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Wagner, Robert Ferdinand

WAGNER, ROBERT FERDINAND

Robert Ferdinand Wagner served as a U.S. senator from New York from 1927 to 1949. Wagner was a strong believer in the social welfare state and sponsored many federal laws that have shaped U.S. law and society. In the 1930s he worked closely with President franklin d. roosevelt and helped to implement much of Roosevelt's new deal agenda.

Wagner was born on June 8, 1877, in Nastätten, Germany. With his family he immigrated to the United States in 1885, settling in a New York City tenement neighborhood. He graduated from City College in New York in 1898 and studied law at New York Law School, where he earned his degree in 1900.

Wagner was admitted to the New York bar in 1900 and practiced law on his own for a short time. He then abandoned his law practice to enter democratic party politics. Wagner worked his way up the party ladder and won a seat in the state legislature in 1904. In 1908 he was elected to the New York State Senate, where he soon established himself as a socially progressive leader, investigating industrial working conditions and introducing legislation that sought to use the power of government to improve the lives of blue-collar workers and the poor.

Wagner became a judge of the New York Supreme Court in 1919 but resigned in 1926 to run as the Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Senate. He won the election and took office in 1927 during the heyday of the "Roaring Twenties." The U.S. economy was at its postwar zenith, and the republican party controlled Congress. Wagner introduced legislation to help organized labor and the unemployed, but his proposals were unsuccessful.

Wagner's political fortunes changed dramatically with the Great Depression of the 1930s

and the election of President Roosevelt in 1932. Like Wagner, Roosevelt believed that the federal government needed to play a larger role in the activities of the national economy and in the lives of U.S. citizens. Wagner helped draft and sponsor the national industrial recovery act (NIRA) of 1933 (48 Stat. 195), which established the national recovery administration to administer codes of fair practice within each industry. Under these codes, labor and management negotiated minimum wages, maximum hours, and fair trade practices for each industry. The Roosevelt administration sought to use these codes to stabilize production, raise prices, and protect labor and consumers. In schechter poultry corp. v. united states, 295 U.S. 495, 55 S. Ct. 837, 79 L. Ed. 1570 (1935), however, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the NIRA.

Wagner also sponsored the social security act (42 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.), the bedrock of U.S. social welfare law. He is best remembered for the wagner act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.). The Wagner Act recognized for the first time the right of workers to organize unions and to collectively bargain with employers. The statute also established the national labor relations board to enforce labor-management relations in the United States.

Wagner sponsored numerous New Deal programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the U.S. Housing Authority, which provided loans for low-cost public housing. When world war ii began, the country's attention shifted to international issues, and Wagner's social welfare agenda fell out of favor. He lobbied unsuccessfully for a national health care system and for antilynching legislation.

"It is simply absurd to say that an individual, one of 10,000 workers, is on an equality with his employer in bargaining for his wages."
—Robert F. Wagner

Wagner resigned from the Senate for health reasons in 1949. He died on May 5, 1953, in New York City. In 1954 his son, Robert F. Wagner Jr., was elected mayor of New York City and served until 1965.

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Robert Ferdinand Wagner

Robert Ferdinand Wagner

Robert Ferdinand Wagner (1877-1953) was probably the most effective legislative leader in the history of the U.S. Senate and one of the principal architects of modern American political liberalism.

Robert F. Wagner was born in Nastätten, Germany, on June 8, 1877, into a staunch Lutheran family, the youngest of nine children. In 1886 the family emigrated to New York City. Robert was unable to speak English when he entered school, but he proved a diligent student. He sold newspapers and worked as a grooery boy to supplement the family's income. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1898, a Phi Beta Kappa. Two years later he graduated from the New York Law School and gained admittance to the state bar.

Attracted to politics, Wagner associated himself with the Democratic Tammany Hall machine. In 1904 he won election to the New York Assembly and 4 years later to the Senate, becoming Democratic floor leader. He helped push through legislation pertaining to workmen's compensation and other social welfare measures.

In 1926, after eight years as a member of the New York Supreme Court, Wagner won election to the U.S. Senate. He was reelected three times. He became chairman of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee in 1931; 2 years later, after the election of Franklin Roosevelt and solid Democratic majorities, Wagner moved to the center of the liberal reform movement. He drafted the crucial National Industrial Recovery Act, and in 1933-1934 he chaired the new National Labor Board. During the remainder of the 1930s Wagner authored and sponsored a long list of far-reaching social legislation. In 1935 his career reached its pinnacle with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act—commonly called the Wagner Act—which committed the Federal government to protecting and encouraging unions.

Wagner was a loyal supporter of Roosevelt's policies. During World War II Wagner's main concern was warbred inflation. In the Employment Act of 1946 he helped bring about Federal responsibility for maintaining a healthy economy, and at his urging Congress significantly expanded social security coverage and benefits.

Wagner gave up his Senate seat in 1949. He died in New York City on May 4, 1953. His son, Robert Wagner, Jr., was mayor of New York City from 1954 to 1965.

Further Reading

J. Joseph Huthmacher gives a full account of Wagner's public career in Senator Robert F. Wagner and the Rise of Urban Liberalism (1968). Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt (3 vols., 1957-1960), shows Wagner to be a central figure in the development of the New Deal, as does William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940 (1963). Wagner's work in labor and housing legislation is treated by Harry A. Millis and Emily Clark Brown, From the Wagner Act to Taft-Hartley (1950), and by Timothy L. McDonnel, The Wagner Housing Act (1957). For Wagner's later employment legislation see Stephen K. Bailey, Congress Makes a Law: The Story behind the Employment Act of 1946 (1950). □

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Wagner, Robert Ferdinand

Robert Ferdinand Wagner (wăg´nər), 1877–1953, American legislator, b. Germany. He arrived with his family in the United States in 1885 and grew up in poor surroundings in New York City. After he received his law degree, he became attached to Tammany Hall and was elected (1904) to the New York state assembly. In the state senate (1910–18), Wagner was noted for his investigations of factory conditions; as justice (1919–26) of the state supreme court, he did much to protect the rights of labor. He served (1927–49) in the U.S. Senate, where he was one of the chief leaders in directing New Deal legislation, particularly the acts establishing the National Recovery Administration (1933), the National Labor Relations Board (1935), social security, and the U.S. Housing Authority (1937). In the 1940s he sponsored bills calling for the extension of federal housing. He resigned from the Senate in 1949 because of ill health. His son, Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr., 1910—91, b. New York City, entered politics with his father's encouragement. He was a member of the New York state assembly (1938–41), and after service in the air force in World War II, he became successively New York City tax commissioner (1946), commissioner of housing and buildings (1947), chairman of the City Planning Commission (1948), and president of the borough of Manhattan (1949). Elected mayor of New York in 1953, he was overwhelmingly reelected in 1957. Wagner broke (1961) with the Tammany organization after long association and, after defeating the organization candidate in the primary election, won a third term as mayor. In 1965 he chose not to run for reelection. He was appointed (1968) U.S. Ambassador to Spain, but he resigned in Feb., 1969, and ran unsuccessfully in the New York Democratic mayoral primary in June of that year.

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"Wagner, Robert Ferdinand." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wagner-robert-ferdinand