The General Strike Project
Sources and Research Guide to:
MAYOR OLE HANSONíS FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FAME
By Trevor Williams
Ole Hanson was Mayor of Seattle from his election in March 1918 until his resignation in August 1919. He is important to the Seattle General Strike primarily because it made him a short-lived national celebrity.
Hanson, the son of Norwegian immigrants, moved to Seattle from Wisconsin with his wife and children in 1902, when he was twenty-eight. He set up a reasonably successful real estate business and occasionally dabbled in politics, most notably as a labor-friendly representative in the 1909 State Legislature. With his comfortable middle-of-the-road politics and his impressive oratory, he won the 1918 mayoral election by a wide margin.
Despite his previous warmth for labor issues, he took a strong stance against the strike, issuing anti-strike proclamations to the strikers, the citizens of Seattle and the nation at large. When the strike ended without mishap in less than a week, the public, the media, and fellow politicians gave Hanson full credit. Taking pains to stoke local and national newspapers with self-congratulatory fuel, Hanson shot to immediate political superstardom. By all accounts, most Americans in 1919 thought Hanson a hero of the highest order, while union men considered him worse than vermin.
Six months after the strike Hanson resigned from office, claiming illness and poverty. He toured the country, writing and lecturing about the Seattle Strike and against "Bolshevism." He enjoyed laudatory fame and monetary success for about a year, even entertaining a possible presidential candidacy, before he fell back into obscurity as quickly as he had shot to celebrity.
The most interesting thing about Hanson is his relationship with the media and the public during his brief explosion of popularity. His handling of the strike really wasnít all that impressive one way or the other. His actions were neither heroic nor villainous. What is impressive is his meteoric success as a self-promoter, the near-fanaticism of his admirers, the bitter rhetoric of his detractors, and his sudden disappearance from the national stage. Everybody had something to say about Ole, but only for about fifteen minutes.
Really, there are no secondary sources if one is studying the public perception of Ole Hanson. There are, however, two substantial treatments that would belong in the secondary source category if one were studying Hanson himself. The first is heavily anti-Ole; perhaps more than is necessary. The second is more favorable, and is, in fact, partly a reaction to the first.
Robert L. Friedheim, The Seattle General Strike (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964)
Terje I. Leiren, "Ole and the Reds: the ĎAmericanismí of Seattle Mayor
Ole Hanson" Norwegian American Studies 1985 30:75-95
Ole Hanson, Americanism Versus Bolshevism (New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1920)
Hanson began this 300-page book immediately after the strike. In fact, one of the reasons he resigned his office was to give him the time to finish it. Even while he was still mayor, critics said that he neglected his duties in order to work on it. The first third of it contains a brief autobiography and a necessarily one-sided account of the Seattle General Strike. The rest is a history of "Bolshevism" in Europe and in the United States and a prescription for stopping its spread. It shows the intensity of his opinions and hints at his skill as an orator.
Delores Huteson Hughes, "The Impractical Dreamer," an unpublished
manuscript by Hansonís granddaughter, in Manuscripts and Archives,
University of Washington Libraries
Evidently a school paper, this is written in a worshipful tone. It gives valuable information about Hansonís doings after his popularity faded. He squandered his lecture tour money, then made a small fortune in Mexican oil and founded the Southern California city of San Clemente.
Friedheim Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, University of Washington
Compiled by Friedheim while he was working on his book, this collection deals with the Seattle General Strike as a whole. The most interesting item devoted to Hanson is a copy of the transcript of People vs. Lloyd, a trial in which Hanson was an expert witness. Hanson retells his role in the strike and talks about his lecture tour. He is verbally thrashed by Clarence Darrow.
Washington State Newspapers
Hanson dominated just about all of the local newspapers right after the strike. The general readership newspapers were concerned with congratulating him and cataloguing his rise to prominence. Typical are the Post-Intelligencer and the Times.
On February 10th, 1919 the P-I credited Hanson for ending the strike. On the 11th they ran several pages of excerpts of praise for Hanson from other newspapers, both local and national. On the 15th they printed a speech Hanson gave to the Chamber of Commerce. On April 29th they described a failed bomb attempt on Hansonís office, and August 28th they covered his resignation.
Unlike the Post Intelligencer, the Times covered Hansonís 1918 election quite thoroughly. On March 2, 1918 they printed a story titled "Ole Hansonís Record," which listed his platform, accomplishments, and several letters of support. On February 10th, 1919 they joined the Ole parade with an enormous front-page portrait and biography. Like other newspapers, they praised him for the next few days.
A labor daily, this paper is fun to read because it seems to be the single member of the "We Hate Ole" club. Actually, the Union Record wrote favorably about Hanson on February 3rd, just before the strike. On the 6th they seemed baffled by his antagonism, and by the 11th they admitted that they couldnít print the words they would have liked to use for him. In every issue from the 11th to the 20th they found new bad things to say about him. On the 14th and 15th they printed insulting cartoons. On August 29th, when Hanson resigned, they devoted more front-page space to him than they had to the General strike on its first day: "Hanson QuitsÖCity Hall Rid of Freak."
As the February 11th P-I article chronicled, newspapers from all over the country had good things to say about Hanson right after the strike. The most complete was the New York Times, which actually beat Washington papers to the punch in Hanson praise.
New York Times
On February 8th, the New York Times did a story on the Seattle General Strike, but seemed most enamored of Mayor Hanson. The proclamation Hanson sent them by telegram, printed on the 9th, probably had a lot to do with their featuring him, and with his subsequent popularity. On the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, and 21st they quoted readers and politicians with Hanson fever. On April 29th they covered the bomb; on August 28th they covered his resignation; on September 18th they interviewed him; on July 22, 1920 they mentioned his testimony at the Lloyd trial, and then they never mentioned him again.