Frank Merriam bigraphy, stories - Governor of California

Frank Merriam : biography

22 December 1865 - 1955-4-25

Frank Finley Merriam (December 22, 1865 – April 25, 1955) was an American politician who served as the 28th governor of California from June 2, 1934 until January 2, 1939. Assuming the governorship at the height of the Great Depression following the death of Governor James Rolph, Merriam famously defeated former Socialist Party member and Democratic candidate for Governor Upton Sinclair in the 1934 general elections. Merriam also served as the Iowa State Auditor 1900-1903, and served in the California and Iowa State Legislatures.

Further information

  • The Merriam Administration supervised the completion and the openings of both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay and Golden Gate Bridges.
  • Merriam was the first Governor of California to marry while in office.
  • A popular nickname among lawmakers, cabinet officials and bureaucrats for the Governor was "Marbletop" due to his baldness.
  • Assuming the governorship at the age of 68, Merriam was the oldest person to ever become governor until Jerry Brown was elected Governor in 2010. Brown was 72 when he assumed office in January 2011.

Post governorship

After his defeat, Merriam retired from public life. Following the death of former Governor and U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson in 1945, a brief write-in campaign for Merriam appeared, though it only garnered 500 votes. He died in Long Beach, California on April 25, 1955 at the age of 89.


On June 2, 1934, Governor Rolph was pronounced dead of heart failure at Riverside Farm in Santa Clara County. Upon the news of the Governor's death, Lieutenant Governor Merriam was sworn in as Governor.

Longshoremen's strike

Nearly immediately into his governorship, Merriam faced labor agitation, particularly by members of the International Longshoremen's Association on the docks of San Francisco. Beginning in May 1934, longshoremen along the West Coast walked off the job to strike, protesting against the ILA national leadership's negotiated settlements with transportation and cargo companies. Longshoremen demanded six-hour days, closed shops, and the right to unionize freely. Activity in the ports of San Francisco and Oakland ground to a halt. Teamsters soon joined the longshoremen in their walk-out. Popular support for the strikers also grew from various segments of the urban working-class, left unemployed by the Great Depression. By the strike's second month, violence had begun to break out along the Embarcadero as San Francisco Police clashed with the strikers during attempts to escort hired labor to the docks. Municipal officials accused the ILA's ranks filled with Communists and other left-wing radicals.

As Governor, James Rolph had consulted with other West Coast governors such as Julius L. Meier of Oregon and Clarence D. Martin of Washington to bring in the U.S. Department of Labor in order to settle the dispute. After his unexpected death in June, these efforts were suspended. Furthermore, negotiations between the federal government and local ILA organizers failed to yield any agreement.

On July 5, 1934, as more attempts to open the Port of San Francisco were made by employers, hostilities between strikers, their sympathizers, and the police reached their zenith. Later known as "Bloody Thursday", San Francisco Police shot tear gas at strikers and sympathizers on Rincon Hill, followed by a charge on horseback. Later, protestors surrounded a police car and attempted to overturn it, but were met by gunshots in the air, and quickly afterwards, shots into the crowd itself. Later in the day, police raided an ILA union hall, shooting tear gas into the building and into other local hotels.

Merriam, only Governor for a month, threw the state government into the fray. As reports of growing violence in San Francisco reached Sacramento by the minute, Merriam activated the California Army National Guard, deploying regiments to San Francisco's waterfront. In the weeks before "Bloody Thursday", Merriam had remained updated on the ongoing labor dispute, threatening only to activate the Guard if the situation grew too serious. Behind the public scenes, however, the Acting Governor had confided to fellow Republicans that ordering the Guard into San Francisco would ruin him politically. The events of July 5, however, proved to be a turning point. In addition to the Guard's deployment, federal troops of the U.S. Army were placed on stand-by in the Presidio if the situation grew beyond the Guard's control.

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