James Rolph

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Rolph
Rolph in 1928
27th Governor of California
In office
January 6, 1931 – June 2, 1934
LieutenantFrank Merriam
Preceded byC. C. Young
Succeeded byFrank Merriam
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
July 26, 1933 – June 2, 1934
Preceded byJohn Garland Pollard
Succeeded byPaul V. McNutt
30th Mayor of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 1912 – January 6, 1931
Preceded byP. H. McCarthy
Succeeded byAngelo Rossi
Personal details
Born(1869-08-23)August 23, 1869
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedJune 2, 1934(1934-06-02) (aged 64)
Santa Clara County, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseAnnie Marshall Reid

James "Sunny Jim" Rolph Jr. (August 23, 1869 – June 2, 1934) was an American politician. A member of the Republican Party, he was elected to a single term as the 27th governor of California from January 6, 1931, until his death on June 2, 1934, at the height of the Great Depression. Previously, Rolph had been the 30th mayor of San Francisco from January 8, 1912, until his resignation to become governor. Rolph remains the longest-serving mayor in San Francisco history.

Life and career[edit]

Rolph during his tenure as Mayor of San Francisco.
Annie M. Rolph at dock

Rolph was born in San Francisco, the son of Margaret (Nicol) and James Rolph.[1][2][3] He had four brothers and two sisters.[4] After attending school in the Mission District, he went to work as an office boy in a commission house. He married Annie Marshall Reid (1872–1956) and had at least one son: James Rolph, III (1904-1980).

Rolph entered the shipping business in 1900, by forming a partnership with George Hind. Over the next decade, he served as president of two banks, one of which he helped establish. Although he was asked to run for mayor in 1909, he chose to wait until 1911 to run for mayor—a position that he would hold for nineteen years. As mayor, he was known as "Sunny Jim", and his theme song was "There Are Smiles That Make You Happy". In 1915 he appeared as himself in an early documentary film titled Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco, which starred Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand and was directed by Arbuckle. In 1924, Rolph appeared as himself in a Slim Summerville comedy short film, Hello, Frisco.

Rolph knew of the power in San Francisco of the Roman Catholic Church. Italians, Irish, French and Germans made up the majority of the population of the City. He established a deep friendship with Archbishop Edward Joseph Hanna. In turn, Hanna would support Rolph in his 1930 election as governor of California.[citation needed]

In addition to his mayoral duties and overseeing his shipping interests, he directed the Ship Owners and Merchants Tugboat Company and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. He also was vice-president of the Panama–Pacific International Exposition and president of the Merchants' Exchange. He resigned in 1931 to assume the office of governor of California.

Rolph received considerable criticism for publicly praising the citizens of San Jose following the November 1933 lynching of the confessed kidnapper-murderers of Brooke Hart, a local department store heir, while promising to pardon anyone involved, thereby earning the nickname, "Governor Lynch."[5]: 98  Four days before the lynching he had announced he would not call on the National Guard to prevent the lynching, which was already being discussed locally.[5]: 149 

After violence erupted during the San Joaquin cotton strike in October 1933, Governor Rolph appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate the deaths of several strikers. When the committee met in Visalia on October 19, 1933, Caroline Decker, a labor activist who had taken part in other California agricultural actions, took testimony from the strikers who testified about the growers' assaults on striking workers.


After suffering several heart attacks, Rolph died in Santa Clara County on June 2, 1934, aged 64, three years into his term. He was the second California governor to die in office, the first being Washington Bartlett in 1887. Rolph is buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma, California. He was succeeded as governor by Lieutenant Governor Frank Merriam.


On September 7, 1934, the California Toll Bridge Authority passed a resolution "that...the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge be dedicated as a lasting memorial to the memory of James Rolph Jr."[6][7]

A 1993 survey of historians, political scientists and urban experts conducted by Melvin G. Holli of the University of Illinois at Chicago ranked Rolph as the twenty-third-best American big-city mayor to have served between the years 1820 and 1993.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hon. James Rolph, Jr. - San Francisco, CA". www.onlinebiographies.info. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  2. ^ Men and Women of Hawaii, 1954: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Persons of Notable Achievement, an Historical Account of the Peoples who Have Distinguished Themselves Through Personal Success and Through Public Service. Honolulu Business Consultants. 1954.
  3. ^ Taylor, David Wooster (1934). The Life of James Rolph, Jr. Committee for publication of the life of James Rolph, Jr.
  4. ^ "FamilySearch". www.familysearch.org. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Kevin Starr (1996). Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195100808.
  6. ^ "Rolph Bridge! Span Named for Governor," San Francisco Examiner, September 8, 1934, p. 6., Newspapers.com. The headline is a misnomer. The article quotes the full resolution, which never mentions naming in any way.
  7. ^ Business, Transportation and Housing Agency; Department of Transportation (January 2009). "2008 Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and Other Appurtenances in California" (PDF). State of California. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 14, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) Notes on p. 126 that the Bay Bridge is "unofficially dedicated to James R. Rolph."
  8. ^ Holli, Melvin G. (1999). The American Mayor. University Park: PSU Press. ISBN 0-271-01876-3.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chan, Loren B. "California During the Early 1930s: The Administration of Governor James Rolph, Jr., 1931-1934." Southern California Quarterly 63.3 (1981): 262-282. online
  • Htnes, William M. "Our American mayors XVI. James Rolph, Jr., of San Francisco." National Municipal Review 18.3 (1929): 163-167. https://doi.org/10.1002/ncr.4110180304
  • Leikin, Steve. "Governor James Rolph And The Great Depression In California." California History 84.4 (2007): 79-81.
  • Segal, Morley. "James Rolph, Jr., and the Early Days of the San Francisco Municipal Railway." California Historical Society Quarterly 43.1 (1964): 3-18. online
  • Starr, Kevin. Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (1996).
  • Worthen, James. Governor James Rolph and the Great Depression in California (McFarland, 2010).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of California
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of California
Succeeded by