David J. Saposs

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David J. Saposs
Born (1886-02-22)February 22, 1886
Kiev, Russian Empire
Died November 13, 1968(1968-11-13) (aged 82)
Washington, D.C., United States
Nationality Ukrainian, American
Occupation Economist, historian, educator

David Joseph Saposs (February 22, 1886 – November 13, 1968) was an American economist, historian, and civil servant. He is best known for being the chief economist of the National Labor Relations Board from 1935 to 1940.


Early life[edit]

David Saposnik was born on February 22, 1886, in the city of Kiev in the Russian Empire.[1][2] His parents were Isaac Saposnik, a peddler, and Shima Erevsky Saposnik.[3] In 1895, the family emigrated to the United States and shortened their name to Saposs.[3] The Jewish family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. David quit school in the fifth grade and worked in beer breweries in his teens to help support his family.[2][4] In 1906, at the age of 20, he was elected shop steward for the local brewery workers' union.[3]

Although he lacked a high school diploma, Saposs was admitted in 1907 to the University of Wisconsin (UW).[3] He graduated in 1911, and enrolled part-time in the graduate program at UW.[2] He enrolled full-time beginning in 1913, and graduated with a Ph.D. in economics in 1915.[1][2] While in the doctoral program at Wisconsin, Saposs was a student of the nationally known labor economist John R. Commons and a close friend of fellow student Selig Perlman (who later became a nationally known labor economist in his own right).[4][5]

Early career[edit]

Saposs worked in a variety of positions over the next few years. He was an accident prevention investigator for the New York Department of Labor, an investigator into the role immigrants played in American labor unions for the Carnegie Corporation, investigated the Steel strike of 1919 on behalf of the Inter-Church World Movement Commission, and was Educational Director for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union.[1][3][6][7]

In 1922, Saposs was appointed an instructor at Brookwood Labor College, but left after two years to do post-graduate work in economics and labor history at Columbia University.[1][2][7] While at Columbia, he became close friends with William M. Leiserson, who would later be a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB).[4] He ended his post-graduate work at Columbia after two years without obtaining an additional degree.[2] Columbia University was embarking on a major study of socio-economic conditions in France, and asked Saposs to lead the study of labor conditions there. Saposs agreed to do so, and moved to France to conduct the study for the next two years.[3][8]

In 1924, Saposs became research director for the Twentieth Century Fund's newly founded labor unit.[4][6][7]

NLRB and other federal positions[edit]

Saposs left the Twentieth Century Fund to become Chief Economist of the newly established National Labor Relations Board in 1935.[7] Saposs quickly built a staff, and began collecting information on the role labor unions played in interstate commerce and the social and economic impacts unions had.[9] The research conducted under Saposs' leadership proved critical to winning over the Supreme Court of the United States, which held in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 (1938) that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was constitutional.[9][10] However, Saposs' tenure at the NLRB proved short. Although it had once supported the NLRA, the American Federation of Labor (AFL; which supported craft unionism) became convinced that the Board and its staff (including Saposs) were more supportive of the industrial unionism of its competitor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The AFL allied with anti-union Democratic Representative Howard W. Smith to attack the National Labor Relations Board. Saposs was a leader among anti-communist leftists.[11] He had even been surreptitiously assessed by members of the Communist Party USA for membership, and rejected as a prospect.[12] He had also tried to expose those individuals at the Board who he felt were communists.[13] But Smith and others attacked Saposs as a communist, and the United States Congress defunded his division and his job on October 11, 1940.[1][14]

Saposs was immediately hired by Republican Nelson Rockefeller to be a consultant on labor issues in the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, an office in the White House.[3][15] He left that position in 1945 to become Chief of Statistics in the Manpower Division of the Office of Military Government, United States, in post-World War II Germany.[11][16] He left that position after a year to become Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Labor Statistics in the United States Department of Labor.[16] But again, his tenure in the role proved short. He was given a leave of absence in 1948 to become Special Advisor to the European Labor Division of the Economic Cooperation Administration.[1][16] He returned to his old position on the Labor Statistics branch in 1952, retiring from government service in 1954.[1][16]

Academic career and death[edit]

In retirement, Saposs became an educator. He was a researcher at the Littauer Center for Public Administration at Harvard University for two years and a visiting professor for a year at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.[16] In 1959, he was appointed Professor of American and International Labor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C.[16]

Saposs retired from American University in 1965.[16] He died at his home in Washington, D.C., from a stroke on November 13, 1968.[1] His wife and two daughters survived him.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Saposs married Bertha Tigay, a social worker, on July 3, 1917, and the couple had two daughters.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "David Saposs, 82, Labor Economist," New York Times, November 16, 1968.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States, p. 3484.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Betz and Carnes, American National Biography, p. 493.
  4. ^ a b c d Jacobs, p. 141.
  5. ^ Foner, p. 10; Weir, p. 147.
  6. ^ a b Fraser and Gerstle, p. 81.
  7. ^ a b c d Gross, The Making of the National Labor Relations Board..., p. 175.
  8. ^ Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States, p. 3486.
  9. ^ a b Champlin and Knoedler, p. 57.
  10. ^ Gross, The Making of the National Labor Relations Board..., p. 179.
  11. ^ a b Papadimitriou, p. 16; Tvede, p. 205.
  12. ^ Gross, The Making of the National Labor Relations Board..., p. 220.
  13. ^ Gross, The Reshaping of the National Labor Relations Board..., p. 132, 215.
  14. ^ Gross, The Reshaping of the National Labor Relations Board..., p. 199, 202; Jacobs, p. 171-172; Champlin and Knoedler, p. 58.
  15. ^ Zamora, p. 74-75; Who Was Who in America, With World Notables, p. 501.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Betz and Carnes, American National Biography, p. 494.


  • Betz, Paul R. and Carnes, Mark C. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Champlin, Dell P. and Knoedler, Janet T. The Institutionalist Tradition in Labor Economics. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2004.
  • "David Saposs, 82, Labor Economist." New York Times. November 16, 1968.
  • Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Vol. 1: From Colonial Times to the Founding of the American Federation of Labor. New York: International Publishers, 1947.
  • Fraser, Steve and Gerstle, Gary. The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • Gross, James A. The Making of the National Labor Relations Board: A Study in Economics, Politics, and the Law, 1933–1937. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1974.
  • Gross, James A. The Reshaping of the National Labor Relations Board: National Labor Policy in Transition, 1937–1947. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1981.
  • Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States. United States House of Representatives. Special Committee on Un-American Activities. 76th Congress, 3d sess. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940.
  • Jacobs, Meg. Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • Papadimitriou, Dimitri B. "Minsky on Himself." In Financial Conditions and Macroeconomic Performance: Essays in Honor of Hyman P. Minsky. Steven M. Fazzari and Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, eds. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1992.
  • Tvede, Lars. Business Cycles: From John Law to the Internet Crash. 2d ed. Florence, Ky.: Psychology Press, 2001.
  • Weir, Robert E. Class in America: An Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007.
  • Who Was Who in America, With World Notables. Chicago, Ill.: Marguis Who's Who, 1981.
  • Zamora, Emilio. Claiming Rights and Righting Wrongs in Texas: Mexican Workers and Job Politics During World War II. College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press, 2009.