Sewell Avery thrown out

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”.

12 thoughts on “Sewell Avery thrown out

  1. get it right. This was not a dispute between management and labor within Montgomery Ward, this was a FDR and Big Union take over of MW, because Avery refused to join the Union and fire nonunion employees. FDR had no right, or constitutional authority to sieze this private property. Even though FDR gave himself such right through the War Labor Board, it still does not justify this for, Montgomery Ward’s merchandise was NOT war effected material, and there was NO stoppage of work. This was a Progressive Liberal President helping his Labor Union minions to engulf a nonunion business, simply for growth of wealth, and power. And in the end, it cost the Democrats their long running majority in both Government houses, for this event aided in their defeat in 1946.

    • And we see how well that worked for Montgomery Wards. How often do you shop there now? Oh right, when Sewell was put back in charge after the war, he ran the company into the ground and it never recovered, going out of business in 2001. Oh, and the nationwide strike at Wards DID have a work stoppage that did cause a slow-down of war related goods. So as Commander in Chief, Roosevelt had NO CHOICE but to do what he did. Why can’t conservatives ever get history right?

  2. I remember seeing that picture, in the “Chicago Tribune,” which Louise Precious, the teacher in the one-room school I was attending, brought to school. I was age 12, and my family didn’t subscribe to any daily paper.

    Through this link, I found John T. Flynn’s very critical book about Roosevelt. I’d seen some other books by Flynn, many years ago.

  3. I made a mistake, above. If that picture was taken in April of 1944, I was still age 11, and I must have seen it in a paper that my parents were getting at that time.
    It would have been either the Des Moines Tribune or the relatively new Chicago Sun. I think Mrs. Precious hadn’t started bringing the Chicago Tribune to school. At that time I still wasn’t aware of such a thing as a public library.

  4. What are the regs for this duty? They are in class A, but it seems to be khacki slacks with Olive Drab jackets. The sargeant, photo left, has a white pistol belt–no pistol. Private, photo right has a gas mask.
    I want to paint this historic moment.

  5. The claim by Hall to have taken this photo is bogus. My father , Bill Pauer ,captured this picture and won an award plus a bonus ($50.00) from the Chicago Sun-Times . He lost rights to this picture when it went nationwide and anyone can claim to have taken it. My father said that when they went to remove Sewell Avery from Montgomery Wards , the officials came out and offered coffee and donuts to waiting press by saying it would be awhile before removing Avery. My father said no one ever did that so he stayed out side and waited , that is how he was the only one to take the picture .

  6. […] Avery, by the way, was a noted opponent of the New Deal and of U.S. militarism.  When Uncle Sam seized control of Montgomery Ward in December 1944, Avery refused to leave his office and had to be physically carried out by armed goons of the state. […]

  7. […] Much more infrequent was the battalion’s mobilization in response to labor troubles. But when an incident did arise, the MPs were ready. Receiving national press coverage was the unit’s seizure of the Chicago office of Montgomery Ward on 27 April, 1944. The chairman of Montgomery Ward at that time was Sewell Avery who after refusing to settle a weeks-long strike, provoked the government to intervene. Avery was ordered by the MPs to vacate the building premises but chose not to. Drastic measures were taken and Avery, along with his chair, was picked up and carried out.15 […]

  8. […] Ward’s, but it was Norton, May said, who made the difference. Norton convinced Ward’s Chairman Sewell Avery — whom May described as “a one-man Supreme Court, from whose decision there was no appeal” […]

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