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Frederick W. Thompson Papers

Identifier: LP000612

Scope and Content

The papers of Mr. Thompson reflect his involvement with the IWW and his interest in preserving its history. To a lesser degree, the collection illustrates Mr. Thompson's involvement with the Socialist Party and his interest in socialist organizations. In addition, Mr. Thompson's effort to become a United States citizen is extensively represented in the collection. Mr. Thompson also has collected material on the IWW legal struggle against organizational blacklisting by the attorney general during the 1950s and 1960s.

Important subjects covered in the collection are:

Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO), 1915-1919 Bisbee Deportation, 1917 Black longshoremen Butte, Montana, 1911-1915 Canadian Northern Railway Strike Centralia, 1919 Colorado Coal Strikes, 1927-1928 Finnish Radicalism Ben Fletcher Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Goldfield, Nevada Strike, 1907 William Haywood Joe Hill Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1985 Frank Little Marine Transport Workers Union, 1913-1930s Organizational Blacklisting, 1964-1968 San Diego Free Speech Fight, 1912 Socialist Party, U.S.A., 1973-1981 Spokane Free Speech Fight, 1909 Frederick W. Thompson Citizenship Case, 1939-1964 B. Traven Women in the IWW Work Peoples' College

Important correspondents in the collection include:

Richard Brazier Frank Cedervall Bill Chance Minnie Corder Matt Fox Elizabeth Service Fox William Henkelman Francis McClennigan Gibbs Smith Theresa Taft Charles Velsek Virgil Vogel

Part 1: Series Description: Series I, Industrial Workers of the World, 1970-1976: Leaflets and literature covering various branch offices and several articles concerning IWW activities.

Series II, Socialist Party of the U.S.A., 1973-1976: Convention reports and minutes, leaflets, bulletins, and literature on national and local offices.

Series III, Other Organizations and Committee Materials, 1969-1976: Leaflets, articles, notes, clippings and other material from various organizations in which Mr. Thompson had an interest.

Series IV, Legal Cases, 1939-1968: Correspondence, orders, motions, petitions, transcripts, notes, clippings and other materials concerning the legal action to remove the IWW from the attorney general's subversive list and Mr. Thompson's lawsuit against the Immigration and Naturalization Service to obtain United States citizenship.
Part 2: Series Description: Series V, Industrial Workers of the World, Historical Studies, 1919-1985: Subseries A: Studies of IWW Activities, 1919-1985: Correspondence, manuscripts, clippings and other materials sent to Mr. Thompson by researchers studying the history of the IWW from 1905 to the 1930s. Subseries B: The IWW in Art, Fiction and Drama, 1978-1981: Correspondence, manuscripts, clippings and other material sent to Mr. Thompson depicting the history and activities of the IWW in art, fiction and drama from 1905 to 1980. Subseries C: IWW Historical Inquiries, 1968-1981: Correspondence between researchers requesting information about the IWW and Mr. Thompson, the IWW historian.

Series VI, Biographical Materials on IWW Members, 1912-1985: Correspondence, clippings, articles and other material concerning IWW members and their involvement in strikes, free speech fights and other IWW activities from 1905 to 1985.

Series VII, Industrial Workers of the World, Branch Activities, 1973-1986: Newsletters, minutes, leaflets and other material concerning the activities of the IWW and individual IWW branch offices between 1973 and 1986.

Series VIII, Socialist Party and Socialist Organizations, 1973-1981: Newsletters, leaflets, minutes, convention proceedings, and other materials concerning the Socialist Party, U.S.A. and other socialist organizations in which Mr. Thompson had an interest.

Series IX, Labor and Socialist Historical Studies, 1917-1986: Correspondence, manuscripts, leaflets, and other materials concerning various labor and socialist history topics sent to Mr. Thompson by researchers and labor and socialist history organizations.

Series X, Other Organizations and Activities, 1975-1981: Leaflets, newsletters, clippings, correspondence and other materials from various groups in which Mr. Thompson had an interest.
Part 3: Series Description: Series XI, IWW Activities, 1962-1987: Drafts of each chapter of The History of the IWW and The IWW Tells Its Story are included along with manuscripts, notes and information written and collected by Mr. Thompson.

Series XII, Correspondence, IWW and Socialist Party, 1932-1987: Correspondence, newsletters, minutes and other items collected by Mr. Thompson concerning the IWW, the Socialist Party and topics of interest to him.

Series XIII, Organizations and Publications, 1961-1985: Clippings, lists and information about progressive and radical organizations, newsletters and government and labor-related publications collected by Mr. Thompson.


  • 1912 - 1987
  • Majority of material found within 1962 - 1985

Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials.


Frederick W. Thompson was born in St. John, New Brunswick in 1900. He first became interested in the socialist movement at the age of fifteen and began attending Socialist Party meetings at the Trades and Labor Temple in St. John. He was active as a recruiter for the Socialist Party in Canada and he traveled extensively throughout Canada working in saw mills, dry docks, sugar refineries and railroad shops. He joined the O.B.U. (One Big Union) while in Winnipeg in 1920.

Mr. Thompson came to the United States in 1922, where he worked in various jobs along the Pacific Coast. He joined the IWW, the U.S. counterpart of the O.B.U. in San Francisco in 1922. Mr. Thompson was arrested in Marysville, California while distributing IWW newspapers. Convicted under the California criminal syndicalism law, Mr. Thompson spent three years in San Quentin prison with 140 other IWW members. After his release in 1927, he moved to Colorado where he became involved in the coal mine strikes. Mr. Thompson traveled throughout the United States organizing for the IWW.

Mr. Thompson served as General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW in 1936. He later became editor of The Industrial Worker. Mr. Thompson has written two histories of the IWW, The IWW: Its First Fifty Years (1955) and, with Patrick Murfin, The IWW: Its First Seventy Years (1976). Mr. Thompson has continued to collect materials related to the IWW and to encourage others to do research and write on the history of the union. Mr. Thompson actively continued these pursuits until his death in 1987 in Chicago, Illinois, where he resided.


17.25 Linear Feet (32 MB, 1 OS)


A Canadian, Frederick Thompson came to the U.S. and became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1922. He traveled throughout the country organizing for the IWW, served as General Secretary-General, edited "The Industrial Worker," and wrote two histories on the organization. His papers reflect his involvement with the IWW and his interest in preserving its history; his ties to Socialism; his effort to become a U.S. citizen; and IWW legal struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.


Part 1: Arranged in 4 series – Series 1 (Box 1), Series 2 (Box 2), Series 3 (Box 3), and Series 4 (Boxes 4-7). Folders are arranged alphabetically.
Part 2: Arranged in 6 series - Series 5 (Boxes 8-11), Series 6 (Boxes 11-15), and Series 7 (Box 15), Series 8 (Boxes 15-16), Series 9 (Boxes 16-20), and Series 10 (Boxes 20-21). Folders are arranged alphabetically.

Series 5 is further divided into 3 subseries.
Part 3: Arranged in 3 series - Series 11 (Boxes 22-27), Series 12 (Boxes 28-31), and Series 13 (Box 32). Folders are arranged alphabetically.


The papers of Frederick W. Thompson were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in January of 1974 and April of 1976 and were opened for research in 1976. Additional papers were added to the collection by Mr. Thompson between September of 1980 and June of 1986 and were opened for research in August of 1986. Papers contained in part 3 of this collection were added in 1986 and 1987 and opened for research in August of 1994.

Related Materials

IWW Collections


Approximately 30 photographs of IWW members have been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Collection. Numerous newspapers, newsletters and several books received with this collection are available in the Archives Library.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Guide to the Frederick W. Thompson Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA