Martin H. Kennelly

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Martin H. Kennelly
47th Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 15, 1947 – April 20, 1955
Preceded by Edward J. Kelly
Succeeded by Richard J. Daley
Personal details
Born Martin Henry Kennelly
(1887-08-11)August 11, 1887
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died November 29, 1961(1961-11-29) (aged 74)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Resting place Calvary Cemetery
(Evanston, Illinois, U.S.)
Political party Democratic
Alma mater De La Salle Institute
Religion Roman Catholic

Martin Henry Kennelly (August 11, 1887 – November 29, 1961) was a mayor of Chicago, Illinois from April 15, 1947 to April 20, 1955, for the Democratic Party. Kennelly was born in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, the youngest of five children.[1] He served in the United States Army during World War I with the rank of Captain. After the war he returned to Chicago and entered the moving and storage business, and lived on the north end of Lake Shore Drive (5555 North Sheridan Road). He was the founder and first president of Allied Van Lines, an alliance that united independent local moving and storage companies under a single brand. A contemporary of Marshall Field, a prominent Chicago retailer, Kennelly's moving company got the contract for Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. After retiring, he was involved in social and civic affairs. He was the head of the Chicago chapter of the American Red Cross during World War II.[2]

Mayor of Chicago[edit]

When the city administration of Edward J. Kelly was threatened with defeat by corruption, scandal and Kelly's liberal integrationist policies (Kelly notably had said that African-Americans were free to live anywhere in the city) the Cook County Democratic Party Machine responded by slating Kennelly as a reform candidate.[3] Kennelly returned to the Bridgeport neighborhood and ran for mayor from an apartment in the predominantly Irish American working-class community of his childhood. Kennelly was elected in 1947, receiving 920,000 (59%) votes defeating Republican Russell Root.[4] Kennelly proved to be too independent and reform-oriented for his regular Democratic Party sponsors [5] and was dumped by the party bosses at the 1955 endorsement slating in favor of Richard J. Daley. Daley soundly defeated Kennelly in the 1955 Democratic Primary and went on to election in 1955.


Kennelly died from heart failure on November 29, 1961, at age 74, and was interred at Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois.[6]

Obituary written November 30, 1961 in the Chicago Tribune "Hold Rites Saturday for Martin Kennelly Martin H. Kennelly, who rose from poverty to wealth and become Chicago's mayor from 1947 to 1955, died unexpectedly yesterday in his apartment at 5555 Sheridan Rd. Mr. Kennelly, who was 74, was found by his housekeeper, Miss Marcella Levinsky, at 3 a.m. Death was attributed to a coronary occlusion. Associates said he suffered a slight cold late last week, but otherwise has not been ill recently. The wake will begin at 10 a.m. today in the chapel at 929 Belmont Av. Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Ita's Church, 5500 Broadway. Mayor Daley, who defeated Mr. Kennelly in a bitter Democratic mayoral primary battle in 1955, termed him"a great Chicagoan who loved his city" and ordered City hall flags placed at half staff. The La Salle street entrance of City hall was draped in purple and black. Gov. Kerner was among many others who joined in paying tribute to Mr. Kennelly. Kerner described him as "respected and loved by all who had the privilege of knowing him." Mr. Kennelly was born August 11, 1887, near 31st and Halsted streets in the Bridgeport district of Chicago. His mother, Margaret, widowed when Martin was 2, worked long hours to keep her three sons, (Jerry, Martin and John) and daughter, Ella, together. He quit school while in the grades for a $2 a week job as stockroom boy in the Marshall Field & Company store. He quit a year later, deciding he needed more education, and entered De La Salle institute. Stanley Field gave him a letter which read in part, "he did his work very well, and we found him honest." After three years at De La Salle, Mr. Kennelly started work as an office boy for Becklenberg warehouse, 63rd street and Wentworth avenue, and moved up to become its general manager. He rose from private to Captain in the quartermaster corps in World War I. Returning from the war, he went into the warehouse business for himself. He used the letter from Stanley Field to help land his first big contract - moving priceless exhibits from the old Field museum in Jackson Park to the Natural History Museum. A distinguishing Kennelly characteristic, said one of his few intimates, was a diffident egotism. he would have been surprised, the friend said, if Chicago had not elected and reelected him mayor. This quality and a shy, self-contained reticence, grew from devotion to his mother, it was asserted. The mother drilled into her family that honesty and hard work would bring a just reward. While building his business success, Kennelly was active in civic affairs, serving as a member of the Chicago Crime commission and heading the Red Cross fund drive for fours years in World War II. He headed the Allied Van Lines, Inc. and was a director of the Chicago Association of Commerce. Before he ran for mayor, which was his first candidacy for elective office, he backed candidates who split with the old Kelly-Nash machine. He served as a member of the Chicago park board in its early days and rejected offers of support if he would run for offices such as sheriff. Political audiences saw a man 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighing 200 pounds, meticulously groomed, and with a ready smile. He preached honesty and efficiency in city government and "a day's work for a day's pay." His administration was marked by many changes. He remodeled the top structure of the police department, established the city department of central purchasing and inaugurated many public improvements. A major achievement in his two terms was the restoration of the city civil service commission from the shattered condition in which he found it. Kennelly hired the late Stephen E. Hurley, an outstanding lawyer, to head the commission in July, 1947 and stuck by him in a long series of battles with Democratic aldermen. In his 7 1/2 years on the job, Hurley replaced 12,000 political appointees, many of them Democratic precinct captains, with permanent civil service workers. Hurley's effectiveness was considered a major factor, if not the chief factor, in the dumping of Kennelly by his party in 1955. Big steps were made under Kennelly in starting urban renewal and slum clearance programs. He named the first Land clearance commissioners to get the work under way. Under his leadership the groundwork for Chicago's expressways was begun. His administration planned and started the Chicago Skyway, assembled land for O'Hare International airport, and pushed the north side filtration plant. Bond issues approved at his request put all new lights and hung badly needed street signs throughout the city. He resented being called a reformer. He once said: "I'm for fewer laws rather than more laws. All legislative bodies could spend one session profitably just repealing laws because our people came here to get away from too much government." As to his financial success, Kennelly once said, "I've eaten regularly, and I haven't hurt anybody getting where I am" As a city administrator, he was not inclined to be impetuous. Confronted with problems, his frequent procedure was to say he would investigate and call for reports. His defeat by Daley in the 1955 primary, when Daley had full Democratic organization support, was a bitter blow. He refused comment on city affairs and did not enter City hall after the night of Daley's inauguration. He turned to his hobbies- golf, in which he scored creditably, and walking-and to his business. He visited the Chicago Athletic association quarters regularly. He contributed substantially to Catholic charities, particularly those concerned with nuns and orphans. His descendents include Jerry Martin Kennelly of San Francisco, Marilyn, Moira and Colleen Kennelly of Seattle, and Kia Kennelly Hatch of California.


  1. ^ Green, Paul M., and Holli, Melvin G. (1995) The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 127-128 ISBN 0-8093-1961-6
  2. ^ UIC University Library
  3. ^ Pacyyga, Dominic, Chicago: A Biography, 2009, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 324 ISBN 0-226-64431-6
  4. ^ Green, Paul M., and Holli, Melvin G. (1995) The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 130 ISBN 0-8093-1961-6
  5. ^ O'Connor, Len (1975). Clout: Mayor Daley and His City. Henry Renery Company. 
  6. ^ NNDB: Martin H. Kennelly
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward J. Kelly
Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by
Richard J. Daley