Wednesday, April 1, 2009

History Matters — Montgomery Ward Chairman removed from office in 1944 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Much has been discussed about President Barack Obama’s removal of General Motors CEO Rick Wagner as if this has not been done before. My first thought upon hearing of Wagner’s removal was of a famous photo I found while helping author Brian Bohnett research the background for his book, Them Was the Days.

Removed from Office

In the 1944 photo, Montgomery Ward Chairman Sewell Avery was sitting in his wood executive’s chair on a street in downtown Chicago while being held by two members of what I believe to be the Illinois National Guard; complete with uniforms and helmets. Avery was removed because of his opposition to FDR’s New Deal program. The dilemma in 1944 was best expressed in a Time magazine article titled: Seizure. “But the over whelming issue at stake was whether or not the President had authority to take over an industry that seemed to the U.S. public patently civilian. How far does Federal power extend? Attorney General Biddle tried manfully to class Montgomery Ward as a war industry, pointing out that one of its subsidiaries manufactures airplane parts. But he hastily sought refuge under the Constitution's broad mandate to the President ‘to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’" Seizure, Time magazine, Monday, May 8, 1944.

Michigan Military Academy

My interest in Avery is of a local nature. Avery was born in Saginaw, Michigan and attended the Michigan Military Academy (MMA) in Orchard Lake. While at the MMA Avery's bio reads: Sergeant, Company “A” 1890; Captain, Company “A” 1892; Senior Class Prophet 1892; Football (Right Half) 1892; Prize Contest in Declamation May 27, 1892 (2nd Prize: Chariot Race, from “Ben Hur”); MMA Minstrels Performance at Pontiac Opera House May 7, 1892; 2nd Sergeant, "Crack" Company, 1891 and a member of the 1892 graduating class.

Nine of the original MMA buildings are still in use by The Orchard Lake Schools. The MMA Academy Building houses the administrative offices and some classrooms of the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory School.

FDR Confiscates Avery’s Yacht

The story does not begin in the streets of Chicago. Two years earlier, FDR, incensed by Avery’s refusal to comply with New Deal legislation, confiscated Avery’s yacht Lenore (view photos & source material). The vessel was of 94 tons displacement, length 92 feet, beam 16 feet and draft of 5 feet. The boat was built in 1931 for Sewell Avery, then Chairman of Montgomery Ward by the Defoe Boat Works of Bay City, Michigan. The boat was originally christened the Lenore after Lenore Avery, Sewell's second daughter who died at age 4. The yacht Lenore was originally used to cruise the waters of Lake Michigan near Avery's private estate at Iron Mountain. Serious disagreements between Montgomery Ward and the goverment over Roosevelt's NRA wage and price provisions led to the seizure of the boat by the goverment in 1942.

Renamed the Lenore II, she was used as a training ship for submarine crews in Portsmouth New Hampshire and later as an escort for the Presidential Yacht Williamsburg. The Lenore frequently carried the secret service agents who accompanied the President while he was aboard the 255 foot Williamsburg.

In 1953, President Eisenhower retired the splendid but costly Williamsburg from active service and authorized the refurnishing and overhauling of Lenora II at a cost of $200,000 and rechristened Barbara Ann in honor of his granddaughter. The Barbara Ann was used for occasional cruises and in the summers of 1957 and 1958 she sailed to Newport, Rhode Island where she conveyed the president to and from his golfing excursions.

With the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, the yacht was refitted and on March 7, 1961 was renamed the Honey Fitz, honoring JFK's maternal grandfather (Former Mayor of Boston, and member of the House of Representatives, John Francis Fitzgerald.

President Johnson did not rename the Honey Fitz and prefered it to the larger Sequoia which was still at the Washington Naval Yard. President Nixion renamed the Honey Fitz to Tricia after his daughter and had the vessel auctioned off in December 1971 after a brief tour of duty providing cruises for hospitalized Vietnam veterans. The boat was purchased by Joe Keating who named it the Presidents.

The yacht was completly restored and refitted as it was during Kennedys term and was used for charters based in New York city. She was sold to unknown buyers at the Kennedy Memorabilia Auctions in 1998, for $5,942,500. When the boat left overhaul the painted transom was once again embellished with Honey Fitz in gold leaf.

About the GWBHS

The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society (GWBHS) is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. It serves the Michigan communities of Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and West Bloomfield. The Society's goal is to provide a vital museum to familiarize residents with our area's history.
For more information, please visit


  1. Good info Buzz, I remember seeing that article before too. Now, with Oboma and the Rick Wagner removal, we see history repeating itself. I hope not too often.

    Paul Mellerowicz

  2. context: "Montgomery Ward Chairman Sewell Avery refused to comply with the terms of three different collective bargaining agreements with the United Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union hammered out between 1943 and 1944. In April 1944, after Sewell refused a second board order, Roosevelt called out the Army National Guard to seize the company's main plant in Chicago."

  3. Sewell was over thrown because he would not bow to the powerful Unions, Montgomery Ward did not deal with war materials and was not bound by the War Labor Dispute Acts, and the siezure was completely unconstitutional. And thus within the year the illinois Supreme Court overrulled FDR's Union take over.

  4. When war broke out, the first thing the Union did was go on strike, no care for anything but their own pockets. Perhaps a set up to aid FDR in passing the War labor Dispute Acts and give himself power to aid the Union in Unionizing the entire country. He should have been hung for pushing such agendas at anytime, let alone during a war. The left has only one goal at any given time, to advance their own personal agenda, and this was no different, and Sewell Avery stood up to their unconstitutional coup, and was seized unconstitutionally by the Federal Government under the arrogant FDR. The inventory of Montgomery Ward was completely of NON_WAR articles.

    1. spoken like a true corporate capitalist. tax payer bailouts for the rich and powerful after squandering and robbing their own coffers. screw the worker trying to support a family. nothing new.

    2. Spoken like a true mass murdering socialist. Theft and injustice as public policy. Screw the worker trying to get a job at union wages, screw the property owner who tries to supply those workers, screw civil society, and screw peace.