John J. Esch

John J. Esch
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1899  March 3, 1921
Preceded by Michael Griffin
Succeeded by Joseph D. Beck
Personal details
Born (1861-03-20)March 20, 1861
Norwalk, Wisconsin
Died April 27, 1941(1941-04-27) (aged 80)
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Political party Republican
Esch in 1914

John Jacob Esch (March 20, 1861 April 27, 1941) was an American attorney and member of the United States House of Representatives from 1899 to 1921 serving as a Republican. Born near Norwalk, Wisconsin, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1882 and in 1887 was admitted to the bar. He was a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission from 1921 to 1927. In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge granted him a recess appointment pending his confirmation to a second term, however the Senate rejected the nomination and the recess appointment expired when Congress adjourned in May. Esch returned to the practice of law and died in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Early life

Esch was born near Norwalk, Wisconsin on March 20, 1861, the son of Rev. Henry Esch and Matilda (Mann) Esch. Reverend Esch was an immigrant from Westphalia. Soon after John's birth, Rev. Esch retired from the ministry because of poor health and entered the manufacturing trade.[1] Esch attended the local schools, graduating from Sparta High School. He then entered the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1882.[1] Esch read law for a year, then taught school for three years to raise the money for formal legal training. In 1886, he returned to the University of Wisconsin, where he completed the required two years of coursework in one year, all while teaching geometry at Madison High School.[1]

Esch was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1887, and began to practice law in La Crosse, Wisconsin.[2] Esch was a partner in the firm of Winter, Esch & Winter.[1]

In 1883, Esch founded a military group he called the Sparta Rifles, which later became part of the Wisconsin National Guard, and led that company from 1883 to 1887. After he moved to La Crosse, he helped organize the Gateway City Guards, which also became part of the National Guard, and served initially as first lieutenant and later as captain of the company. In 1894, he became Acting Judge Advocate General of the Guard, appointed by Governor William H. Upham.[1]

In 1889, Esch married Anna Herbst; they had two sons and five daughters.[2] Esch was interested in Republican politics, becoming a delegate to the state conventions in 1894 and 1896. In 1898, he was elected Congressman from Wisconsin's 7th congressional district.[1]

Congressional service

Esch served as a Congressman for 22 years, winning 11 elections before finally falling in 1920.[1] He was first elected to the Fifty-sixth United States Congress and then to the ten succeeding Congresses. He spent his full 22 years in Congress representing Wisconsin's 7th congressional district. Initially appointed to the Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Military Affairs, he was identified with the military legislation that followed the Spanish–American War.[1] After six years in the House, he was appointed to the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, relinquishing his other committee posts to devote full-time to this committee. He was heavily involved in the transportation acts that followed; the Hepburn Act of 1906, which granted the Interstate Commerce Commission considerable powers over the railroads, was based heavily on an earlier bill he had submitted. His other legislative accomplishments included the Hours of Service Act, the Esch Car Service Act, the Boiler Inspection Act, the Federal Water Power Act, and the Esch-Cummins Act, also known as the Transportation Act of 1920.[1] The last act brought him national prominence.[2] On April 5, 1917, he voted, with 49 other representatives, against declaring war on Germany.

When Esch, defeated for re-election, left the House for the last time on March 3, 1921, it paid him an unusual honor: both sides of the House stood and cheered him as he left.[1]

Interstate Commerce Commission

On March 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Esch to the Interstate Commerce Commission. The Senate did not act on the nomination before it recessed four days later so Harding granted Esch a recess appointment on March 21 and Esch took the oath of office on March 28, 1921. When the Senate reconvened, it confirmed Esch on April 18 by a vote of 52–3.[1]

Esch was elected to serve as chairman of the Commission for 1927, and on December 19, 1927, Coolidge reappointed him to a second term. The Senate did not act before Esch's initial term expired at the end of 1927, so Coolidge granted Esch a recess appointment on January 3, 1928.[1]

Esch's renomination before the Senate proved contentious. The major reason for this was a case which had come before the Commission involving Pennsylvania coalfields seeking preferential rates for the haul to Lake Erie ports. Esch initially voted in the minority, opposing the rates, but later switched his vote to the majority when the Commission reconsidered its decision. The change, and the decision, outraged Southern coal interests and their senators, who charged that Esch had switched his vote to secure his renomination by Coolidge.[3] Esch denied any political consideration in his votes, citing new data submitted to the Commission and a Congressional resolution directing the Commission to take local economic conditions into consideration in making decisions as the reasons for his switch.[4] The Senate rejected Esch's nomination by 39-29 on March 16, 1928, angering other commissioners, who felt that members should be able to vote their consciences without fear of political repercussions.[3] Esch's recess appointment ended with the close of Congress's term on May 29, 1928, and he left the Commission.[1]

Later life

Esch returned to the practice of law, becoming a partner in a major Washington law firm.[2] He served for a year as president of the Association of Practitioners Before the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1930–31 and also served on the Washington Board of Trade.[1] Esch was President of the American Peace Society from 1930 to 1938. In 1938, he retired and returned to Wisconsin, where he died in 1941.[2]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 The Interstate Commerce Commission: The First Fifty Years, The George Washington University Law Review, 1938, pp. 662–63
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "John Jacob Esch, ex-congressman". The New York Times. April 28, 1941. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
  3. 1 2 "Senate refuses to confirm Esch". The New York Times. March 17, 1928. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
  4. "Esch defends shift in lake cargo case". The New York Times. February 19, 1928. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
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United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Michael Griffin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th congressional district

March 4, 1899 – March 3, 1921
Succeeded by
Joseph D. Beck
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