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Dates of existence
1907 - 1992
Dallas Walker Smythe (1907-1992) was an economist and civil servant for the United States government, and a university professor in the field of communications in the United States and Canada.
He was born in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1907 and moved to California with his family in 1918. Smythe attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received an A.B. (Economics) in 1928 and a Ph.D. (Economics) in 1937. His career as an economist began in 1934, when, at the College of Agriculture at the University of California, Berkeley, he worked as an Extension Specialist in Agriculture preparing studies of economic outlooks for various California farm products.
He left Berkeley in 1937 for Washington, D.C. to become a civil servant with the federal government. He worked as an economist with the Central Statistical Board, specializing in the coordination and review of agricultural information from various government agencies. In 1938, he joined the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor as their senior economist. While at this Division, Smythe was responsible for preparing and presenting interpretive studies on the applicability of the Fair Labor Standards Act to a variety of industries, including textile mills, newspapers, railways, and lumber companies. Smythe left the Division in 1942 to become the principal economist, Division of Statistical Standards, Bureau of the Budget. He left that position in 1943 to join the Federal Communications Commission. As their chief economist, Smythe testified at FCC hearings and produced a number of statistical studies and reports on subjects such as radio frequency allocation and the public responsibilities of broadcasters. Throughout his career as a civil servant, Smythe belonged to pacifist or left-wing organizations, which later led to accusations of subversive conduct and disloyalty to the American government.
Smythe left the civil service in 1948 to join the faculty of the newly-formed Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois. In addition to lecturing on general economics, he taught the first course in the United States on the political economy of communications. The primary focus of his research was television, including its content, effects on family life, and portrayal of reality. He also studied the mass media and its influence on public opinion. With the development of satellite communication, he studied the effects of this new technology on international communications.
Partly because of his pacifist political beliefs, Smythe left the United States in 1963 to become the first Chairman of the Social Sciences Division at the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan. When he reached the mandatory retirement age in 1973, he left Regina to serve as visiting professor of communications at the University of California, San Diego. He joined the faculty of Simon Fraser University in 1974, serving as the first chairman of the Department of Communications Studies. While Smythe continued to write on mass media, regulating the radio spectrum, and communications theory, he also produced Dependency Road: Communications, Capitalism, Consciousness and Canada, his study of the domination of Canadian communications by American influences and its effects on consciousness.
Smythe became professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in 1980. Following a brief period at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he returned to teach at SFU until 1986. He accepted short-term appointments at Ohio State University and the University of Hawaii before retiring in 1988. He was working on his autobiography and a book about the theory of communications when he died in 1992.
Smythe married twice and had five children. He and his first wife Beatrice had three children: Sandra (born 1937), Susan (born 1938), and Roger (born 1943). Smythe later married Jennie Newsome Pitts, and the couple had two children: Patrick (born 1954), and Carol (born 1961).