August 1913–June 1920
Appointed by: Woodrow Wilson
Royal Meeker was born in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania in 1873. He attended college at Iowa State College, Columbia University, Seligman, and the University of Leipzig before becoming a professor of history, political science, and economics at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. A year after publishing his dissertation in 1905, Meeker earned his Ph.D. from Columbia. When Meeker applied for and gained a position at Princeton in 1905, he made his first connection with Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton.
Wilson was elected President in 1912, and shortly afterward, Meeker offered to help by performing a survey of the economic community on the banking reform issue. Wilson found the information "most useful," and, in June 1913, when Secretary of Labor Wilson recommended Meeker fill the position of Commissioner of Labor Statistics, President Wilson urged the Senate to accept. Meeker was sworn in on August 11.
A staunch believer in stressing the human factor in business, Meeker wanted, among other things, a nationwide system of public employment offices; workmen's compensation; child labor restrictions combined with strong, State-controlled schools; and government action to protect workers. Meeker also sought to eliminate duplication of work by Government agencies, singling out six agencies competing with the Bureau.
During Meeker's first years as Commissioner, he revised the index numbers of retail and wholesale prices, updated wage studies data collections, and began cost-of-living studies for the District of Columbia. In his concern for unemployment, Meeker ordered studies in 16 East and Middle West cities and 12 Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast cities. The Bureau published the results in 1916 in the publication Unemployment in the United States. At the same time, the Bureau began a monthly series, "Amount of employment in certain industries," which was the start of the Bureau's establishment series on employment and total payrolls. In trying to reduce labor turnover by promoting improved working conditions in businesses, the Bureau surveyed corporate welfare plans from 430 employers.
In 1915, Meeker began supplementing the Bureau's irregularly published bulletins with a new, monthly journal - the Monthly Review, now called the Monthly Labor Review. The journal expanded greatly, publicizing the first results of new Bureau surveys on cost of living, the new budget studies, and information on conditions in other countries. The Review later carried articles on the effect of war on wages, hours, working conditions, and prices in European countries.
Meeker also believed in creating national health insurance and safety programs. In 1916, he succeeded in convincing Congress to create a Board to administer the workmen's compensation program, which had been under the Bureau's responsibility since 1908. Working with a committee of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions, Meeker helped develop standard methods and definitions for reporting accidents. The Bureau offered to tabulate and publish State accident statistics, and in 1917, published Causes of Death by Occupation.
Meeker's second term brought new challenges with the United States entering World War I. With the Government trying to adjust wages to rising costs of living, Meeker was permitted to create a comprehensive consumer expenditure survey. The Bureau began work by surveying the cost of living of families in shipbuilding, the results of which the Shipbuilding Board used to set uniform national wage rates for skilled shipyard trades.
Soon, the Bureau was allocated $300,000 to collect nationwide data on the cost of living. Conducted in 1918–19, the survey covered 12,000 families in 92 cities in 42 States. The results were published in the Monthly Labor Review in May 1919. Shortly thereafter, the Bureau issued its first comprehensive set of cost-of-living indexes for the Nation and for major industrial and shipbuilding centers. This marked the beginning of semiannual cost-of-living indexes for the Nation as a whole and for 31 cities.
To reflect wartime conditions and help resolve disputes, the Bureau was allotted $300,000 for an integrated study of occupational hours and earnings. The results, presented in May 1920, covered wages and hours during 1918 and 1919 for 780 occupations in 28 industries.
Meeker resigned in 1920 to head up the Scientific Division of the International Labor Office (ILO), a major office in the League of Nations. Secretary of Labor Wilson called Meeker "an exceptionally efficient administrator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics." Secretary Wilson went on to describe Meeker's three greatest accomplishments: coordinating the Bureau's work with work performed by States and standardizing industrial terminology and methods; reorganizing the cost-of-living work on a family budget or market basket basis; and studying wartime wages and living costs that were accepted by all the wage boards.
After working for the ILO from 1920 to 1923, Meeker served as Secretary of Labor and Industry for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1923 to 1924. In 1924, he went to China as a member of the Commission on Social Research, and 1926–27, he taught economics at Carleton College in Minnesota. Meeker served as president of the Index Number Institute in New Haven from 1930 to 1936, and in 1941, he was named Administrative Assistant and Director of Research and Statistics of the Connecticut Department. He retired in 1946 and died in New Haven in 1953.
Back to BLS Commissioners' History.
Last Modified Date: June 13, 2012