Grover Whalen

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From left to right, José Gonzalez, Grover Whalen, and Dennis Nolan looking over plans for the Puerto Rico pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair.

Grover Aloysius Whalen (1886–1962) was a prominent politician, businessman, and public relations guru in New York City during the 1930s and 1940s.


Early years[edit]

Grover A. Whalen was born on July 2, 1886 in New York City. Whalen was the son of an Irish immigrant father and a French-Canadian mother, who named their son after President Grover Cleveland, who was married on the same day that their child was born.[1] His father, Michael Whalen, was a successful trucking contractor and a Tammany Hall supporter.[2]

Grover Whalen attended DeWitt Clinton High School and afterwards studied law. He then joined the staff of John Wanamaker's department store, with which he would long be associated. He married Anna Dolores Kelly in 1913.[2]

Whalen ran his father's ash and garbage disposal business for a time before becoming involved in politics, working for the election of John F. Hylan as Mayor of New York.[1]

Political appointments[edit]

After Hylan became Mayor in 1918, Whalen was appointed to be Commissioner of Plants and Structures. In this position he supervised the city's transportation system. He also served as Hylan's Commissioner of Purchase and took part in greeting ceremonies, including the welcome of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, in 1919.[2] In 1922, he proposed the creation of a radio station owned and operated by the city, a plan that came to fruition with the first broadcast of WNYC in 1924.[3]

In 1924, Whalen left the Hylan administration to assist Rodman Wanamaker in the operation of the Wanamaker department stores, serving as general manager.[4] Wanamaker named him Vice President of Operations for the American Trans-Oceanic Company, a new airline flying Curtiss seaplanes between New York and Florida.[5]

Police Commissioner[edit]

In 1928, he returned to civic life when he was appointed by Mayor Jimmy Walker to the position of New York City Police Commissioner.[2] He was known to be a ruthless enforcer of prohibition laws. Whalen was famously quoted as saying, "There is plenty of law at the end of a nightstick."[1]

Whalen came under fire for police handling of the International Unemployment Day demonstration on March 6, 1930 in New York City, in which an impromptu march of 35,000 or more demonstrators down Broadway to New York City Hall was set upon by 1,000 baton-wielding police.[6]

The brutal scene was described by a reporter from the New York Times:

"Hundreds of policemen and detectives, swinging nightsticks, blackjacks, and bare fists, rushed into the crowd, hitting out at all with whom they came into contract, chasing many across the street and into adjacent thoroughfares and pushing hundreds off their feet. From all parts of the scene of battle came the screams of women and cries of men with bloody heads and faces."[6]

Sharply criticized for the escalation of violence by the police, Whalen was forced to resign his post within two months.[6]

Later career[edit]

He was later appointed by Fiorello La Guardia as Chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Receptions to Distinguished Guests, succeeding William Francis Deegan, and became a public celebrity easily recognized by his exquisitely groomed moustache and carnation boutonniere. In this capacity, in which he served until the early 1950s, he officially welcomed everyone from Charles Lindbergh to Admiral Richard Byrd to Douglas MacArthur to New York and became master of the ticker tape parade.

In 1935 he became president of the New York World Fair Corporation and put a familiar face on the 1939 New York World's Fair. In this capacity he was on the cover of Time magazine on May 1, 1939.[7]

Death and legacy[edit]

Grover Whalen died on April 20, 1962 at age 75.[2]

He is mentioned in the Harold Arlen song Lydia the Tattooed Lady, the Cole Porter song Let's Fly Away, the Bobby Short song Sweet Bye and Bye, as well as in the 1933 film The Prizefighter and the Lady, starring Myrna Loy and Max Baer. Grover Whalen is also mentioned in Once in a Lifetime, a play written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman in 1930. He is also mentioned in E.B. White's essay "The World of Tomorrow." Whalen titled his 1955 autobiography "Mr. New York."[8]

In the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, Whalen is mentioned in a news broadcast: "Lucky Lindy (Charles Lindbergh) was welcomed on the steps of City Hall by Grover Whalen."


  1. ^ a b c Tom Duse, "Grover Aloysius Whalen," Find a Grave,
  2. ^ a b c d e "Grover A. Whalen Dies at 75; Made City's Welcome Famous". The New York Times. April 21, 1962. 
  3. ^ "History". WNYC. Retrieved June 30, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Whalen Quits City to Aid Wanamaker". The New York Times. July 2, 1924. 
  5. ^ "High over Palm Beach". Retrieved June 30, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York: Basic Books, 1984; pp. 33-34.
  7. ^ "In Mr. Whalen's Image". Time Magazine. May 1, 1939.
  8. ^ Mr. New York: The Autobiography of Grover A. Whalen. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1955.