1931 Green River Ordinance
Railroad Workers Demand Protection of Their Daytime Sleep
Article by Marna Grubb, Green River Historic Preservation Commission
On November 16, 1931, the Town of Green River, Wyoming, (with a population of a little more than 3,000) deemed that "an emergency exists" and passed and approved Ordinance No. 175 (PDF) that prohibits door-to-door selling. William Evers was Mayor at the time. Under this Ordinance, a salesman must be "invited" into the home of a resident before he can knock on the door in an attempt to peddle his wares.
Night-shift railroaders and their wives had marched on the Town Council demanding that "something be done." Back in the depression days, thousands of Americans began moving from town-to-town and then house-to-house hoping to find someone to buy their wares, which would range from pots and pans to soaps, magazines, brushes, whatever. Thus, the Green River Ordinance was drawn up by Attorney T. S. Taliaferro Jr. to "abate the nuisance" of house-to-house canvassing in private homes.
In his August 13, 1938, letter to W. A. Paxson, Chief Solicitor for the City of Washington, Ohio, T. S. Taliaferro Jr. stated that his second reason for drawing up the ordinance was "to prevent contagious diseases being carried by promiscuous peddlers, traveling in their automobiles from one community to another, which has been sustained as being both constitutional and desirable by the Supreme Court of Wyoming, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, and by the Supreme Court of the United States."
Ordinance Travels Across the Nation
When traveling in various cities and towns throughout the United States, one often sees a sign stating "Green River Ordinance enforced here." Thousands of towns and cities have requested a copy of the Green River Ordinance throughout the years, and it is still being enforced in Green River and various other towns and cities throughout the United States. City police often receive calls from annoyed citizens when peddlers begin knocking on their doors.
Adrian Reynolds, a former editor of the Green River Star, discussed the Ordinance in his Chewin' the Fat column saying, "...the famed Green River Ordinance is not per se an anti-peddling ordinance...it is an anti-trespass ordinance that confirms the right of the householder to say just who comes into the home... that is the reason that it holds up in the higher courts... if you prohibited peddling in itself, I am afraid that the courts would say you are abridging the right to earn a living, or something of the sort..."
As T. S. Taliaferro Jr. stated, "Some cities and towns have attempted to improve upon this Ordinance, and in so doing have changed its character; so we find that the Town of Bel Air, Maryland, in attempting to enact the Green River Ordinance, added a provision that the Ordinance should not apply to the merchants of Bel Air, or to the farmers coming into the town of Bel Air. Now, of course, this exception was just enough to make the Ordinance unconstitutional, under the Constitution of Wyoming, and I presume under the Constitution of Maryland. See 192 Atlantic p. 417, Jewel Tea Co. V. Bel Air."
Taliaferro further stated, "In operation, the Ordinance does not affect the merchants of the city, because they invariably have direct invitations to go to the residences occupied by those who deal with the local merchants."
Upheld in Court as Reasonable Exercise of Police Power
The Fuller Brush Company sought to enjoin enforcement of the Ordinance by the Town of Green River, but the Fuller Brush Company's bill was dismissed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit. The Court held that "the Town has authority to declare and punish nuisances, that the practice of house-to-house selling is a nuisance, and that the Ordinance was a reasonable exercise of police power and not in contravention of constitutional rights, or the commerce clause of the United States Constitution."
The Supreme Court of Wyoming upheld the conviction of a representative of Fuller Brush Company before the Police Judge of the Town of Green River, holding "the passage of the ordinance was a valid exercise of the police power of the municipality, and not in contravention of the Constitution and Statutes of the United States."
The Town Council at that time reported that the above case was taken on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, but on March 1, 1937, that court entered an order dismissing the appeal "for want of a substantial federal question."
So, the Green River Ordinance is still alive and well.
For more information about the Green River Ordinance and its history in Green River, contact the City of Green River at (307) 872-6136.