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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 1 - Early Days With Boss Davis

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

The first impression to strike the present day traveler to Jersey City is that it is old. (Editorís note: Professor Foster did his research in advance of the nearly total collapse of industry and commerce in Jersey City and nearly twenty years before the major new construction commenced.) Though not a pretty town, it is a busy one. Soot blackened tenements lie beneath the smoke belching chimneys of haphazardly located industrial plants. The thick air is occasionally cut by a shriek of a diesel engine brake or the moan of a tugboatís whistle. Rats patrol mile after mile of humming wharves. Jersey City has changed little since Frank Hagueís youth. In 1900 the population was just under 200,000. In ten years it jumped to 268,000, roughly the same figure it boasts today. Immigrants accounted for about 20,000 of these newcomers in the first decade of the twentieth century.1 Since 1910, immigrants have ceased to be a factor in the growth rate, as they have settled in New York or headed west to Chicago or elsewhere. (Editorís note: immigrants are again a major component of population growth in Jersey City.) However, in 1910 they made up almost thirty percent of the population, and their influence was felt heavily in local politics.

Manufacturing, along with rail and shipping facilities provides the basis of her economy, just as it did at the turn of the century. (Editorís note: the FIRE sector - financial, insurance and real estate - is the employment engine for Jersey City in the new millennium.) Basically, Jersey City was, and still is, a blue collar town. As in may of the older eastern cities, the Catholic influence remains very strong.

Few open spaces graced the city in 1900. Children played in the streets, and if they were interested in self-preservation, they were likely to join a neighborhood gang. In the streets, the law of the jungle prevailed: do unto him: before he does unto you. This philosophy also prevailed in local politics. To get ahead, it was advisable to ingratiate oneself with the local ward leader. If his star rose, you stayed with him, and, if you served him well, you might rise with him. On the other hand, at the first sign of weakness, you deserted him and looked for a new strongman. While party loyalty was usually strong, individual loyalty was not; alliances tended to be short-lived and for convenience.

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