Museum of the City of San Francisco
By Subject
By Year
The Gift Shop

3 Killed, 31 Shot in Widespread Rioting

Officers Pour Gunfire Into Crowd; Women, Children Periled by Bullets;
2000 National Guardsmen Get Arms

The National Guard was ordered to San Francisco's waterfront by Gov. Merriam today as riot after riot swept the Embarcadero, swirled around the Ferry Building and gripped the downtown industrial area and Rincon Hill.

Two men were killed by bullets, another by injuries, 31 others were shot and an untold number, including police, were clubbed, gassed, beaten and stoned.

National Guardsmen move along the Embarcadero during the 1934 strikeIn calling out the National Guard, Gov. Merriam instructed Adj. Gen. Seth Howard to place such portions of the militia on duty in San Francisco as may be necessary to protect state property.

Movement of the guardsmen to the waterfront was awaited.

The troop called aroused Police Chief Quinn, whose men have been battling strikers all day.

"It's unnecessary," he said. "It will put rifles in the hands of inexperienced men."

Despite the terrific rioting, trains were still operating on the Belt Line Railroad and the Industrial Association was sending trucks between Pier 38 and a King st. warehouse in resumption of their effort to open the port. The trucks were traveling without interference at a rate of 34 per hour.

Gov. Merriam's formal call was preceded by a mobilization order which sent guardsmen scurrying to their armories and led Col. R.E. Mittelstaedt of San Francisco to announce his unit had already been ordered onto the Embarcadero.

Billeted on Docks

Guardsmen will be billeted on the docks.

Bitter and repeated rioting was raging in front of the Ferry Building late this afternoon. Shots were being fired by police, who were also using tear gas in an attempt to disperse rioters. Chief Quinn had taken personal charge. When his automobile appeared rioters met it with a shower of rocks. He escaped injury.

teargas drives rioters along the Embarcadero toward Mission St.A stray bullet smashed a Mission streetcar window and struck a women in the head. She was not seriously wounded.

Several commuters got whiffs of tear gas when Embarcadero rioters grabbed up gas bombs and hurled them back at police.

Six were shot when the battle shifted back to Steuart and Mission sts. where a small group of police were penned in by rioters.

Spurns Quinn Aid

One of the wounded, shot in the back, was offered a ride to the hospital in a patrol wagon when Police Chief Quinn arrived at the scene. He said:

"Go to hell. I won't ride in that damn thing."

Three other wounded men were reported to have been carried into the Steuart st. headquarters of the striking longshoremen. A tear gas bomb was hurled through the window, which prevented their being moved.

During the fighting a man bobbed up in a lot on Steuart st. and opened fire on police with a revolver. Two officers emptied their pistols at him, but he escaped, unwounded.

Police used the new "vomiting gas" for the first time in this battle. They had cleared the area directly in front of the Ferry Building, despite a barrage of rocks from gangs of men in two service stations across the Embarcadero.

The rocks endangered several spectators pinned against the Ferry Building.

Officers also were trying to clear the west side of the Embarcadero from Market to Howard st. Several rioters dashed into the west Side Hotel. Police followed them and clubbed one man into submission.

Squads of police were driving patrons from every saloon on the Embarcadero.

The latest rioting, which broke out shortly after noon, reached a tragic climax in front of International Longshoremen's Association headquarters, 113 Steuart st., when a policeman emptied a riot gun and pistol into the crowd. H.F. Sperry, a striker, was fatally wounded. Another man was so badly wounded he is expected to die. Within an hour two other men had died, one of gunshot wounds, the other from the effects of a tear gas bomb which struck him in the head.

Pedestrians Endangered

Three others were shot in the Seaboard Hotel, Howard st. and the Embarcadero. A tear bomb had shattered a window, flooding the lobby with stinging gas. The men could be heard shouting for help. The entrance to the hotel was blocked by impenetrable tear gas. Police wearing masks raised ladders against a fire escape and carried the men to a waiting ambulance.

A barrage of tear gas temporarily isolated the Ferry Building.

The new riots, which endangered pedestrians and caused a virtual panic near the Ferry Building, followed an earlier clash in which rioters were shot, clubbed and gassed along a front that led from the Embarcadero over Rincon Hill.

Fighting Resume Later

During lunch hour there was an informal truce while both sides caught their second winds.

Then -- a Belt Line locomotive hauled a box car into Pier 18, came out, coupled to a long line of cars on the Embarcadero, started hauling. A large crowd of strikers was gathered at Steuart and Folsom. From the crowd came a shot at the box car.

Police attacked with tear gas.

Came a call from Pier 14 that rioters had broken through police line on a vacant lot adjacent.

Retreating rioters set fire to a grass lot at Steuart and Howard.

At Spear and Main sts. the crowd began hurling rocks at a group of unidentified workers. The retaliated and the air was full of missiles. In the midst of the fight strikers seized one man, dragged him away, cuffed and kicked him.

A new barrage of gas broke up this fight and the men started streaming back to the Embarcadero. In front of the Seaboard Hotel they made a stand, hurling rocks. Police opened fire. Many of the shots smashed the hotel windows. Three men inside went down. Then a tear gas bomb crashed through the window flooding the lobby.

More Determined Stand

The crowd was driven up to Steuart and Mission sts. There it made a more determined stand in front of I.L.A. headquarters. Men were on the roofs, hurling bricks at the policemen. Others stoned the officers from the sidewalks.

Inspector Jesse Ayers was on the corner. He was carrying a riot gun. Some one threw a rock. It struck him in the head. Some one else fired a shot. It missed.

Fighting was still going on around I.L.A headquarters as other riots broke out. A man was shot at Steuart and Mission sts., another at Steuart and Folsom.

Quinn, Roche Arrive

Police Chief Quinn and Theodore Roche, president of the Police Commission, arrived on the waterfront, announced that not even small groups of strikers would be allowed to congregate.

During the fighting a bullet smashed through the window of a Municipal Railway car at Market and Steuart sts.

A squad of helmeted police under the command of Lieut. Joseph Mignola, carrying riot and gas guns, mopped up the runway of the Y.M.C.A. Hotel, 166 Embarcadero, ejecting 25 men, one of whom they arrested. He was James C. Orrell, striking seaman, charged with striking an officer. He was also carrying a large wire hook. The men were using the runway as a passage between the Embarcadero and Steuart st.

Rioting broke out next at Mission and the Embarcadero. Officer Everette Ellison attempted to disperse a crowd and was struck on the mouth by a brick. He fired two shots from his revolver, but hit no one. Fellow officers rushed to his aid, shooting tear gas.

Gas Routs Spectators

In a few moments a mob of 1500 had gathered. Across the Embarcadero were fully 5000 spectators. A gas bomb dropped near them. The spectators ran screaming

Another fight broke out at the south end of the vehicular tunnel in front of the Ferry Building. One officer, his face bleeding, drew his revolver, aimed it at the crowd. A fellow policeman knocked the gun up. Then both started throwing gas grenades.

Hardly had these rioters been dispersed when another fight broke out directly in front of the Ferry Building. Police chased the strikers up Market st.

The pedestrian bridge over the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building was so crowded that officials, fearing it would collapse, ordered police to clear it and keep it cleared.

Excitement reigned at the [National Guard] Armory at 14th and Mission, where officers under Col. Mittelstaedt and Col. Allen where issuing equipment to artillerymen and infantrymen.

These men were receiving rifles, bayonets, steel helmets and blanket rolls. Rolling kitchens were being brought out.

Guardsmen in Oakland were being issued 21 rounds of rifle ammunition each.

Special Officer Ignatius McCarty, on duty at Steuart and Mission sts, left in a radio patrol car for the armory at 14th and Mission sts., where, he said, he was to prepare a truckload of tear gas cartridges to be distributed to National Guardsmen when they arrive.

Later in the afternoon guardsmen began to erect barricades of sandbags around the armory.

Outside the Armory was a crowd of several hundred curious. Police kept them back.

Orders for National Guard mobilization came from Adj. Gen. Seth Howard in Sacramento. A few moments later Col. Mittelstaedt announced that the 250th Field Artillery, which he commands, had been ordered onto the Embarcadero and that law and order would be maintained.

Included in the 2000 or more men under mobilization orders are the 250th Coast Artillery, comprised of 795 men; the 159th Infantry, comprised of 1080 men and officers and commanded by Col. Wayne Allen of Oakland; the 184th Infantry, including companies of 160 men each in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Napa and Gilroy and commanding by Col. Charles R. Blood, Sacramento.

Ordered ready for duty were 15 units of the 159th Infantry, four in San Francisco, seven in Oakland, three in Berkeley and one in Alameda. Included are a machine gun unit from Oakland, a medical company from Berkeley and a howitzer company from Oakland. Maj. Gen. David P. Barrows, former president of the University of California, will be second in command.

Fixed Bayonets

Guardsmen with fixed bayonets were patrolling the streets near the Oakland armory at 674 23rd st. Automobiles in the vicinity were halted and rerouted to keep the streets clear for speedy mobilization.

Maj. Armon B. Kelsey, commanding the 143rd Field Artillery, received orders to mobilize five units. He refused to confirm reports that the guardsmen would be moved into San Francisco tonight.

The men were instructed to assemble at the armories and to stand by in uniform with full equipment and arms.

Signal for Battle

Setting fire to two boxcars signaled the start of the waterfront warfare at Pier 32 this morning. It spread up Harrison st. over the Harrison st. bridge and onto Rincon Hill, where it raged at its height.

Bullets from police revolvers spattered against houses on Rincon Hill, imperiling women and children inside. Police claimed the strikers returned their fire, blamed the wounding of at least one man to rioters' bullets.

A fire hose was brought into play against rioters for the first time, knocking them right and left. So much tear gas was used that officers had to send for a fresh supply. New, long riot sticks, with which police had been equipped, battered heads and left a wake of still forms on the streets. As the riot neared its end, a machine load of rifles and riot guns was taken to the scene, distributed among plainclothes men.

When the riot was over, police set a deadline which cut off more of the south end of the waterfront. Officers with shotguns and tear gas were posted to see that no striker advanced beyond the lines, which began at First and Harrison, led to the Embarcadero, thence to the foot of Berry st., up to Third and Brannan, down Brannan to Second and back across to Harrison. Thus, Rincon Hill, which furnished an excellent observation post and rallying ground for rioters, was lost to them.

The day's rioting started in front of the Matson docks, Piers 30 and 32, where more than 2000 pickets and sympathizers had gathered, grumbling ominously when a Belt Line engine shunted two refrigerator cars into the dock. As the engine emerged, the strikers shouted curses at the crew, but made no attempt to halt the train.

Box Cars Fired

Police decided to clear the Embarcadero. The crowd fought back, hurling rocks. In the midst of the fight, smoke began curling up from the two box cars, standing on a sidetrack about a block away. The cars were surrounded by milling, fighting strikers.

Fire engines arrived. According to police, strikers hurled rocks at the apparatus. The call went out for tear gas.

A tear gas squad headed by Sergeant Tom McInerney swung into action. Flanking them were police with riot guns. Gas pistols popped and grenades flew through the air.

Men were felled by police clubs. Others ran, cursing and clawing at their eyes out of the clouds of stinging gas.

Radio cars sped to the scene. The crowd gave back. Soon it was on the run, radio cars in pursuit. The strikers ran north to Harrison st. Police continued to herd them along. The crowd was driven back on Bryant st., from Beale to Main sts, but grew menacing again. Rioters hid behind material intended for the bay bridge and hurled rocks.

Nightsticks Deadly

The main battle had veered onto Rincon Hill. It started when a gang of 500 men rushed down the Harrison st. bridge toward the melee below. They were cursing, hurling rocks. Police said at least one man was firing a revolver.

The fight raged up the bridge and into the streets. The situation had grown so serious that police were abandoning any attempts to herd the rioters along. The long nightsticks were rising and falling like pistons. When a man went down he stayed there until radio cars had a chance to pick him up.

Police who missed swings with their clubs frequently hurled them at assailants. This proved very effective.

Strikers threw up barricades of empty boxes on the bridge to impede the police charge.

Grass Set on Fire

In the midst of the battle, rioters started setting dry grass on fire. the fire department was summoned. Rioters tried to interfere. Streams were directed at them from the hoses. Men were knocked to their knees, rolled over in the mud. The water sent masses of mud and rocks into the air.

The police radio cars took a terrific beating from stones hurled by rioters. Hardly a machine in the war zone did not have a broken top, smashed window or dented fender.

Officer Fred Schuler had a narrow escape when a huge rock dropped from the bridge, smashed through the top of the car he was driving, to be stopped by the aerial of his short wave radio. Officer Schuler's machine had its windshield broken in Tuesday's riots.

As fast as injured rioters were taken to the hospital, they were placed under arrest on rioting charges.

Rossi Gets Protest

Harry Bridges and Mayor Angelo Rossi after a meeting at City Hall When the fighting was over Harry Bridges, chairman of the joint strike committee, led a special delegation representing all striking unions to the mayor's office. They were there to protest against police tactics and to make the following charges:

That five strikers were "willfully shot."

That police jammed tear gas guns against strikers, then pulled the triggers, blowing away the men's flesh.

That police used the new "vomiting gas."

"None of the violence down there was started by our men," he said. "With me are witnesses to police brutality."

The situation took on an even more war-like tinge when Corp. Otto Meyer and Officer Wallace Young reported that a bullet zinged by them as they stood in front of Pier 38. Police Chief Quinn ordered a search of Rincon Hill and building tops for snipers.

Aside from this incident, things moved peacefully enough at the point the Industrial Association had selected for its big test on whether cargo could be cleared from the docks.

Tenseness Lessened

Much of the tenseness which marked the scene in front of Pier 38 Tuesday, when the first cargo was moved, had disappeared today.

The area around Pier 38 was closed to all but police and newspaper people. Ten trucks were lined up in the pier shed.

Shortly after 8 o'clock the drivers of the first three machines started their engines. At 8:19 the steel door of the pier was rolled up. One of the drivers had trouble meshing the gears and police looked worried, but the trucks rolled out without a hitch. One motorcycle policeman rode in advance. There were no other guards, though police were stationed along the route.

Coffee, Canned Goods

The first truck, a big closed affair, carried coffee. The next was loaded with canned goods. The third carried sacks of bird seed.

A policeman was stationed on the roof of the warehouse with a shotgun and tear gas bombs.

En route to the warehouse the third truck hit a bump and one of the sacks bounced off. The drivers let it lay.

The trucks followed in rapid succession and soon the Industrial Association announced they would move at the rate of 14 an hour. Nearly all of them carried green coffee beans, which spoil rapidly.

As on Tuesday, police were keeping a wide area around the warehouse and dock clear. There was a small crowd at Third and King sts, near the warehouse, but it was well behaved. As the trucks approached the police began breaking up the crowd into small groups. They were especially careful to keep them away from a pile of bricks, which furnished ammunition for one of the worst riots Tuesday. The crowd was driven slowly to Third and Berry sts. There was no trouble.

A group of strikers hurled rocks and insults at one passing auto, but the rocks missed their mark and the insults went unheeded.

Police were pursuing the same tactics at Third and Brannan sts., in which vicinity trucks were overturned Tuesday. Mounted and foot officers kept the crowds moving. On the whole the pickets and strike sympathizers were orderly.

A big truck passed one group which was being shepherded by officers. Out of the cab leaned a grinning driver, a union teamster's button shining on his cap.

"We'll all be with you tomorrow," he shouted.

Police officials explained that only one motorcycle policeman was needed because of the solidity of their lines.

The Industrial Association had gotten away to an early start on its plans to move cargo. Five trucks were used Tuesday. This morning five more put in an appearance.

"We certainly fooled the strikers," chucked A.E. Boynton, managing director. "We got five more trucks into the pier before 6 a.m. Only a few pickets were around ... not enough to do any damage. We've got a fine bunch of boys to drive those trucks. They are just falling all over themselves to get the jobs."

Leaving a meeting with President Roosevelt's National Longshoremen's Board, Mr. Boynton said the cargo movement was going so smoothly that he was hurrying out to engage more trucks.

The Industrial Association claimed it had been reliably informed that several large uptown firms had been warned by the joint marine strike committee that it would not be responsible for anything that might happen to any truck anywhere in the city.

Reports that union teamsters would walk out tomorrow in sympathy with strikers was vehemently denied by Michael Casey, president of the Teamsters' Union.

The regular meeting of the union will be held tonight at headquarters, 536 Bryant st., Mr. Casey said, but he predicted the question of a sympathy strike would not even be considered.

"The men will be working as usual tomorrow and the next day and the next day," he said.

The union official reiterated that the question of moving merchandise from the King st. warehouse where it is now being concentrated was "a bridge we'll cross when we come to it."

The Daily News
July 5, 1934

Return to the Museum's General Strike Page.

Return to top of page