government agencies

5 Defunct Government Agencies You’ve Never Heard Of

Ostensibly founded on limited government, the United States have had its fair share of federal programs not exactly described in the constitution.

Here are five strange government agencies that are now defunct:

The Cipher Bureau, aka the Black Chamber
Established: 1919
Disbanded: 1929


Photo of Black Chamber chief Herbert Yardley courtesy of the NSA via Wikipedia.

Though it arguably still exists in the form of the NSA, the Cipher Bureau (nicknamed the Black Chamber) was America’s first peacetime cryptanalytic organization.

Its chief mission was to decipher diplomatic communications to and from other nations. A famous example is the American eavesdropping ahead of the Washington Naval Conference, which gave the U.S. negotiators an upper hand in negotiating balance of navy strengths post-WWI.

Spying on allies wasn’t the only precedent the Black Chamber set for the NSA, however: its leader, Herbert Yardley, became an early whistleblower of sorts when he published his 1931 memoir “The American Black Chamber,” (the agency was defunded in 1929) revealing the extent of U.S. actions

Due to the phrasing of the laws at the time, Yardley was never prosecuted.

The Board of Tea Appeals
Established: 1897
Disbanded: 1996


Photo courtesy of Sam via Flickr (not actual tea inspector pictured).[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”AYhSo37LgNS4sYWSrY6ygzeUI2N7IHI0″]

The Federal Tasters Act of 1897 required that every lot of tea imported to the U.S. be sampled at the port of entry.

Yes, that’s right: for nearly a century, until midway through Bill Clinton’s presidency, federal agents would taste, smell, and examine samples from the hundreds of millions of pounds of tea imported into the U.S. annually.

The Committee on Public Information
Established: 1917
Disbanded: 1919


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Widely considered an early pioneer of propaganda, the goal of the CPI was to instill in the American public a positive attitude towards participation in WWI.

It did so with a mixture of scare tactics (as shown in the image above) and putting a positive spin on government actions such as war rationing and the draft.

Most famously, the agency hired volunteers called the Four Minute Men – named after what was considered the average human attention span – who would preach about the war effort to unknowing fellow citizens.

The U.S. Grazing Service
Established: 1934
Disbanded: 1946


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the 1930s, livestock grazing on public land was apparently so out of control that the federal government had to step in. By the time the agency was created, two-thirds of the productivity of publicly owned grazing lands were depleted.

Their efforts were in vain, however: because of political pressures to keep grazing leases cheap, the service was chronically unfunded, leaving it unable to regulate the lands it was supposed to protect. By 1946, the failing agency was rolled into the General Land Office.

The U.S. Metric Board
Established: 1975

Disbanded: 1982


U.S. Metric Board brochure courtesy of Colorado State University.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the U.S. tried and failed at adopting the metric system.

Originally created by Gerald Ford in 1975, the board consisted of 17 members from various industries, tasked with educating the    Metric Conversion Act, which considered metric “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce.”

However, due to internal squabbling, the board could never agree on whether its mission was to simply educate people on metric (as it did with brochures such as the one above), or to assist the U.S. in converting fully from the imperial system. It was eventually defunded in 1982.


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Ole Skaar