James F. Phillips

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James F. Phillips (November 20, 1930 – October 3, 2001) was an American environmental activist who was known in the Chicago area during the 1960s for his direct action activities under the pseudonym The Fox. One of those actions was against Armour Dial (Henkel Corporation). Phillips discovered they had been polluting Mill Creek that emptied into the Fox River. The company was violating a 1962 law that limited the amount of chemicals they could dump into the creek. Nothing was done about it so he organized a group who went around to supermarkets all over the United States and put stickers on bars of Dial soap. The stickers issued a warning that "Armour Dial Kills our Water" or "Armour Dial Pollutes our air". Mike Royko, a Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago newspaper columnist called Phillips's attack "the most ambitious anti pollution prank of his colorful career." The prank was so successful, it started an independent boycott of all Armour-Dial products. Phillips seven year battle with Armour Dial culminated in the state of Illinois suing Armour Dial's Montgomery plant for violating Illinois pollution standards.[1]

Born in Aurora, Illinois, Phillips was first motivated in the 1960s to plug a sewage outfall after seeing dead ducks in the Fox River. In the following years, his activism included leaving signs around town criticizing US Steel, plugging sewer outlets, placing caps on top of smoke stacks, leaving skunks on the doorsteps of the owners of polluting companies, and, in one case, transporting 50 pounds of sewage from Lake Michigan into the reception room of the company that discharged it. His direct-action techniques were later copied by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations. The Fox was an avid historical boater who educated and demonstrated native American and early trapper fishing and boating techniques. The Fox was radicalized to be a founder mentor of the Earth Liberation Front movement[2] after witnessing toxic dumping into the Fox River over decades which polluted the river to near-death. The Fox became famous after dumping a bucket of said toxic waste upon the desk of a Stone Container Corporation executive in Chicago. He was rumored to have also plugged drainage pipes from toxic industrial plants from his canoe along the Fox River.[3]

In his daily life, Phillips was a middle school science teacher and later a field inspector for the Kane County Environmental Department. Although he never admitted to his role as the Fox, family and friends confirmed this identity.

Reactions to his activities were mixed. One federal official suggested that the Fox's activities represented a challenge as to whether "we, as individuals in a technological society, have the will to control and prevent the degradation of our environment." David Dominick, Commissioner of the Federal Water Quality Administration [4] The police said they would charge the Fox if he were caught, but were unable to do so.

Another of his direct actions involving U.S. Steel was when they adopted the slogan "We're Involved", Phillips erected a 70-foot-long banner that said, "We're Involved in Killing Lake Michigan". He retired in 1986 to start the Fox River Conservation Foundation and was on the board of "Friends of the Fox".[5] He also wrote a book entitled "Raising Kane", about his exploits.[6][7] A memorial dedicated to Mr. Phillips and his efforts to clean up the Fox River is located in Violet Patch Park on the Fox River in Oswego, IL. A dedication was held in 2006 and although many environmental laws have been enacted, more still needs to be done.[8][9]


  1. ^ Hoekstra, Dave. "Who Was That Masked Man?".
  2. ^ Rosebraugh, Craig Burning Rage of a Dying Planet. Lantern Books, New York. p. 20
  3. ^ "Fox River". www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org.
  4. ^ Martin, Douglas. "James Phillips, 70, Environmentalist Who Was Called the Fox".
  5. ^ "Friends of the Fox River - Preserve • Restore • Protect". Friends of the Fox River.
  6. ^ Tribune, From the Chicago (23 October 2001). "James Phillips, 70; Advocate for Environment Called 'The Fox'" – via LA Times.
  7. ^ "Raising Kane". www.goodreads.com.
  8. ^ Tribune, Jack McCarthy, Special to the. "`The Fox' gets his spot on river".
  9. ^ "Violet Patch Park - Oswegoland Park District". Oswegoland Park District. Retrieved 2018-10-12.