Mooney, Thomas J., 1882-1942

Alternative names
Birth 1882-12-08
Death 1942-03-06

Biographical notes:

Thomas J. Mooney was born on December 8, 1882 in Chicago, Illinois and raised in Indiana and Massachusetts. A molder by trade, Mooney first came to California in 1908, permanently settling in San Francisco in 1910. There he became involved in the work of the Socialist party and various labor organizing activites. In 1916, Mooney and Warren K. Billings were wrongfully convicted of the Preparedness Day bombing of July 22. Mooney's plight became a cause amongst labor until his eventual release and pardon in 1939. Mooney died only a few years after his release on March 6, 1942.

From the description of Thomas J. Mooney papers, 1887-1949 (bulk 1930-1942). (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 80279585

Tom Mooney was sentenced to life imprisonment for the bombing in 1916 of San Francisco's Preparedness Day Parade.

From the description of Papers, 1916-1939. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122377010

Thomas Joseph Mooney (1882-1942) was an American labor leader. Mooney's conviction with Warren K. Billings for exploding a bomb during a San Francisco preparedness day in 1916 caused worldwide controversy. Mooney's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1918.

From the guide to the Thomas J. Mooney papers, 1916-1924, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)

Thomas Joseph Mooney (1882-1942) was an American labor leader.

Mooney's conviction with Warren K. Billings for exploding a bomb during a San Francisco preparedness day in 1916 caused worldwide controversy. Mooney's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1918.

From the description of Thomas J. Mooney papers, 1916-1924. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122615882


Thomas J. Mooney (1882-1942) was a labor activist convicted of murder for a bombing that occurred at the San Francisco Preparedness Day Parade on July 22, 1916. The bombing killed ten and injured forty parade bystanders and Mooney swore that he had not committed the crime. The parade was intended as a planned demonstration of the country's war-readiness during World War I, however, there was a strong undercurrent of isolationism and anti-militarism, particularly by certain elements of labor and from pacifist groups. Pamphlets circulated in the city threatening violence and counter-demonstrations in the days leading up to the parade.

By most accounts, the trial of Mooney was mired in anti-socialist and anti-anarchist hysteria. Mooney and co-defendant Warren K. Billings were both convicted of murder. Allegations that certain key witnesses had perjured themselves or had been coerced to testify against Mooney later arose. Eventually the death sentences of Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings were commuted to life in prison in 1918 following a commission of inquiry established by President Woodrow Wilson. After 22 years of agitation and litigation, Mooney successfully secured a pardon from Governor Culbert Olson and was released from San Quentin in 1939. Thomas Mooney died on March 6, 1942.

From the guide to the Thomas J. Mooney legal documents and papers, 1889-1947 (bulk 1916-1935), (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.)

Biographical Information

Mooney, Thomas Joseph (8 Dec. 1882-6 Mar. 1942), labor leader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Bryan Mooney (also called Bernard), a coal miner, and Mary Hefferon (or Heffernan). Mooney lived in Washington, Indiana, until he was ten, when his father died. The family then moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where his mother found work in a paper mill as a ragsorter. Mooney left school at fourteen for a job in a local factory and in 1898 entered the iron molding trade. He joined the molders' union, a membership he maintained the rest of his life. With opportunities for employment scarce, he began traveling around the country, doing whatever work he could find. In 1907 his journeys took him to Europe, and there he discovered socialism. Returning home, he began drifting again, this time traveling as far west as Stockton, California. There he joined the Socialist party, worked for the presidential campaign of Eugene V. Debs, and spent a winter in Chicago learning more about the party.

In 1909 Mooney set off again, this time seeking to win a round-the-world trip in a subscription-selling contest sponsored by a socialist magazine. He lost, but so narrowly that the magazine paid his way to attend the International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen in 1910. He then returned to California, this time settling in San Francisco. He belonged briefly to the Industrial Workers of the World, but, finding them too sectarian, he aligned himself with the radical minority of the local Socialist party and served as circulation manager for their short-lived newspaper, Revolt . He ran on the Socialist party ticket for superior court judge in 1910 and for sheriff in 1911. He also helped organize molders for the tiny left-wing Syndicalist League of North America. He was married in 1911 to Rena Ellen Brink Hermann; they had no children.

In 1913 Mooney and Warren Knox Billings, another young radical, became involved in a bitter electrical workers' strike against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Billings was caught with a suitcase full of dynamite, and although Mooney does not appear to have been involved, he heard that he too was about to be arrested. He went underground for several months, then tried to slip away by boat, but was caught and charged with illegal possession of explosives. Three trials followed, the first two ending in hung juries and the third (1914) in his acquittal. Once released, Mooney resumed his labor activism.

By 1916, with World War I in Europe nearly two years old, many Americans were calling for a military build-up. Others, including many labor leaders and radicals, opposed the idea, arguing that it would only hasten the country's entry into what they saw as a corrupt and imperialist war. On 22 July 1916, during the period when Preparedness Day parades were being held throughout the country, a bomb exploded in the midst of San Francisco's parade, killing ten people and wounding forty more. Although there was almost no physical evidence, the press immediately blamed political radicals, while District Attorney Charles M. Fickert concluded that the bomb had been brought to the scene in a suitcase. With encouragement from the private detective at Pacific Gas and Electric who had tracked down Mooney and Billings in 1913, Fickert quickly arrested both men, along with Mooney's wife and several other people.

Billings, who was tried first, was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mooney's trial for first-degree murder followed in January 1917. A rancher named Frank Oxman, who had not appeared in the Billings trial, testified that he had seen both men carrying a suitcase near the bomb scene, and although his statement contradicted other prosecution testimony, Mooney was convicted and sentenced to the gallows. Subsequent investigations discredited Oxman's testimony, but under pressure from local business interests and the Hearst press, Fickert refused to reopen the case. In the meantime, Mooney's wife was tried (without Oxman's testimony) and acquitted.

Until Mooney's conviction, most of his support came from fellow radicals, in addition to a few public-minded lawyers, led by Bourke Cockran. Once the trial was over, however, Mooney's circle of supporters expanded to include a wide array of mainstream labor leaders, civil libertarians, reformers, public officials, and members of the general public. The case attracted worldwide attention, and when mobs in Petrograd stormed the American embassy to protest Mooney's conviction, President Woodrow Wilson urged the governor of California to consider giving Mooney a new trial. Some months later, at the suggestion of Colonel Edward House (Wilson's closest adviser), the case was reviewed by the Wickersham National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, which was studying labor strikes. On the basis of questions raised by the commission, Mooney's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in November 1918.

Mooney was saved from execution, but he was still in San Quentin Prison, with no new trial on the horizon. For the next twenty years his supporters struggled to maintain public interest in the case and to win his freedom. They encountered innumerable political and legal obstacles, however, and Mooney's irascibility and distrust made their task more difficult. Nevertheless, they persevered; Frank Walsh, Mooney's attorney from 1923 to 1939, is said to have spent $50,000 of his own money in pursuing various appeals. In 1934 Upton Sinclair, running for governor, promised to set Mooney free if elected; this ray of hope disappeared when Sinclair was defeated. A U.S. Supreme Court decision on one of Mooney's appeals (Mooney v. Holohan, 1935) set important new precedents in federal habeas corpus proceedings, but Mooney remained a prisoner.

Mooney failed in a personal appeal to the California state legislature in 1938 and shortly thereafter was rejected for the last time by the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, in January 1939, Governor Culbert L. Olson granted Mooney a pardon. (Billings was released from prison when his sentence was commuted ten months later, and he was officially pardoned in 1961.) Mooney had a brief tour as a labor hero and then sank into obscurity, burdened with debts, estranged from his wife, and suffering from bleeding ulcers. He died in San Francisco.

Mooney did not become a dissident hero by choice; there is no evidence that he had anything to do with the bombing that sent him to prison. Nor was he a hero by nature; his complaints and resentment strained the loyalty of his supporters almost to the breaking point. Nevertheless, his experience forced him into a hero's role, providing the beleaguered labor movement with a martyr and leading many ordinary citizens to conclude that the American system could be very unjust.

Sandra Opdycke. "Mooney, Thomas Joseph";;

American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.

Access Date: Tue Mar 29 2011 13:50:12 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)

Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.


  • 1882 December 8: Birth of Thomas J. Mooney, Chicago, Illinois
  • 1911: Marriage to Rena Hermann
  • 1916 July 22: Preparedness Day Bombing, San Francisco
  • 1916 July 27: Tom and Rena Mooney arrested
  • 1916 August 2: Tom and Rena Mooney, Billings, Nolan, and Weinberg each indicted on eight counts of murder
  • 1916 September 11: Billings trial begins
  • 1916 September 23: Billings convicted of murder, sentenced to life in prison
  • 1917 January 3: Start of Tom Mooney trial
  • 1917 February 9: Tom Mooney convicted of murder
  • 1917 February 24: Tom Mooney sentenced to death
  • 1917 April 6: Oxman letters published in San Francisco Bulletin
  • 1917 May 11: Mooney death sentence stayed by Governor Stephens
  • 1917 July 27: Rena Mooney acquitted, remains jailed
  • 1917 September 21: Oxman tried and acquitted of subornation of perjury
  • 1917 November: Weinberg tried and acquitted, remains jailed
  • 1917 December 17: Election to recall Fickert fails
  • 1918 March 30: Weinberg and Rena Mooney freed
  • 1918 November 28: Governor Stephens commutes Mooney's sentence to life in prison
  • 1919: National Mooney Congress convenes in Chicago
  • 1932 September 28: Paul Callicotte confesses to Preparedness Day bombing
  • 1939 January 7: Official pardon granted by Governor Culbert L. Olson
  • 1942: Tom Mooney dies in San Francisco

From the guide to the Thomas J. Mooney papers, 1887-1949, bulk 1930-1942, (The Bancroft Library)


Known worldwide as the scapegoat of anti-unionists, Thomas Joseph Mooney was falsely accused for bombing the Preparedness Day Parade in San Francisco on July 16, 1916. Mooney, a Socialist union activist and organizer, had previously been involved in an ugly strike against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. This put him under immediate suspicion for the bombing even though it was later proved that he was no where near the actual bomb site during the parade. Mooney's wife, Rena, Warren Billings, Israel Weinberg, and Edward Nolan were also tried for the bombing but only Billings and Mooney were convicted. Mooney received the death sentence in 1917 and spent the next twenty-two years in prison despite outrage from around the world and evidence that many of the witnesses who testified against him had committed perjury, especially F.C. Oxman.

Culbert Olson, governor of California, officially pardoned Thomas Mooney in 1939.

From the guide to the Thomas J. Mooney Collection, 1917-1918, (Henry Madden Library (California State University, Fresno). Sanoian Special Collections Library.)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Life imprisonment
  • Socialism
  • Parades
  • bombing
  • Trials (Murder)--California--San Francisco--Archival resources
  • Working class--Political activity--United States
  • Trials (Political crimes and offenses)--California--San Francisco
  • Trials (Political crimes and offenses)
  • Labor and laboring classes
  • Bombings--California--San Francisco
  • Working class--Political activity
  • Labor movement--History
  • Trials (murder)
  • Hapeas corpus
  • Trials (Terrorism)
  • Civil rights


  • Labor leaders


  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)
  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)