James M. Mead

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James Michael Mead
James Mead.jpg
United States Senator
from New York
In office
December 3, 1938 – January 3, 1947
Preceded byRoyal S. Copeland
Succeeded byIrving M. Ives
Chair of the Federal Trade Commission
In office
May 24, 1950 – March 31, 1953
Preceded byLowell Mason
Succeeded byEdward F. Howrey
Member of the Federal Trade Commission
In office
November 15, 1949 – September 25, 1955
Preceded byGarland S. Ferguson
Succeeded byWilliam C. Kern
Chairman of the United States House Committee on Post Office and Post Roads
In office
Preceded byArchie D. Sanders
Succeeded byMilton A. Romjue
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 42nd district
In office
March 4, 1919 – December 2, 1938
Preceded byWilliam F. Waldow
Succeeded byPius Schwert
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the Erie County, 4th district
In office
January 1, 1915 – December 31, 1918
Preceded byPatrick W. Quigley
Succeeded byAndrew T. Beasley
Personal details
Born(1885-12-27)December 27, 1885
Mount Morris, New York, U.S.
DiedMarch 15, 1964(1964-03-15) (aged 78)
Lakeland, Florida, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alice M. Dillon
(m. 1915; died 1964)

James Michael Mead (December 27, 1885 – March 15, 1964) was an American politician from New York. A Democrat, among the offices in which he served was member of the Erie County Board of Supervisors (1914-1915), New York State Assembly (1915-1918), United States House of Representatives (1919-1938), and United States Senate (1938-1947).

A native of Mount Morris, New York, Mead was raised in Buffalo. He attended the public schools of Buffalo and began working for railroads at age 12. He rose through the Switchmen's Union's ranks to become president of the Buffalo local. From 1911 to 1914 he was employed as an officer with the United States Capitol Police. While working in Washington, Mead attended courses at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Mead began a political career in 1914 with election to Erie County's Board of Supervisors. He subsequently served in the state Assembly from 1915 to 1918. In 1918 he won election to the U.S. House, where he served from 1919 to 1938. In 1938 he was elected to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Royal S. Copeland. He served in the Senate until 1947. In 1946, he was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor of New York. He was then appointed to the Federal Trade Commission, on which he served from 1949 to 1955.

In retirement, Mead was a resident of Florida. He died in Lakeland on March 15, 1964. Mead was buried at Oakhill Cemetery in Clermont, Florida.

Early life[edit]

James M. Mead was born in Mount Morris, New York on December 27, 1885,[1] a son of Thomas and Jane (Kelly) Mead.[2] Mead moved to Buffalo with his family at the age of five.[1] He attended Buffalo's grammar schools and began working at age 12.[3] He was employed by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad; his career included jobs as a water boy, lamp lighter, section hand, spike mauler, shop mechanic and switchman.[1]

Mead later worked for the Pullman Company as a mechanic on sleep car dynamos.[4] He was subsequently employed as a switchman on the Erie Railroad, and was eventually elected president of the Switchmen's Union's Buffalo local.[1] From 1911 to 1914 he was employed as an officer with the United States Capitol Police.[1]

Start of career[edit]

Mead also continued his education during his railroad and police careers; he attended Buffalo's Caton School of Engineering and completed an engineering course of instruction at the Buffalo Institute of Technology.[5] He also took courses at Canisius College and Catholic University.[6] While working nights for the Capitol Police, Mead attended the Georgetown University Law Center during the day.[7]

As a well-known semiprofessional football and baseball player in the Buffalo area, Mead developed a following that aided his entry into politics.[2] In 1913, Mead was a successful candidate for a seat on the Erie County, New York Board of Supervisors and he served in 1914.[1] In 1914 he ran for the New York State Assembly.[1] He won the Erie County 4th District seat and won reelection in 1916.[1] Mead served in the sessions of 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918.[1] In the Assembly, Mead won a reputation as a champion of worker's rights, including passage of a "full crew" law for freight trains, a law requiring workers to be paid every two weeks instead of every month, and an act mandating improved safety measures in train engine cabs.[8] Among his successes were laws to improve the conditions of women and children in factories and enhancements to the state's worker's compensation laws.[2] Mead's affability and power of persuasion marked him as an effective legislator despite the fact that he was a Democrat in a body controlled by Republicans.[8]

U.S. House[edit]

In 1918, Mead defeated incumbent Republican congressman William Frederick Waldow for New York's 42nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.[9] He was reelected nine times, and served from 1919 to 1938.[2] From 1931 to 1938, Mead served as chairman of the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads.[2] In Congress, Mead was a strong advocate for worker's rights, and received credit for aiding the passage of several labor measures, including the Railway Labor Act, Railroad Retirement Act, and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.[8] Mead was the author of a law mandating a reduction in work hours for post office department employees to 44 hours per week, and later to 40 hours.[2]

While supplementing his education by taking college courses during his Congressional service, Mead was well known for staying in good physical condition by trotting from campus to campus.[2] At 6 feet 2 inches and 200 pounds, he maintained the athletic build of his youth, and was known as the House's best baseball and softball player.[2][4] After 28 of his colleagues died during one session, Mead recognized the need for a Congressional gym and took the lead in organizing it and bringing it into operation.[2]

According to John W. McCormack, who served as Speaker of the House from 1961 to 1971, the House's Democratic leaders were grooming Mead to become Speaker.[1] McCormack went on to say that the only reason he (McCormack) was placed on the path that enabled him to become majority leader and then Speaker was that Mead left the House when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.[1]

U.S. Senate[edit]

In 1938, Mead defeated Republican Edward F. Corsi to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant after Royal S. Copeland died.[1] He was re-elected in 1940, defeating Republican Congressman Bruce Barton.[1]

In the Senate, Mead succeeded to the chairmanship of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (the Truman Committee) after Harry S. Truman was elected vice president in 1944.[1] Under his leadership the committee continued Truman's effort to weed out wartime waste, corruption and inefficiency.[1]

The committee's investigations under Mead's leadership resulted in Representative Andrew J. May's imprisonment for bribery and an extended debate on whether Senator Theodore G. Bilbo would be permitted to take his seat after winning reelection in 1946.[1] The committee uncovered evidence that the racist Bilbo had sanctioned violence against African American veterans who attempted to vote in Mississippi's 1946 elections.[1] In addition, there was evidence that Bilbo had accepted bribes from defense contractors in exchange for actions on their behalf during the war.[1] The issue was resolved when Bilbo's credentials were tabled so he could return to Mississippi and seek treatment for oral cancer, an illness which proved fatal.[1]

Later career[edit]

Mead was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1942.[2] He was the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York in 1946, losing to Republican incumbent Thomas Dewey.[1]

After Mead's defeat, he served on the Federal Trade Commission.[2] Appointed in 1949, he became chairman six months later.[2] He remained on the commission until 1955.[1] From 1955 to 1956, he was the director of the Washington office of the New York Department of Commerce.[2] Mead was also a New York delegate to the Democratic National Convention every four years from 1936 to 1952.[10]


In 1937, the Works Progress Administration built a Buffalo public library that was later named the James Mead Branch Library.[11]

Buffalo-area mail carriers recognized Mead's accomplishments on behalf of postal workers by naming their union local in his honor.[2]

Later life[edit]

After retiring from New York's Department of Commerce, Mead moved to Florida.[2] He settled in Clermont, where he owned and operated an orange grove.[2]

Retirement and death[edit]

Mead died in Lakeland, Florida on March 15, 1964.[12] He was buried at Oakhill Cemetery in Clermont.[13]


In 1915, Mead married Alice M. Dillon (1885-1964).[14] They were the parents of a son, James Michael Mead Jr. (1918-1997).[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u McCarthy, Max (May 31, 1992). "Jim Mead's Story Began in a Hut by Side of Tracks". Buffalo News. Buffalo, NY.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Ex-Senator Mead Of New York Dies". The New York Times. New York, NY. March 16, 1964. p. 1 – via TimesMachine.
  3. ^ Malcolm, James, ed. (1918). The New York Red Book. Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon Company. p. 162 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b Dulski, Thaddeus J. (March 17, 1964). Congressional Record. Vol. 110. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. p. 5468 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Current Biography: Who's News and Why. New York, NY: H. W. Wilson Company. 1944. p. 458.
  6. ^ World Biography. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Institute for Research in Biography. 1948. p. 3174.
  7. ^ American Law School Review. Vol. 9–10. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company. 1938. p. 333.
  8. ^ a b c Levin, Ruben (July 1, 1950). "Uncle Sam's Chief Cop: From Water Boy on Lackawanna to Chairman of Federal Trade Commission: "Jim" Mead's Great Record". The Train Dispatcher. Chicago, IL: American Train Dispatchers Association. pp. 286–289.
  9. ^ Sweeney, Daniel J., ed. (1919). History of Buffalo and Erie County, 1914-1919. Buffalo, NY: Committee of One Hundred. p. 15 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ "Index to Politicians: Mead, James Michael". The Political Graveyard. Chicago, IL: Lawrence Kestenbaum. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  11. ^ "Shoebox Libraries Are Well-Loved But Have Problems". The Buffalo News. Buffalo, NY. July 17, 2005.
  12. ^ "Ex-Senator Mead Dies in Florida". Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee, FL. Associated Press. March 19, 1964. p. 18 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ "Funeral Service Set for Senator". Lake Sentinel. Orlando, FL. March 18, 1964. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ "Mead-Dillon". Buffalo Times. Buffalo, NY. August 25, 1915. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com.

External links[edit]

New York State Assembly
Preceded by
Patrick W. Quigley
New York State Assembly
Erie County, 4th District

Succeeded by
Andrew Beasley
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 42nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 1) from New York
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from New York
(Class 1)

1938, 1940
Succeeded by
Preceded by Democratic Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by