James B. and John J. McNamara Papers
Scope and Content
The James B. and John J. McNamara Papers includes correspondence, newspaper articles, and photographs of the two brothers who were 20th century labor activists. The collection includes correspondence with American communists, labor leaders, and other important figures such as Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair, and Irving Stone. The collection also includes some correspondence of Robert McNamara, miscellaneous legal documents, magazine and newspaper clippings, and photographs taken by James B. McNamara while he was in San Quentin prison.
- Creation: 1905-1961
Language of Materials
The records are in English
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research.
Biography of James B. and John J. McNamara
John J. and James B. McNamara were labor activists in the early 20th century. They were from the neighborhood of Cumminsville (Northside) in Cincinnati, Ohio. They gained notoriety for bombing the Los Angeles Times Building in 1910, which killed twenty-one people and injured many more.
John J. was active in labor unions and served as the secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers (known today as the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers). Between 1908 and 1911, the Iron Workers allegedly carried out 70 dynamite attacks on non-union businesses. Although these were not done with the intention of killing anyone, they were certainly meant to intimidate bosses who had resisted organization campaigns by the Iron Workers. Under John J. and other union leaders' supervision, James B. began carrying out many of the bombings. On May 9, 1909, James perpetrated his first attack on a new bridge that was being built over the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
The bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building occurred on October 1, 1910. The owner of the LA Times, Harrison Gray Otis, was a vehement anti-unionist, and used the paper to espouse his views. His paper thus became a target for the McNamara brothers. James B. planted the dynamite in an area outside the building known as "Ink Alley." A fire resulted due to the natural gas lines located beneath the bombing site, and the barrels of ink ignited.
Members of the labor movement were shocked when the McNamara brothers were accused in the bombing. Samuel Gompers hired Clarence Darrow to defend the brothers. The trial began on October 11, 1911, but it quickly became apparent to the defense that there was too much evidence against the brothers. The brothers agreed to plead guilty. John J. served 15 years in prison. John B. served a life sentence.
The brothers were sent to San Quentin following the trial. James B. continued to stay in touch with his family, Clarence and Ruby Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, and many others during his time there. He also maintained his interest in leftist politics, and took pictures of prison life at San Quentin. Both brothers died in 1941, thirty years after their sentencing. James died March 8, and John died on May 9.
20 Linear Feet
This collection consists of the papers of John J. and James B. McNamara, 20th century labor activists. The collection includes correspondence with American communists, labor leaders, and other important figures such as Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair, and Irving Stone. The collection also includes some correspondence of Robert McNamara, miscellaneous legal documents, magazine and newspaper clippings, and photographs taken by James B. McNamara while he was in San Quentin prison.
Statement of Arrangement
The collection is arranged into thirteen series.
Archives and Rare Books Library
- Darrow, Clarence, 1857-1938 -- Correspondence (Person)
- Older, Fremont, 1856-1935 -- Correspondence (Person)
- Filene, E.A. (Edward Albert), 1860-1937 -- Correspondence (Person)
- California State Prison at San Quentin (Organization)
- Communist Party of the United States of America (Organization)
- International Association of Bridge, Structural, and Ornamental Iron Workers -- Membership (Organization)
- International Labor Defense (Organization)
- Inventory of the James B. and John J. McNamara Papers, 1905-1961
- Edited Full Draft
- Finding aid prepared by Archives and Rare Books staff.
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English