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James B. and John J. McNamara Papers

 Collection
Identifier: US-80-09

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.

Dates

  • 1905-1961

Creator

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.

Extent

20 Linear Feet

Overview

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.

Physical Location

Archives and Rare Books Library

Related Material

An online exhibit featuring items from the collection and further information on the McNamara brothers and the LA Times Building bombing is available on the University of Cincinnati's Archives and Rare Books Library website at http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/arb/exhibits/mcnamara/
Title
Inventory of the James B. and John J. McNamara Papers, 1905-1961
Status
Edited Full Draft
Author
Finding aid prepared by Archives and Rare Books staff.
Date
2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Rare Books Library Repository

Contact:
8th Floor Blegen Library
2602 McMicken Circle
P.O. Box 210113
Cincinnati Ohio 45221-0113
513-556-1959