Ole Hanson: From Progressive Candidate to “Law and Order” Mayor

Ole Hanson was a politician and real estate developer who served as Seattle’s mayor during the General Strike of 1919. A Progressive Republican who had been voted into office in 1918 with labor’s backing, he supported such labor-friendly progressive policies as an eight-hour workday for women, a direct primary, a minimum-wage bill, and state industrial insurance while serving in the Washington State legislature. Yet Hanson ran for mayor in 1918 as both a social progressive as well as an advocate of wartime “Americanism.” He was a strong opponent of radical unions like the Industrial Workers of the World and condemned them as part of his political platform. Despite the peaceful course of the general strike, Hanson was a skilled and opportunistic politician who recognized a political opportunity in his response to the strike, positioning himself as a “law and order” mayor who was preventing a possible revolution in Seattle. Hanson’s threat that he would impose martial law if the strike didn’t stop was a bluff, but it made him very popular politically and got him international attention. Hanson was widely praised in the mainstream press for his hardline stance towards the strikers.

A shrewd self-promoter, Hanson went on a nationwide speaking tour to share the story of how he had thwarted rebellion in Seattle. He soon left office to embark on a longer speaking tour and to capitalize on a book deal, which resulted in his book Americanism versus Bolshevism in 1920. Hanson hoped to position himself as the Republican presidential nominee in 1920 but was unsuccessful. Shortly thereafter, Hanson won an oil grant in Mexico and moved to Southern California to be closer to his business. It was there that he founded the town of San Clemente, California in 1925. Hanson suffered financial losses during the Great Depression but went on to help develop the town of Twentynine Palms, California before moving on to become a developer of outdoor ice-skating rinks around Los Angeles. Hanson died at his Los Angeles home in 1940.

Click images below to view at full resolution and for more information.

Page 8 of “Seattle Post Intelligencer, February 11, 1919.
Seattle Post Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). University of Washington Libraries Microforms & Newspapers.

This page from the Seattle Post Intelligencer praises Mayor Hanson for his opposition to the strikers and highlights four women who fed the police department as part of the anti-strike effort. This may have been a conscious effort on the part of the paper, which was opposed to the strike, to counter the success of the strike kitchens in feeding thousands during the shutdown.

Front page of the Seattle Daily Times, February 10, 1919. 
Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, WA). University of Washington Libraries Microforms & Newspapers.

This issue of the Seattle Daily Times from February 10 features a portrait of Hanson and an article on him threatening to invoke martial law. This was a bluff, as Hanson did not have the authority as mayor to implement martial law.

Ole Hanson portrait Engineering Department Negatives. Record Series 2613-07, Item 12281. Seattle Municipal Archives.
Hanson, Ole. Americanism versus Bolshevism. Garden City; New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920.

Ole Hanson was offered a book deal by Doubleday shortly after the general strike. In this account, Hanson positions himself as the person responsible for suppressing an open Bolshevik rebellion in Seattle.