Robert Bridges and James E. Bradford were Seattle activists and politicians in the first decades of the twentieth century. Bradford was a Progressive; Bridges was a Democrat and later a Populist. Both were strong advocates of government ownership of public utilities.
Bradford was a lawyer who became the city’s Corporation Counsel in 1911. In addition to being a proponent of the municipal ownership of utilities, he tried to enforce the minimum wage, which seems to have made him rather unpopular with the Seattle business interests. He fought and lost a hard election with Hugh Caldwell, who later became the mayor of Seattle, for the position in 1916. The same year he ran for governor on the Progressive party ticket, and two years later he ran for mayor of Seattle. Bradford later returned to his legal practice, and, among other things, acted as counsel for the Port of Seattle. During the Great Depression, he held state directorships for several New Deal programs.
The UW Special Collections Division has collections of Bradford’s letters and scrapbooks. Most of these materials are from his time as Corporation Counsel. They include newspaper clippings, election ephemera, as well as drafts of speeches, articles, and letters about women’s suffrage, minimum wage, the Municipal League of Washington, and public utilities.
Bob Bridges was a Scottish miner, turned shop-keeper, turned farmer, turned politician. A union organizer during his stint in the coal mines of Black Diamond, Bridges remained adamantly pro-labor and highly controversial. He was a stout proponent of the public ownership of rail and harbor facilities throughout his political career. Bridges was elected the state’s Land Commissioner in 1896 after turning down a free ticket from the railroads and walking to Ellensburg for the convention. He became a Port Commissioner when the Commission was formed in 1911. Like Bradford, he was unpopular in many quarters. He earned a great deal of enmity for his unwavering opposition to the Harbor Island scheme. This plan involved the construction of a large harbor terminal to be operated at a profit by a private company using a mix of public and private funds. Bridges opposed the project so vehemently that he refused to certify Port decisions in the matter, and had to be removed from his office as the Port Commission’s Secretary, according to then Port President Hiram Chittenden (of Ballard Locks fame). The Seattle Times and the P-I vociferously criticized the Commission and called for Bridges’ resignation. Unfortunately for the plan’s backers, the plan fell apart, since the man claiming to represent the company that was to build and manage the terminal had only just managed to quit before he could be fired. After Bridges resigned from the Commission in 1919, he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1920, as part of the newly formed (and seemingly short-lived) Farmer-Labor party. Bridges died a year later.
We have four scrapbooks from Robert Bridges. The Bridges scrapbooks include newspaper clippings from his time in politics, which refer to him, public utilities, and harbor facilities. One of his scrapbooks was made out of an old business ledger, sections of which are still visible.
Submitted by Jessie
Bird’s eye view of Harbor Island, Seattle postcard collection (PH Coll 798); Digital Collections order number SEA2156
Election ephemera, circa 1912, James E. Bradford scrapbooks (F899.S453 B73 1899), Box , Folder 2
Letter of recommendation from Bradford in support of Robert Bridges as Collector of Customs, 1914, Seattle Port Commission records (Acc. 4230-001), Box 4, folder30