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Representative John M. Nelson of Wisconsin, photograph, n.d.

Representative John M. Nelson of Wisconsin served 13 terms in Congress between 1906 and 1933. A former superintendent of schools, newspaper editor, and lawyer, he understood the need for full and accurate information to craft legislation. He chaired the Committee on Elections and played an important role in establishing the Legislative Reference Service (now the Congressional Research Service).

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Representative John M. Nelson of Wisconsin, photograph, n.d.

The Legislative Reference Service

Progressive-Era reformers drew on experts to guide their policy proposals. Believing that the best legislator is a well-informed legislator, a dozen states established legislative reference bureaus between 1903 and 1913. In 1914 Representative John M. Nelson and Senator Robert M. La Follette, both of Wisconsin, were instrumental in creating the Legislative Reference Service (LRS) through an appropriations act amendment. The LRS––renamed the Congressional Research Service in 1970––is part of the Library of Congress. It objectively compiles and analyzes information requested by members of Congress for legislative purposes.

I determined . . . to see to it that a legislative reference bureau be established as an agency of helpfulness for Congress, to enlarge our individual and collective capacity of legislative service, to attain a maximum of legislative efficiency.

Representative John M. Nelson of Wisconsin, Hearings before the Committee on the Library, . . . , February 26, 1912