Congressman T. Frank Appleby, Oil Polution Act


Congressman T. Frank Appleby, Oil Polution Act


In 1921, Congressman T. Frank Appleby introduced a bill designed to limit oil pollution, a piece of legislation that would eventually become the 1924 Oil Pollution Act.
In the 1920s, oil pollution was a significant problem. The Corps of Engineers issued a report in 1922, emphasizing just how bad the pollution really was:
"New Orleans, Louisiana -- "A considerable proportion of the batteries are noticeably polluted with oil. No beach can be considered suitable for recreation. A disastrous fire occurred in the port a year ago, the fire to a considerable extent being spread by oil pollution."
Portland, Oregon -- "Considerable damage has resulted [from oil spills], especially to floating logs and sawed timbers..."
Glouster, Massachusetts -- "A thick scum has caused serious damage to fish and sea life. It has also caused much discontent and complaint from tourists."
Baltimore, Maryland -- "There has been a very detrimental effect on fish, oysters and wildfowl."
Charleston, South Carolina -- "Local fishermen complain of injury to fishing and say fish have been driven away from harbor and inlets..."
This was partially due to the fact that the tonnage of oil tankers on the east coast had grown 850% between 1914-1922. In addition, recovery methods had not yet caught up with new technologies. Historian Joseph A. Pratt has estimated that oil pollution in the 1920s was much more serious than any other era in the United States.
Appleby continued to write letters in an effort to gather support for an oil pollution conference.In one letter to the president of the Norfolk, VA board of trade, he wrote that "careless oil dumping has become a serious menace." The New Jersey State League of Municipalties also lobbied for action, stating that "Oil pollution is one of the gravest economic questions confronting the Atlantic Coast navigable waterways."
In August of 1922, New Jersey officials convinced the League of Atlantic Seaboard Municipalities to hold a national conference in Atlantic city. Representatives from different cities attended, as well as trade organizations and chambers of commerce. On its first day, the conference named itself The National Coast Anti-Pollution League, and discussed everything from the effects of oil on property values to environmental damage. Supportive letters were read, and on the second day, they resolved, in support of Appleby's bill, to set fines and jail time for oil pollution.
Although legislation met some roadblocks in the year that followed, the Oil Pollution Act was passed in 1924. Unfortunately, it only covered intentional dumping in U.S. coastal waters. Other land-based oil pollution sources were not covered in the law until 1970.


Harris & Ewing






Portrait of Congressman T. Frank Appleby

Source: Bill Kovarik. (n.d.) Oil Pollution and the National Coast Anti-Pollution League. Environmental History Timeline. Retrieved Oct 5, 2012, from


Library of Congress


Library of Congress


Medium: Photograph






Congress, T. Frank Appleby, Oil Pollution, Wildlife, Oil Dumping, Anti-Pollution





Harris & Ewing, Congressman T. Frank Appleby, Oil Polution Act, Library of Congress, 1905-1945

Cite As

Harris & Ewing, “Congressman T. Frank Appleby, Oil Polution Act,” Virtual Museum of Public Service, accessed August 11, 2022,