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Collection Number RG0704.AM
Collection Name RG0704 Howell, Robert Beecher, 1864-1933
Identifier Political papers
Size and Materials 64 cubic feet of papers
Title Papers of Robert Beecher Howell, 1923-1933
Date or Date Span 1923-1933
Year Range from 1923
Year Range to 1933
Admin/Biographical History Robert Beecher Howell was born in Adrian, Michigan, on January 21, 1864. He attended Adrian Public Schools, was a member of the 1893 class of the Detroit School of Law, and graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1885. Howell soon resigned from the Navy, but returned to active duty both in the Spanish-American War and in World War I. In 1888 he moved to Omaha worked as a civil engineer and also entered the real estate, insurance and brokerage businesses.

As the first State Engineer of Nebraska (1895-1896), he acquired a public reputation for efficiency and competence. While city engineer of Omaha in 1896-1897, he led a crusade for municipally owned public utilities and was thereafter closely identified with this position. While he was a Nebraska State Senator (1902-1904), he obtained legislation that enabled Omaha to acquire the water works. He was director of the Omaha Water Board and its successor, the Metropolitan Utilities District, and manager of the public utilities complex from 1912 to 1923. Upon his initiation, the city expanded its operations to include ice and gas plants, although he failed to obtain a municipally owned electric facility. In 1921, he was appointed chairman of the National Radio Service Commission of the United States Post Office Department.

Howell had a long and active political career before his election to the U. S. Senate. Although State Senator was his only elective public office, he was a member of the Republican State Central Committee (1912-1920), National Republican Committeeman (1912-1920), and on the executive committee of the Republican National Committee. (1916-1924). In 1912, he supported Theodore Roosevelt for the Republican presidential nomination, but he did not leave the party when it rejected his candidate. He was defeated as the Republican candidate for governor of Nebraska in 1914. During the struggle for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination, he was the Nebraska campaign manager for General Leonard Wood.

Nebraska Republicans split along ideological lines in the 1922 U.S. senatorial primary. As the leader and candidate of the progressive wing, Howell received his principal opposition from conservative Congressman A. W. Jeffries who was supported by powerful party leaders. Howell, nevertheless, easily obtained the Republican nomination, together with an endorsement from the Non-Partisan League. During the election campaign, he stressed the need to apply business techniques to government and curb monopoly; criticized "Wall Street;" he advocated prohibition, a soldier's bonus and "farmbloc" measures, and was reticent on tariff and tax measures. By election time, his image was that of "a progressive, acceptable to labor and 'dry' vote as well, who was committed to advancing the interests of agriculture." (Luebke, Nebraska History, March 1966, 43) Howell often disputed the party leadership and opposed the Senate Republican majority. Howell's political rhetoric and personal behavior may have contributed to an "insurgent" image. He was irreverent toward Senate rules, violated the traditional Senate style, and was testy and abrasive with colleagues.

Agrarian self-interest and antipathies were the most pronounced themes in his value system. He approved all means to assist agriculture even those of dubious political monopoly. At the same time, he believed in public ownership of utilities, but only as a means of offering competition to privately owned ones and thus insuring the lowest possible rates.

Agrarianism, "Populistic" economic assumptions, antipathy to business domination of government, and willingness to use government in the public welfare were Howell's main positions. His deep isolationism was evidence in his strong opposition to a moratorium on European war debts. Howell worked futilely for a bill based upon the principle of public ownership of the airwaves and stringent control over the broadcasting industry. He had an almost impeccable progressive voting record in the Senate.

Howell ran for re-election to the Senate in 1928. He only narrowly defeated Nebraska Attorney General O.S Spillman for the nomination in the Republican primary and barely defeated Richard L. Metcalfe in the general election.

Early in 1933, He suffered a cold that developed into pneumonia, and he died of a heart attack on March 11.

Note: The information in this biographical sketch was taken from Patrick G. O'Brien, "Senator Robert B. Howell: A Midwestern Progressive and Insurgent During 'Normalcy," Emporia State Research Studies, XIX (December 1970), 5-28.
Level of description Fonds/Coll
Scope & Content This collection of the papers of Robert Beecher Howell is arranged in one series: (1) Senate Files, 1923-1933.

The papers consist of one alphabetical file for the entire span of Howell's years in the Senate. Interfiled is correspondence of all types, committee files, legislative bill files, appointments, and subject files, as well as material relating to his 1928 campaign for re-election.

The collection reflects Howell's strong interest in agriculture, especially agricultural relief measures, and in public utilities, especially radio broadcasting.
Creator Howell, Robert Beecher, 1864-1933
Finding Aids Robert Beecher Howell finding aid
Subjects Agriculture
Legislative bodies
Legislative hearings
People associated with politics & government
Political activity
Political issues
Political parties
Politics & government
Public utility companies
Radio broadcasting
Republican Party
Flood control
Post offices
Veterans' benefits
People Howell, Robert Beecher, 1864-1933
Search Terms Foreign debt
Muscle Shoals (Alabama)
Genre Form Political Campaigns
Government & Politics