Two simultaneous crises struck America at the turn of the 20th century. Waterways in the south were so clogged with imported vegetation that it was impeding navigation and the country was running out of meat. What brilliant solution was put forth to save the country in its time of need? Hippo steaks, aka lake bacon. A bill was introduced and explored in a hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture in 1910 to import various African wildlife into the United States to answer what the media had termed “the meat question.”
Many articles have explored the story of how this came to be and how close this idea may have come to being reality, but for us there is a legal research lesson to be learned in it all. Most of these stories do not cite directly to the primary sources themselves and really play up the hippo angle, but we have the ability to track down old federal bills and hearings using the database ProQuest Congressional.
With the rough details of the story in hand, we can turn to ProQuest and search in a variety of ways to find the bill and a transcript of the hearing that took place. If looking for bills using the word hippo or hippopotamus, you would be out of luck, because the actual bill only discusses importing “wild and domestic animals.” A classic legislative generalization of terms that can make keyword searching so difficult for these types of materials. Using other features of the bill’s introduction, like the year and the name of the introducer, can help narrow your result set. Ideally, you’d find the bill number from a secondary source and use the search by number feature to locate both the bill and the hearing tied to it.
And finding the hearing itself is well worth a read. Did you know according to one witness that hippopotami are easily tamed and become very attached to man? Hopefully someone did their own research on the subject and that’s why hippo steaks are nowhere to be found on the menu today. Give ProQuest Congressional a go and see for yourself what could have been, for better or even more likely for so much worse…