Walter Drew Papers

Bentley Historical Library banner

Walter Drew Papers

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Walter Drew Papers collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Legal counsel and commissioner of National Erectors Association, a leading anti-union and pro-open shop organization representing structural steel companies. Drew led the opposition to the organizing activities and labor violence of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, culminating in the investigation and prosecution of the Los Angeles Times Building bombing case. Papers include extensive files on NEA's anti-union efforts; investigative files, transcripts, and trial exhibits on numerous cases involving union violence and strikes; and files relating to James Emery and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Walter W. Drew was born September 13, 1873 in Williamston, Michigan. His father, Walter J., was trained in the law, but made his fortune with the Michigan Carpet Sweeper Company. As the firm's co-founder, he benefited handsomely when it merged with the Bissell Company. Walter J. continued to prosper subsequently as one of Bissell's chief product designers.

The senior Drew made available to his son a solid education. Walter W. was enrolled at the University of Michigan, which conferred upon him a bachelor's degree in 1894 and a law degree in 1896. After completing his work in Ann Arbor, Drew set up private practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There he gained a reputation as an articulate and effective proponent of the "open shop", that is, the belief that an employer should be free to hire any worker without regard to the worker's associational status, specifically union membership. Drew's reputation led him to New York City, where he became commissioner of the National Erectors' Association (NEA).

At the turn of the century, the construction of iron framed buildings and other iron structures was performed exclusively by members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers (IABSIW), a union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. As part of a nationwide movement against such closed shop arrangements, the country's major iron construction firms announced in 1905 that henceforth all projects undertaken by them would be manned on an open shop basis. They formed the NEA as their cooperative instrument to implement the open shop, and hired Drew as their spokesman.

The IABSIW responded to the firms' announcement by declaring a strike against open shop projects. The strike proved ineffective, however, and the union, in 1906, resorted to violence. Over the next four years almost 100 explosions occurred at open shop construction sites, culminating in the October 1, 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building, which killed twenty-one workers.

As NEA commissioner, Drew set out to prove the union's responsibility for these acts. Employing Robert J. Foster as his chief operative, Drew slowly began to compile the necessary evidence. Foster's tactics included both questionable and illegal conduct, at least some of which was known of by Drew at the time.

Foster's methods were quite effective. Eventually he obtained a confession from Ortie E. McManigal, one of the men indicted for the Los Angeles Times's explosion. That confession led not only to the conviction of all those indicted in the Times case, but, when coupled with other documents obtained by Foster, to the conviction of every major officer of the IABSIW for criminal activity. The president, vice-presidents, members of the international executive board, and several other leading union members were all convicted of conspiracy to transport explosives across state lines in U.S. v. Ryan.

Drew's early judicial successes led him to seek two other major court tests in the 1920s. In 1925 he was instrumental in bringing Levering-Garrigues v. Morrin et al. to trial. The case grew out of a 1924 IABSIW strike in New York City to obtain a closed shop contract. Drew argued the court should issue a sweeping decision outlawing the closed shop as a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. While the court ruled substantively in Drew's favor, it did so on narrow grounds, avoiding entirely any use of the Sherman Act. Dissatisfied, Drew saw to it that the case was appealed. This effort proved worse than fruitless as the Appeals Court not only refused to invoke the Sherman Act, but also reversed the lower court's substantive ruling. In September 1933, the case was finally ended when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court's decision.

A second major legal effort championed by Drew involved the Pennsylvania Railroad. The road had been struck in 1922 by the Railway Brotherhoods, and Drew, in 1927, attempted to obtain criminal indictments both against leading members of the railway unions and members of the Interstate Commerce Commission who he believed had either committed, or conspired to commit, or furthered a conspiracy to commit sabotage. Despite the compiling of a detailed list of evidence and direct appeals to the attorney general of the United States, as well as an unsuccessful effort to involve the President himself, no indictments were ever issued.

Although his subsequent legal efforts after U.S. v. Ryan proved unsuccessful, Drew remained a leading spokesman for the open shop. In addition to his NEA responsibilities, Drew, between 1925 and 1937, served as counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers' Open Shop Department.

Drew's efforts to maintain the open shop included policing recalcitrant employers. One example involved the Iron League of New Jersey. The League, an organization of local construction firms, entered an agreement with local unions promising to employ only union help, provided the unions guaranteed that skilled workers would be unavailable to any firm not a member of the League.

Drew's efforts also made him a target for charges that his real opposition was to unionism in any form, rather than simply the closed shop. For example, Samuel Untermyer, senior counsel to New York state's Lockwood Committee, alleged that "there is a conspiracy to prevent the erection of steel in New York City and elsewhere except by the so-called 'open shop', which we claim is in effect a non-union shop." Untermyer specifically alleged that Drew had forwarded this conspiracy.

In 1937 Drew entered semi-retirement by resigning from his position at NAM, although he continued his work with the NEA. That organization, however, was growing less and less active. In 1938, as a result of the National Labor Relations Act, the NEA closed the network of labor bureaus it had established in 1906 to supply contractors with non-union workers. In 1947 NEA activity had fallen off so much that dues were no longer collected. Those expenses that still existed were paid for from interest received from unspent previous assessments. Drew's complete retirement, ca. 1956, was coupled with the formal dissolution of the National Erectors' Association.

Walter Drew died December 25, 1961.

Please note:

Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

The collection contains audio tapes from which digital copies have been made. Source tapes are for staff use only. Audio files are only available in the Bentley Historical Library reading room on designated Bentley Library computers.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

Recent Deposits RSS Feed

Search Deep Blue

Advanced Search

Browse by

My Account


Coming Soon

MLibrary logo