“Labor difficulties are in the making all over the country,” wrote Barker H. Bailey, vice-president of the Federal Laboratories, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a letter to one of the company’s travelling salesmen in the spring of 1934. “The man who has a territory with any appreciable amount of manufacturing . . . certainly should be on the look-out for advantageous outlets for the protective devices which we have. It looks to me like the year 1934 may be a very beautiful one for all of our men.”
The Federal Laboratories “protective devices” to which Vice President Barker referred in his letter consisted of machine guns, submachine guns, revolvers, automatic pistols, shot-guns, rifles, armoured cars, gas guns, gas ejectors, gas mortars, ammunition, bulletproof vests, tear and sickening gas, gas projectiles, gas masks and similar supplies.
Federal Laboratories, Inc. was one of the leading firms in the United States engaged in the unique American business of selling arms, ammunition, and other military supplies to private industry, strikebreaking and labor espionage agencies, vigilante groups, state and municipal law-enforcement bodies. 1
Among the hundreds of clients serviced by Federal Laboratories were such concerns as:
American Hawaiian Steamship Co.; Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.; Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp.; Bendix Corp. L. A. Railway Corp.; Bethlehem Steel Co.; Pacific R & H Chemical Corp.; Carnegie Steel Co.; Pontiac Motor Car Co.; Chevrolet Motor Co.; Sears Roebuck Co.; Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad Co.; Six Companies, Inc.; Standard Oil, Inc.; Chicago Tribune; Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co.; General Motors Corp.
One of the largest stockholders in Federal Laboratories, Inc., was the Atlas Powder Company of Wilmington, Delaware, whose interests were closely affiliated with those of the great chemical firm, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.
Since the operations of Federal Laboratories, Inc. often skirted on the edge of the law, discretion and ingenuity were constantly required of the firm’s representatives. Illustrative of this fact were certain negotiations conducted by Federal Laboratories in San Francisco during the general strike in that city, in 1934.
A Federal Laboratories salesman had secured from the San Francisco chief of police an order for more than thirteen thousand dollars’ worth of gas and gas equipment. But difficulties in filling the order, according to a subsequent account by Federal Laboratories Vice-President Bailey H. Barker, arose because of “the refusal of certain officers of the city to honor the chief’s request that he have the shipment made.” Barker himself hurried to San Francisco to straighten matters out.
After a private conference with several representatives of west coast steamship concerns. Barker wrote a letter to the Bank of America that read in part as follows:Bank of America NT. & SA. Market New Montgomery Office San Francisco, Calif.
We are handing you herewith a sealed envelope, which we are asking you to deliver on payment to you of $13,809.12.
When these funds are received by you then remit them to my parent organization, the Federal Laboratories, Inc., 185-51st Street, Pittsburgh, Penn.
Yours very truly, Federal Laboratories, Inc. by B. H. Barker, Vice-Pres.
The “sealed envelope” delivered by Barker to the Bank of America contained Federal Laboratories’ invoice for the gas and gas equipment ordered by the San Francisco chief of police. In exchange, Barker received a cashier’s check for $13,809.12. The gas equipment, paid for by persons whose names were never made public, was shipped to the San Francisco Police Department.
“We will not forget, I assure you, the peculiar tangle that we found ourselves in,” wrote Barker, on his return to Pittsburgh, in a warmly appreciative letter to Ashfield Stow of the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, “and to find you not only willing to advise, but ready to protect the activities of the people who, in good faith, had been dealing with us, will remain in our memory long after other things are forgotten.”
Later that year, John W. Young, President of Federal Laboratories, Inc., circulated among the company’s agents a memorandum summarizing the firm’s accomplishments during the previous months. Young’s memorandum began:
Gentlemen: We have been experiencing some very eventful days— history-making days — not only in this business but also in the destiny of our country. Class struggle has become more defined and more pronounced.
Sales exceeded the million-dollar mark by a healthy margin the first six months of this year.
Indicating the international scope of his firm’s operations. Young reported:
Two car loads of gas have been shipped to Cuba and twenty-two armoured cars for police use all made by Federal Laboratories. Police are being instructed in the use of this equipment and hardly a week goes by but what gas is used in one or more cases . . .
But it was in the United States itself that business had been most satisfactory. “Approximately $7,500.00 worth of Federal Gas was shipped into Toledo for their trouble,” wrote Young. “$20,000.00 worth into Youngstown, $25,000.00 to Pittsburgh, $10,000.00 to Wisconsin and $5,000.00 to Seattle.”
The President of Federal Laboratories concluded:
You have probably noticed that in the newspaper accounts there are many items where tear gas has been effective. The reason for this is that police departments are becoming better educated in how to use the gas. They use plenty of it and in checking back we find they have been using Federal Gas in the majority of cases.
I want to especially compliment Baxter, Roush, Baum, Grieg, Fisher, Richardson and those boys who have given their personal services to direct the activities of the police in the use of this equipment during times of emergency.
Joseph M. Roush, one of the Federal Laboratories agents singled out for special commendation in President Young’s letter, had been dispatched to California by the Pittsburgh office early in 1934. With labor strife intensifying all along the west coast, Federal Laboratories executives wanted one of their most capable representatives on the spot. Their confidence in Roush was not misplaced . . .
After a preliminary survey of the California situation, Roush reported in a letter to Bailey H. Barker, the vice-president of Federal Laboratories, that business prospects were exceedingly promising.
“One reaction that was practically universal throughout the whole state,” wrote Roush, “is that this year will witness the worst strikes and riots in the history of our country . . . Next month should be a good one. Another strike is expected in the Imperial Valley . . .”
A number of other “nice, juicy strikes” were in the offing, added Roush, and there was every reason to anticipate a “healthy demand” in the near future for machine guns and other firearms, and particularly for tear gas products, in California.
In subsequent reports, Roush informed his superiors that he was making a special effort to push the sale of a new piece of Federal Laboratories merchandise. Technically known as Diphenylaminechlorarsine (DM) and more colloquially referred to as Sickening Gas, this product was described in Federal Laboratories promotional literature as follows:
The liquid chemical is used for lachrymation purposes. It also causes nausea, severe headache, vomiting, etc. A severe dose will incapacitate a person for six to eight hours. While it is also considered as a toxic gas in closed quarters, no reports of fatalities have ever been reported from its use in the field.
“I hope all the Reds get sickening gas in L. A.,” wrote Roush in one letter. “I will do what I can about it up here” . . .
Like most traveling salesmen, Roush carried in his sales kit various promotional material designed to stimulate the sale of his merchandise. When soliciting business he was rarely without a copy of The Red Network by Elizabeth Dilling, the anti-Communist propagandist who was later to be tried on charges of conspiring with Nazi Germany against the U. S. Government.2 Dilling’s book was used by Roush to indicate to prospective customers the extent to which “Red agents” had infiltrated American society and the desirability of using Federal Laboratories equipment as a “protection” against them. Roush also usually had on hand, for distribution among potential buyers and regular clients, a pamphlet entitled The Red Line of Crime and Civil Disorder. 3
During the early summer months, Roush encountered unexpected difficulties in the sale of his tear gas products. Potential customers were plentiful, but, as Roush notified Bailey H. Barker, certain state legislation was creating a really serious problem.
The State Tear Gas Law certainly played heck with my business . . . You will remember the trouble we had during the Meat Strike about permits, well the City absolutely refuses to issue permits for any more private companies. How do you like that . . ?
Showing a sympathetic understanding of Roush’s plight. Barker wrote in reply, “If this cannot be corrected locally, I don’t suppose there is a thing we can do from here, and the disappointment will just have to be swallowed, in the hopes that other types of business . . . can be secured.”
Roush, however, whose sales commissions depended largely on tear gas orders, was stubbornly determined not to lose this business. He made a point of cultivating the acquaintance of Clarence Morrill, the Chief of the State Division of Criminal Identification and Investigation. Morrill had the authority to approve or deny permits for the sale of gas and machine guns throughout California.
One day, Roush called Barker in Pittsburgh by long distance telephone. Would Barker agree, asked Roush, to giving Morrill the exclusive right to handle Federal Laboratories sales in Alaska?
Barker promptly answered in the affirmative.
Thereafter, no difficulties were encountered in getting permits for the sale of gas and machine guns throughout California.
In a lengthy letter to Barker on July 22, 1934, two days after the end of the general strike in San Francisco, Roush gave a jubilant account of how his business had “picked up”:
The evening of July 2, Sergeant McInerney and Officer Myron Gernea . . . asked me if I would go with them in the Headquarters’ car the next morning and take some of my gas equipment. They said they expected considerable rioting and would appreciate my experience in the use of gas . . . We started out to do battle with (gas) equipment and two shotguns. We did not have long to wait. The first riot started early in the morning and we went in with short-range shells and grenades.
When some of the “rioters”— striking longshoremen who were peacefully picketing the San Francisco waterfront— began picking up the gas grenades and hurling them back at the police, Roush recommended that “long range shells” be used by the police. “Believe me,” he wrote, “they solved the problem. From then on each riot was a victory for us … It was most interesting as well as educational . . .”
The gas shells achieved such “remarkable results” on the waterfront, related Roush, that not only the San Francisco Police Department but numerous other customers started placing large orders for Federal Laboratories equipment:
It was a landslide of business for us. Immediately following the business from San Francisco came orders for gas and machine guns from the surrounding territory . . . Naturally I was in seventh heaven.
As it was unsafe to leave our stock in the warehouse, I moved it into the San Francisco Police Department vault . . . No one could have received more courtesies than were extended to me by the Berkeley Police Department, the Oakland Police Department and the District Attorney’s office and the San Francisco Police Department. The company and myself certainly owe them a debt of gratitude . . . The Berkeley Department furnished us office space, telephone service, and even gasoline when it was impossible to obtain any throughout the city.
Roush said he was obtaining photographs of the waterfront “riots” which he would forward to the home office. “I might mention,” he added, “that during one of the riots, I shot a long range projectile into a group, a shell hitting one man and causing a fracture of the skull, from which he has since died. As he was a Communist, I have had no feeling in the matter and I am sorry that I did not get more.”
Roush’s letter concluded:
Now let me at this time thank you from the bottom of my heart for the very wonderful cooperation that you gave me. No words can express the feelings I have on the matter . . . Please convey my thanks to all the members of the company that made this business possible for us. I can think of no greater inspiration to get out and get more business than the knowledge of how firmly the factory and its personnel are behind me . . .
I shall make San Francisco my permanent headquarters … I find it so practical and pleasant I shall continue to live here . . .
With best personal regards to you and the rest of the company, I remain,
Sincerely yours, JOSEPH M. ROUSH.4
1 The three principal concerns engaged in this business were Federal Laboratories, Inc., the Lake Erie Chemical Company, and the Manville Manufacturing Company. During 1933-1936, the income of these three companies from the sale of gas and gas equipment amounted to $1,040,621.14. This figure was exclusive of income from the sale of machine guns, revolvers, rifles, ammunition and other such equipment that grossed an additional several million dollars.
It should be noted that the name Federal Laboratories, Inc. was only a trade name, and that the concern had no official connection with any Government agency.
2 Elizabeth Dilling, and the twenty-nine other alleged pro-Nazi seditionists tried with her in 1944, were never convicted. A mistrial was declared after the death of the judge during the trial, and the defendants were never again placed on trial.
3 Anti-Communist propaganda material was regularly supplied by Federal Laboratories to all salesmen and field representatives for promotional purposes.
On July 24, 1934, in a bulletin addressed ‘To all Federal Agents,” Federal Laboratories President John W. Young notified his representatives that he was sending them copies of Elizabeth Dilling’s The Red Network as an indication of “the danger of revolution” in this country. “We are heading for plenty of trouble and it is time for all of the American patriotism you can manifest,” declared Young. “Whatever you do, read this book when you get the time. Carry it with you and get every police chief and sheriff you talk to to buy one; get each industrial leader to buy one. We would be glad to fill these orders at cost … in an effort to stir up the American public to prepare for the things that are facing us.”
Another communication from Young addressed To All Agents read in part: “The Third International … at their convention in Moscow this month manifested a change in policy. They are no longer secretly planning revolution. They came out and openly boasted of the progress they are making in various countries, especially the United States.” In concluding this communication, Young observed: “The most attractive order of the week was one for 12 Thompson submachine guns from the city of Detroit, through George Grieg.”
4 Despite the exultant tone of Roush’s letter, West Coast corporations were faced with certain problems that could not be solved with gas and machine guns. Not the least of these problems was the Australian-born labor leader, Harry Bridges.
As Bridges emerged during and following the San Francisco strike of 1934 as one of the outstanding and most militant labor leaders in the country (in 1937 Bridges became President of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union), an extraordinary campaign was launched to deport him as a “Communist” seeking to overthrow the U. S. Government “by force and violence.” At the same time, Bridges’ own efforts to become a citizen were systematically obstructed.
Prompted by big business interests, the Labor Department conducted an exhaustive investigation of Bridges; but in 1936 a Department memorandum stated the investigation had failed to uncover “any legal grounds” for deporting him. Even so, in March 1938, the Department issued a deportation warrant against Bridges, charging him with being a Communist.
In 1939 a deportation hearing lasting eleven weeks was held before James M. Landis, dean of the Harvard Law School. Dean Landis ruled that the Government had failed to prove Bridges a Communist and that there were no grounds for his deportation. The deportation warrant was cancelled and the proceedings were dropped.
In June 1940 a bill passed the House of Representatives, with the stated purpose of deporting Bridges; the bill died in the Senate. Immediately there after, the Lower House amended the Immigration Act, with the aim of making “constitutional” Bridges’ deportation.
In 1941 a second deportation warrant was issued; and after a hearing, Presiding Inspector Charles Sears held that the warrant should stand . . .
Here is how Dean Landis had characterized some of the Government witnesses and FBI informers who had testified against Bridges at the first hearing: Major Laurence A. Milner— “a self-confessed liar”; Harper L. Knowles of the American Legion— “he lied when he dared to”; John R. Davis— “arrested in Indiana on a warrant charging him with grand larceny . . . Charged with leaving a shortage of $1,800 in his accounts with his union, he was found guilty as charged”; Richard A. St. Qair— “(his) repeated convictions for drunkenness are at least a circumstance.” Another witness against Bridges at the Landis hearing was William C. McCuiston, who had been arrested eight times and twice convicted of assault, and who was later tried (and acquitted) on charges of murdering an official of the National Maritime Union.
Among the Government witnesses against Bridges at the Scares hearing were Peter J. Innes, a labor spy who had been expelled from his union for theft and who was later sentenced to jail for attempted rape of a small child; and John Oliver Thompson, who had previously stabbed his wife to death, pleaded guilty of manslaughter and been sentenced to 2 to 5 years imprisonment.
In June 1945, after protracted proceedings in the lower courts, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the warrant of deportation against Bridges was unlawful. That September, Bridges took the oath of American citizenship.
“The record in this case,” stated Justice Frank Murphy of the Supreme Court, “will stand forever as a monument of man’s intolerance of man. Seldom if ever in the history of this nation has there been such a concentrated effort to deport an individual because he dared to exercise the freedom that belongs to him as a human being and that is guaranteed him by the constitution.”
Four years after the end of World War II, in May 1949, Bridges was indicted by the Justice Department on the charge of conspiracy and perjury in connection with his naturalization, and the Department filed suit to cancel his citizenship and to deport him to Australia. See later footnote for further details.