1919 United States anarchist bombings

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1919 United States anarchist bombings
New-York Tribune coverage of 1919 United States anarchist bombings.png
June 4, 1919, New-York Tribune coverage of the United States anarchist bombings
LocationThroughout America
DateApril through June 1919
Non-fatal injuries
Suspected perpetrators
Galleanist anarchists

The 1919 United States anarchist bombings were a series of bombings and attempted bombings carried out by the Italian anarchist followers of Luigi Galleani from April through June 1919.

Galleanists anarchist followers of Luigi Galleani

Galleanists, followers of anarchist Luigi Galleani, were primary suspects in a campaign of bombings between 1914 and 1920 in the United States.

Luigi Galleani Italian insurrectionary anarchist (1862–1931)

Luigi Galleani was an Italian anarchist active in the United States from 1901 to 1919. He is best known for his enthusiastic advocacy of "propaganda of the deed", i.e. the use of violence to eliminate those he viewed as tyrants and oppressors and to act as a catalyst to the overthrow of existing government institutions. From 1914 to 1932, Galleani's followers in the United States, carried out a series of bombings and assassination attempts against institutions and persons they viewed as class enemies. After Galleani was deported from the United States to Italy in June 1919, his colleagues are alleged to have carried out the Wall Street bombing of 1920, which resulted in the deaths of 38 people.


These bombings led to the Red Scare of 1919–1920.

April mail bomb attacks

In late April 1919, at least 36 booby trap dynamite-filled bombs were mailed to a cross-section of prominent politicians and appointees, including the Attorney General as well as justice officials, newspaper editors and businessmen, including John D. Rockefeller. [1] Among all the bombs addressed to high-level officials, one bomb was addressed to the home of a Department of Justice Bureau of Investigation (BOI) field agent once tasked with investigating the Galleanists, Rayme Weston Finch, who in 1918 had arrested two prominent Galleanists while leading a police raid on the offices of their publication Cronaca Sovversiva. [1]

United States Attorney General Head of the United States Department of Justice

The United States Attorney General (A.G.) is the chief lawyer of the Federal Government of the United States, head of the United States Department of Justice per 28 U.S.C. § 503, and oversees all governmental legal affairs.

John D. Rockefeller American business magnate and philanthropist

John Davison Rockefeller Sr. was an American oil industry business magnate, industrialist, and philanthropist. He is widely considered the wealthiest American of all time, and the richest person in modern history.

The mail bombs were wrapped in brown paper with similar address and advertising labels. [1] Inside, wrapped in bright green paper and stamped "Gimbel Brothers-Novelty Samples", was a cardboard box containing a six-inch by three-inch block of hollowed wood about one inch in thickness, packed with a stick of dynamite. [1] A small vial of sulfuric acid was fastened to the wood block, along with three fulminate-of-mercury blasting caps. [1] Opening one end of the box (the end marked "open") released a coil spring that caused the acid to drip from its vial onto the blasting caps; the acid ate through the caps, igniting them and detonating the dynamite. [1]

Dynamite Explosive made using nitroglycerin

Dynamite is an explosive made of nitroglycerin, sorbents and stabilizers. It was invented by the Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel in Geesthacht, and patented in 1867. It rapidly gained wide-scale use as a more powerful alternative to black powder.

Sulfuric acid chemical compound

Sulfuric acid (alternative spelling sulphuric acid), also known as vitriol, is a mineral acid composed of the elements sulfur, oxygen and hydrogen, with molecular formula H2SO4. It is a colorless, odorless, and syrupy liquid that is soluble in water and is synthesized in reactions that are highly exothermic.

Mercury(II) fulminate chemical compound

Mercury(II) fulminate, or Hg(CNO)2, is a primary explosive. It is highly sensitive to friction, heat and shock and is mainly used as a trigger for other explosives in percussion caps and blasting caps. Mercury(II) cyanate, though its empirical formula is identical, has a different atomic arrangement; the cyanate and fulminate anions are isomers.

The Galleanists intended their bombs to be delivered on May Day. Since 1890 and the Second International, May 1 had been celebrated as the international day of communist, anarchist and socialist revolutionary solidarity. Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson, who had recently attained national prominence for opposing a general strike in Seattle, received one of the mailed package bombs, but it was opened by William Langer, a member of his office staff. Langer opened the wrong end of the box and the bottle of acid dropped onto a table without detonation. [1] He took the bomb to the local police, who notified the Post Office and other police agencies. On April 29, Georgia Senator Thomas W. Hardwick, who had co-sponsored the anti-radical Immigration Act of 1918, received a similarly disguised bomb. It blew off the hands of his housekeeper when she attempted to open the package. The senator's wife was also injured in the blast which severely burned her face and neck and a piece of shrapnel cut her lip and loosened several of her teeth. [1]

International Workers Day celebration of the international labour movement

International Workers' Day, also known as Workers' Day, Labour Day in some countries and often referred to as May Day, is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement which occurs every year on May Day, an ancient European spring festival.

The Second International (1889–1916), was an organisation of socialist and labour parties formed in Paris on 14 July 1889. At the Paris meeting, delegations from twenty countries participated. The International continued the work of the dissolved First International, though excluding the still-powerful anarcho-syndicalist movement and unions and by 1922 2 April at a major post-World War I conference it began to reorganise into the Labor and Socialist International.

Mayor of Seattle Wikimedia list article

The Mayor of Seattle is the head of the executive branch of the city government of Seattle, Washington. The mayor is authorized by the city charter to enforce laws enacted by the Seattle City Council, as well as direct subordinate officers in city departments. The mayor serves a four-year term, without term limits, and is chosen in citywide, two-round elections between nonpartisan candidates.

News reports of the Hardwick bomb described its distinctive packaging and an alert post office employee in New York connected this to 16 similar packages which he had set aside a few days earlier for insufficient postage. Another 12 bombs were eventually recovered before reaching their intended targets. [1] The addressees were the following: [2]

Theodore G. Bilbo American politician

Theodore Gilmore Bilbo was an American politician who twice served as governor of Mississippi and later was elected a U.S. Senator (1935–47). A filibusterer whose name was synonymous with white supremacy, like many Southern Democrats of his era, Bilbo believed that black people were inferior; he defended segregation, and was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Jackson, Mississippi Capital of Mississippi

Jackson, officially the City of Jackson, is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Mississippi. It is one of two county seats of Hinds County, along with Raymond, Mississippi. The city of Jackson also includes around 3,000 acres comprising Jackson-Medgar Evers International Airport in Rankin County and a small portion of Madison County. The city's population was estimated to be 165,072 in 2017, a decline from 173,514 in 2010. The city sits on the Pearl River and is located in the greater Jackson Prairie region of Mississippi.

Albert S. Burleson American politician

Albert Sidney Burleson was a conservative Democrat and United States Postmaster General and Representative. He is known for gaining cabinet support for instituting racial segregation in the US Post Office, which President Woodrow Wilson applied to other federal agencies.

Damage done by the bomb at Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's house Palmer Bombing.jpg
Damage done by the bomb at Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's house
Mitchell Palmer house in Washington DC 2132 R Street NW after bomb attack June 2 1919 Mitchell Palmer house in Washington DC 2132 R Street NW after bomb attack June 2 1919.jpg
Mitchell Palmer house in Washington DC 2132 R Street NW after bomb attack June 2 1919
June 3, 1919, Newspapers of the 1919 United States anarchist bombings June 3 1919 Newspapers of the 1919 United States anarchist bombings.png
June 3, 1919, Newspapers of the 1919 United States anarchist bombings

June bombings

On the evening of June 2, 1919, [3] the Galleanists managed to detonate nine large bombs nearly simultaneously in eight cities. These bombs were much larger than those sent in April, using up to 25 pounds (11 kg) of dynamite [4] and all were wrapped or packaged with heavy metal slugs designed to act as shrapnel. [5] Addressees included government officials who had endorsed anti-sedition laws and deportation of immigrants suspected of crimes or associated with illegal movements as well as judges who had sentenced anarchists to prison. The targets were:

Palmer was already the recipient of a mail bomb in April, were attacked in the new wave of violence. [9] None of the targeted men were killed, but one bomb took the life of New York City night watchman William Boehner [4] [9] and the bomb intended for Attorney General Palmer's home prematurely exploded and killed Carlo Valdinoci, who was a former editor of the Galleanist publication Cronaca Sovversiva and close associate of Galleani. [1] [10] Though not seriously injured, Palmer and his family were shaken by the blast and the house itself was largely demolished. [1] [10] Two near-casualties of the same bomb were Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, then living across the street from Palmer. They had passed the house just minutes before the explosion and their residence was close enough that one of the bomber's body parts landed on their doorstep. [11]

Each of the bombs was delivered with several copies of a pink flyer, titled "Plain Words", that read as such:

War, Class war, and you were the first to wage it under the cover of the powerful institutions you call order, in the darkness of your laws. There will have to be bloodshed; we will not dodge; there will have to be murder: we will kill, because it is necessary; there will have to be destruction; we will destroy to rid the world of your tyrannical institutions. [1]

The flyer was later traced to a printing shop operated by two anarchists, [12] namely typesetter Andrea Salsedo and compositor Roberto Elia, who were both Galleanists according to the later memoirs of other members. [1] Salsedo committed suicide and Elia refused an offer to cancel deportation proceedings if he would testify about his role in the Galleanist organization. [1] Unable to secure enough evidence for criminal trials, authorities continued to use the Anarchist Exclusion Act and related statutes to deport known Galleanists. [1]


Fueled by labor unrest and the anarchist bombings and then spurred on by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's attempt to suppress radical and non-radical labor organizations, the response to the bombings was characterized by exaggerated rhetoric, illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists. Palmer, twice targeted by anarchist bombs, organized the nationwide series of police actions known as the Palmer raids in November 1919 and January 1920. Under suspicion of violating the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act and/or the Immigration Act of 1918, [13] approximately 10,000 people were arrested, of whom 3,500 were held in detention. [14] Of those held in detention, 556 resident aliens were eventually deported. [13]

The bombings were dramatized in the 2012 film No God, No Master. [15] The bombing of the home of Palmer was also dramatized in the 2011 film J. Edgar .

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Avrich, Paul, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background, Princeton University Press, ISBN   0-691-02604-1 (1991), pp. 140–143, 147, 149–156, 181–195
  2. Send Death Bombs to 36 U.S. Leaders: Headline from front page of the Chicago Tribune on May 1, 1919
  3. Murray, Robert K. (1955), Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919–1920, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, ISBN   0-8166-5833-1 , 78
  4. 1 2 Plotter Here Hid Trail Skillfully; His Victim Was A Night Watchman, The New York Times, 4 June 1919
  5. "20 Pounds of Dynamite in Bomb Used in New York," Washington Post, June 4, 1919
  6. O'Neill 2019
  7. McCann 2006 , p. 55
  8. "PITTSBURGH CLUE TO PLOT; Name of Bombmaker Given by I.W.W. Associate, Seized After Fight.HE HIMSELF IS IMPLICATEDWoman Says She Saw HimPlane a Package on PorchOpposite Sibray Home.HE TRIES TO KILL DETECTIVETwenty Other Men Arrested-- Forty-five Are Seized in Cleveland Raids. PITTSBURGH CLUE TO PLOT".
  9. 1 2 Wreck Judge Nott's Home, The New York Times, 3 June 1919
  10. 1 2 Avrich, Paul, Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America (AK Press, 2005) ISBN   1-904859-27-5, ISBN   978-1-904859-27-7, 496
  11. Brands, H.W. (2008). Traitor to his Class. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 134. ISBN   978-0-385-51958-8.
  12. Cannistraro, Philip V., and Calandra, John D., The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement, New York: The New York Historical Society, John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute (1999), ISBN   0-9705737-0-7, ISBN   978-0-9705737-0-4, p. 79
  13. 1 2 Theoharis, Athan G., The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN   0-89774-991-X, 9780897749916 (1999), p. 362
  14. Avakov, Aleksandr Vladimirovich, Plato's Dreams Realized: Surveillance and Citizen Rights from KGB to FBI, Algora Publishing, ISBN   0-87586-495-3, ISBN   978-0-87586-495-2 (2007), p. 36
  15. Coster, Ramzi De. "Monterey Media Acquires Three Films, Including Works Starring Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel | IndieWire". www.indiewire.com. Retrieved 2017-01-10.

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