October 1, 1910
Los Angeles, California
An Iron Workers unionist sets off a bomb in the Los Angeles Times building, killing 21 and injuring over 100
Brothers James and John McNamara planned the explosion to bring attention to their cause, which was to re-unionize the city after the steel and iron industries had successfully reduced unions to a small fraction of their original number. The unions were fighting to receive overtime pay and a $0.50 an hour minimum wage ($12.46/hour in 2017’s economy).
Brothers James (left) and John McNamara
John McNamara placed the bomb which had a timing device to detonate at 4am, with the intent of destroying the building while no one was present. However, the device was faulty, causing a premature explosion occurring at 1am. To make matters worse, 115 Times employees were working late to run an extra edition of the paper with results of the Vanderbilt Cup, which the brothers were unaware of. The McNamaras used a relatively small amount of dynamite for their protest, but they were also unaware of a natural gas line under the building which cause substantially more damage than they had intended. Twenty one people died, most from the resulting fire rather than the explosion itself.
Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, a staunch anti-unionist, called unionists “anarchic scum,” “cowardly murderers,” “leeches upon honest labor,” and “midnight assassins” because of the recent violent protests perpetrated by unionists.
For their parts in the bombing, John McNamara received a life sentence. His older brother James was given 15 years for a separate bombing of an iron manufacturing plant; when released, he returned to the Iron Workers union as an organizer.