Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing Bill Amending the Flammable Fabrics Act

December 14, 1967

Secretary Gardner, Secretary Trowbridge, Secretary Cohen, Senator Magnuson, Chairman Staggers, Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

About a year ago, an 11-year-old little girl struck a match for no reason at all--just the way children often do.

That match fell onto her cotton blouse. That blouse burst into flames. The child tried to beat out the fire herself. Then she panicked and began running. That just fanned the flames.

Her mother chased after her and wrapped her in a towel. But the blouse still continued to burn. Finally, she pushed the little girl into a shower to douse the flames.

The girl subsequently spent more than 9 weeks in the hospital--6 of them in the care of plastic surgeons.

The doctors used every miracle of medicine that they could conceive of. Still, that little girl has remained scarred.

But the burns were not the only price that she paid. Her mind was scarred, too. Now she is under a psychiatrist's care.

Later, her father had the remains of the blouse tested. Surely, he thought, the law of the land, and the legislators, and the President should see that we have laws to protect our little children from themselves and from causes like this.

But he found that the fabric in that blouse had met all the standards under that law. That law was the Flammable Fabrics Act that had been passed 14 years ago.

But that law 14 years ago was not sufficient today. That law has failed us and failed that little girl. She was the victim of a very terrible blow of fate. She was the victim of a very insufficient law.

Our 200 million people are victims in many fields today.

But I don't think her case is unique:

--More than 3,000 other Americans die each year just because their clothing catches fire.

--Tens of thousands still spend painful weeks in the hospital. They are badly burned by fabrics that become deadly torches.

I am very concerned--I am not a concerned Democrat but a concerned American-but I am very concerned with the figures we see appearing on the horizon. It looks like our infant death rate is going down and down. It looks like, perhaps, maybe--I don't want my credibility brought into question--I just can't be positive but it looks like, perhaps, maybe that is because of some of the legislation that you men and women in the Congress and in the Cabinet have sponsored to provide health programs for our newborn children.

It looks like our death rate for adults is going down. We cannot tell. All the figures for the year are not in.

But it looks like a rather sizable decline in our death rate. That could be because Harry Truman back many years ago had the courage, when they called him every name except a good milk cow, to propose some health measures that we got around to 20 years later--and to do something about it.

It may be that an old person lives longer today because they have hospital treatment. Some 4 million did under Medicare this year.

Some 5 million had their doctors' bills paid.

I had a young lady who works here in the White House, a reporter--and she had her mother with an incurable disease. I could see it taking its part from her.

I wrote her a little note and said, "I am thinking of you. I am praying for you. And I know there is nothing we can do about it-not now. Some day we are going to find a cure for this. But we are thinking of you."

She wrote me back and said, "I think there is one thing you ought to know. You have already thought of me--you and the Congress and the people--because I have got lots of things to worry about.

"But one thing I am not worrying about is who is paying the doctor bills. I am not worrying about who is going to pay the hospital bill because the Congress has provided Medicare.

"I have been putting in through the months--and that has taken care of it. That is one burden I don't have to bear."

So that is something I think--occasionally I make references, as you may have observed, to people who vote against some bills that I think are good bills. They can have equal time for this, if they want to.

I don't ever want to get personal. I don't want to get into name-calling contests. I don't want to say any ugly things about individuals. But I do about policies, about programs, and about bills.

I also say very much to the irritation of some of the members of my party. I say good things about the members of the other party--when there are good things to say. We frequently have that opportunity.

This is an instance this morning because there are a great many things--practically everything that Congress really does has help from both sides to some degree.

So today, we have come here, and we are going to strengthen the law that 14 years have proven is inadequate. In this new Flammable Fabrics Act, we are going to give renewed shields against anguish and against agony.

This is what this bill does:

--It says to Mr. Trowbridge that he will be able to--I hope very promptly--set modern and effective safety standards. He will not need an act of Congress every time a new standard is needed for some fabric used in a blouse, or in a sweater, or in a child's cowboy or Indian suit. I have asked the Secretary to put his experts to work yesterday in setting these standards in anticipation of signing the law today.

--The law's coverage of clothing is strengthened and is broadened considerably. For the first time, fabrics used in blankets, rugs, drapes, and upholstery will come under the law's protection. So will hats, gloves, and shoes.

--This bill will better protect us all from imported fabrics which do not meet American safety standards.

--It will give us new power to discover how and why these fabrics burn--how they can be made less flammable.

This law does not blacklist anyone. It won't put any reputable firm out of business. It will protect the honest manufacturer. But it will protect him from unscrupulous manufacturers and unscrupulous competition.

Above all, it does the one thing that ought to be the test of every law: It protects the American people.

Our 1967 countdown for consumers is underway.

A man was asking me last night about my grandfather and my father--and their political lives--and was saying, "Would you please point to certain things that you recall and that impressed you which you would like to have attached to their names?"

I tried to review some of the measures: the Blue Sky law my father had introduced, and the act to save the Alamo from being torn down--and some of the little things he told me as a boy.

Some day you folks are going to be old enough to be grandfathers, too. They are going to be asking you--your grandchildren, about "What did your grandfather do that you would like to have him remembered by?"

I can think of nothing that would give them greater pride than to save a little child from a burning blouse, or to save a widowed mother from paying 40 percent interest without knowing it, or from saving some housewife from buying meat with worms in it.

Those are the things that don't cost a lot of money--these consumer things.

Betty Furness' program gives you more for less expenditure than nearly anything I know of.

I am telling you, you had better get with it because the women in this country are going to insist on it. They are tired of eating diseased meat and seeing their babies burned up in blouses, and having pipelines break under their houses, in their streets, and across the country--when it can all be curbed, at least, if not completely avoided.

Our 1967 proposal, I believe, contained 12 consumer bills.

You hear a lot being said about the Congress. Some of our enemies--and this includes men in both parties--we don't want to get partisan--[laughter]--say it is a very bad Congress. Well, if they want to better it, they can pass some of these 12 bills that are up there.

We started with No. 12. That was the program for the year. I checked off No. 12 three weeks ago. I signed the product safety bill.

Then I checked off No. 11 last week. That was the clinical laboratories bill--part of the Partnership for Health Amendments.

Today, we are going to check off No. 10. That is the Flammable Fabrics Act.

Tomorrow, we are going to check off No. 9. That is the Wholesome Meat Act.

I am not saying anything about the rat bill. That has already been taken care of.

That still leaves us No. 8--a truth-inlending bill. That has passed the Senate. That has passed certain steps in the House. We hope we can get it as soon as possible.

There is the gas pipeline safety bill that has passed the Senate and is pending in the House.

That gets us down to half a dozen or less. That is almost half--that is half, isn't it? A half a dozen is half of a dozen ! [Laughter]

But we just have half of the session--half of the Congress. This is just one session.

We hope the next session--elected next year---can get those others passed.

Our society is more prosperous and it is more complex than any the world has ever known. It has not altogether eliminated some of these avoidable dangers.

There are still some petty deceits that people normally practice in their trade. But it is up to good government--and it is up to our good common sense--to say that we must make every effort that we can that is legitimate to protect ourselves from these dangers and to protect ourselves from these deceits.

So this morning, I would like to say to the American people that we have much left to do. We haven't got all of these problems met by a long shot. But we are making progress.

Twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, and we will be down to six--and that is six more than we have ever acted on heretofore.

This is a good service. This helps to make this a good Congress. This shows, I think, that they are good men--in both good parties.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:43 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner, Secretary of Commerce Alexander B. Trowbridge, Under Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Wilbur J. Cohen, Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington, and Representative Harley O. Staggers of West Virginia, Chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee of the House.

As enacted, the bill (S. 1003) is Public Law 90-189 (81 Stat. 568).

For remarks following the signing of other consumer bills referred to by the President, see Items 499, 520, 541. See also note to Item 575.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing Bill Amending the Flammable Fabrics Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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