation against offending businesses, and enables voluntary compliance through educational programs. The FTC is comprised of five Commissioners; one is chosen to be Chairman.

This collection contains personal papers generated by Paul Rand Dixon during his time as FTC Commissioner (1961-1981), including copies of docket case files that track legal proceedings against various businesses. Dixon’s work is well represented in a series of alphabetical correspondence files and another series of subject files. His files contain many speeches to professional organizations and statements prepared for Congressional hearings. Common types of documents throughout the collection include letters, memoranda, staff reports, publications, legal documents, meeting minutes, and news digests. Also included are a number of photographs that Dixon displayed in his office. Please note that additional records of the Federal Trade Commission can be found in RG 122 at the National Archives and Records Administration.

During the Kennedy Administration, many changes were afoot at the FTC. In early 1961, the agency was reorganized to create three enforcement bureaus, and the rules of practice were completely revised. Instead of focusing on individual cases, the FTC shifted its attention to compliance on an industry-wide scale. This resulted in a more efficient and fair operation, as Dixon reported in September 1963. Another new tool was the “advisory opinion,” where a company could ask for a FTC ruling on whether a specific practice was legal or not. This enabled voluntary compliance and proved very popular with the business community.

 

Memorandum from Paul Rand Dixon to Paul Southwick at the White House, reporting on highlights of the FTC’s activities since the beginning of the Kennedy Administration, 30 September 1963. View the entire folder here.

 

After President Kennedy’s assassination, Dixon wrote a condolence letter to Jacqueline Kennedy on the behalf of the entire Commission:

 

Condolence letter to Jacqueline Kennedy, 27 November 1963. “We have not the words for a sorrow so large as this.” View the entire folder here.

 

A happier occasion for Chairman Dixon was the FTC’s golden anniversary in 1965. The agency was created by the Federal Trade Commission Act, signed by President Woodrow Wilson on September 26, 1914. It officially opened on March 16, 1915–making this year (2015) the 100th anniversary of the FTC. Dixon coordinated the agency’s 50th anniversary celebration, which was attended by many current and former employees as well as an array of Washington VIPs.

 

PRDPP-228-005-p0040Letter from President Johnson on the occasion of the FTC’s fiftieth anniversary, 17 July 1964. View the entire folder here.

 

Also in the mid 1960s, the FTC undertook a major investigation into the regulation of cigarettes after a report by the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that smoking was a significant health hazard. The agency proposed adding warnings to cigarette containers and tobacco print advertisements. The recommendations on warning labels were included in the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, which was signed into law by President Johnson on July 27, 1965. Later, warnings on print advertisements were added by the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969. These regulations created what is now a well-known phrase, “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”

After reading all of the data compiled by FTC staff on the dangers of cigarettes, Dixon wasted no time in applying the information in his own personal life. He wrote to a friend:

 

Your information is correct – I smoked cigarettes intermittently until I read the Advisory Committee’s Report to the Surgeon General. On the day that I read it, January 8, 1964, I stopped smoking cigarettes. It seemed the wise thing to do.

 

The FTC also set up its own laboratory to measure the tar and nicotine content of all cigarette brands. Tobacco companies were permitted to include statements about these chemical levels in their advertisements only if the lab tests corroborated the numbers. Tests were conducted according to strict standards and the results were reported to Congress periodically. The FTC hoped that this information would help customers make informed decisions about smoking, but in 2008, the agency changed its policy to prevent the data from being used in advertising due to concerns over the accuracy of the testing methods (given that smoking behavior varies from individual to individual).

 

Letter from Dixon to Tom Campbell, 9 June 1965, regarding his decision to stop smoking. View the entire folder here.

 

 

 Chart of FTC test results, “Tar and Nicotine Content of 142 Varieties of Domestic Cigarettes,” August 1972. View the entire folder here.

 

In the 1970s, the consumer protection trend only increased. The public clamored for greater FTC regulation of shady business practices such as bait-and-switch ploys and deceptive advertising claims. Complaints flooded the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Elected officials responded by creating a variety of government organizations dedicated to consumer interests. Although the FTC frequently investigated illegal business practices that harmed consumers, many people thought the agency wasn’t doing enough. The loudest critic was consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose law students published an investigative report on the FTC in January 1969. The harsh criticism in the report angered Dixon, who believed the attack was unwarranted, and led to animosity between the two men. Still, Dixon knew that the FTC could not ignore the growing consumer movement. As he wrote to his friend Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. (R-Tennessee) on October 31, 1974:

 

Consumerism is here to stay. My advice to you is that you take a stand for it and mold it so that it will best serve the public interest. Like you, I have always stood for maximum free enterprise and I don’t like regulation, but I have got enough sense to know that there are times and places where this is the only way that the public interest can be preserved.

 

Suggestions for improving the FTC’s consumer protection efforts, from a meeting between the FTC and a group of consumer representatives, 12 June 1970. View the entire folder here.

 

For more information about the Paul Rand Dixon Personal Papers, please see the finding aid on the Kennedy Library website.

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