Al Smith


Al Smith : biography

30 December 1873 – 1944-10-4

In fiction and film

  • In Harry Turtledove’s alternate history Southern Victory Series, in which the Confederate States of America wins the American Civil War, Al Smith becomes the third Socialist President of the United States in 1936. In 1941, during his second term, the Confederacy invades the US, starting World War II. Smith is killed by a Confederate bomber in 1942 in his bunker in Philadelphia, then functioning as the nation’s capitol.
  • Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt were filmed by Lee DeForest in his DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process during the 1924 Democratic Convention, which ran from June 21 to July 9. This film is now in the Maurice Zouary collection at the Library of Congress.
  • In a flashback scene in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, the character of Bert can be seen with a newspaper whose front page headline reads "Smith Wins Nomination."
  • Smith was portrayed by Alan Bunce in the 1960 film Sunrise at Campobello.
  • Smith is featured in several chapters of Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, in his role as "President" of the Empire State Building.
  • In Episodes 3 – 5 of PBS Ric Burns’s 1999 "New York: A Documentary Film" series

Business life and later years

Smith golfing with baseball great [[Babe Ruth in Coral Gables, Florida (1930) – State Archive of Florida]]

After the 1928 election, Smith became the president of Empire State, Inc., the corporation that built and operated the Empire State Building. Construction for the building was commenced symbolically on March 17, 1930, per Smith’s instructions. Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon when the world’s tallest skyscraper—built in only 13 months—opened on May 1, 1931—May Day. As with the Brooklyn Bridge, which Smith witnessed being built from his Lower East Side boyhood home, the Empire State Building was a vision and an achievement constructed by combining the interests of all rather than being divided by interests of a few.

Smith was elected as President of the Board of Trustees of the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University, in 1929.Reznikoff, Charles, ed. 1957. Louis Marshall: Champion of Liberty. Selected Papers and Addresses. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, p. 1123.

Like most New York City businessmen, Smith enthusiastically supported World War II, but was not asked by Roosevelt to play any role in the war effort.

In 1939 he was appointed a Papal Chamberlain of the Sword and Cape, one of the highest honors the Papacy bestowed on a layman, which today is styled a Gentleman of His Holiness.

Smith died at the Rockefeller Institute Hospital on October 4, 1944 of a heart attack, at the age of 70, broken-hearted over the death of his wife from cancer five months earlier, on May 4, 1944. He is interred at Calvary Cemetery.