1919 United States anarchist bombings: Wikis


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Damage done by the bomb on Attorney General A Mitchell Palmer's house

The 1919 United States anarchist bombings were a series of bombings and attempted bombings carried out by anarchist followers of Luigi Galleani from April through June 1919. These bombings, and the Wall Street bombing of a year later, were among the main causes of the First Red Scare.


April mail bomb attacks

In late April 1919, approximately 30 booby trap bombs were mailed to a cross-section of prominent politicians, including the Attorney General of the United States, as well as justice officials and financiers, including John D. Rockefeller. Among all the prominent names, one bomb was addressed to a FBI field agent assigned to find several Galleanist fugitives, including a Galleanist ringleader, Carlo Valdinoci.[1][2]

The mail bombs were wrapped in bright green paper and stamped "Gimbel Brother's - Novelty Samples." Inside the paper 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. A small vial of sulfuric acid was fastened to the wood block, along with three fulminate-of-mercury blasting caps. Opening one end of the box (one end was 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.[3]

The Galleanists intended their bombs to be delivered on May Day, 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, which was opened by a 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.[3] Langer 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 Anarchist Exclusion Act, received a similarly disguised bomb, which blew off the hands of a housekeeper[1] when she attempted to open the package. The senator's wife was also injured in the blast, which severely burned her face and neck.[3] A piece of shrapnel from the bomb cut Mrs. Hardwick's lip and loosened several of her teeth.[3] Only a few of the packages were delivered: because the plotters had neglected to add sufficient postage.

One of the packages was discovered, and its distinctive markings enabled the interception of most of the others.[2] On April 30, a post office employee in New York City, having heard news reports describing the bombs' packaging, discovered sixteen of the bombs, while a further twelve bombs were eventually recovered before reaching their intended targets. The intended recipients were[4]:

June bombings

In June 1919, the Galleanists managed to blow up eight large bombs nearly simultaneously in several different U.S. cities. These bombs were much larger than the April bombs. One used twenty pounds of dynamite, and all were wrapped or packaged with heavy metal slugs designed to act as shrapnel.[5] Among the intended victims were government officials who had endorsed anti-sedition laws and deportation, as well as judges who had sentenced anarchists to prison. The homes of Mayor Harry L. Davis of Cleveland, Judge W.H.S. Thompson, Massachusetts State Representative Leland Powers, Judge Charles C. Nott of New York, and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, already the target of a mail bomb in April, were all attacked. None of the intended targets were killed, but the bombs did claim the lives of New York City night watchman William Boehner, a woman who had been passing by one of the victim's homes, and one of the anarchists, Carlo Valdinoci, a former editor of the Galleanist publication Cronaca Sovversiva and a close associate of Galleani himself.[6][7] Though not injured, Palmer and his family were thoroughly shaken by the blast.[7][6]

All of the bombs were delivered with a pink flyer, titled "Plain Words," that warned: "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."[6] The flyer was later traced to a printing shop operated by Andrea Salsedo, a typesetter and Roberto Elia, a compositor, both Galleanists according to the memoirs of other members.[2] However, Salsedo committed suicide, and Elia refused an offer to cancel deportation proceedings if he would testify about his role in the Galleanist organization. Unable to secure enough evidence for criminal trials, authorities continued to use the Anarchist Act and related statutes to deport known Galleanists.


The immediate result of the bombing campaign was a backlash against anarchists and communists in the American press and government. The Palmer Raids, named for the Attorney General who was a target of the bombs and who organized the raids, arrested hundreds of suspected leftists under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Some 556 resident aliens with ties to anarchism or revolutionary violence were deported, including Luigi Galleani. The next year, the Wall Street bombing killed 38 and wounded 400.

See also


  1. ^ a b Avrich (1991)
  2. ^ a b c Avrich (1996)
  3. ^ a b c d Avrich (1991), p. 141
  4. ^ Send Death Bombs to 36 U.S. Leaders: Headline from front page of the Chicago Tribune on May 1, 1919
  5. ^ Washington Post, "20 Pounds of Dynamite In Bomb Used in New York," June 4, 1919
  6. ^ a b c Avrich (1991)
  7. ^ a b Avrich, Paul, Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America (AK Press, 2005) ISBN 1904859275, 9781904859277, p. 496


  • Allen, F. L. (1957). Only yesterday; an informal history of the nineteen-twenties. New York: Harper.
  • Avrich, P. (1991). Sacco and Vanzetti: the anarchist background. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691026041
  • Avrich, P. (1996). Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • McCormick, Charles H., Hopeless Cases: The Hunt for the Red Scare Terrorist Bombers, University Press of America (2005), ISBN 0761831339, 9780761831334
  • Neville, J. F. (2004). Twentieth-century cause cèlébre: Sacco, Vanzetti, and the press, 1920-1927. Westport, Conn: Praeger.


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