For a lengthy period, the $300 million mail-order house, Montgomery Ward & Company was beset by disputes between labor and management. The economy of the entire Midwest was affected by these disputes and this being the wartime, a presidential decree was issued for the government take over of Montgomery Ward.
On April 26th 1944, Sewell L. Avery, the company’s chairman, was notified. Avery was a prominent figure in right-wing, anti-New Deal efforts and was a scion of a powerful lumber family, and thus he refused to move out and went to work the next day as usual. The U.S. Army was prepared to enforced the Department of Commence’s seizure of the plant–they lifted Avery bodily and carried him down on the elevator.
Many photographers–William Pauer of Chicago Times, Ed Geisse of Chicago Tribune–were there to capture the moment, but the photo of the day was made by Harry Hall for AP. For more than anything, Hall had to thank the AP for his photo becoming the photo du jour: the AP was the first to transmit the paper, and it was a major news ‘beat’. It caused a sensation in all the newspapers it appeared.
Hall remembered the day when Avery made a courageous and defiant stand: “I had my Speed Graphic ready and was just waiting around, when all of a sudden the front door opened and two soldiers came out carrying Sewell Avery. I made a long shot and then several others, following the three men down the street. They stopped in front of Avery’s chauffeur-driven car, and let him down. He was smiling as he jumped into the auto and I made some more photos”.