John Francis Hylan

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John Francis Hylan
File:John Francis Hylan in 1917.jpg
Born April 20, 1868
Hunter, New York
Died January 12, 1936 (aged 67)
Forest Hills, New York
Cause of death Heart attack
Education New York Law School (1897)
Net worth $5,000 (1936)
Title 96th Mayor of New York City[1]
Term 1918-1925
Predecessor John Purroy Mitchel
Successor James J. Walker
Political party Democratic

John Francis Hylan (April 20, 1868 – January 12, 1936), nicknamed "Red Mike", was the 96th Mayor of New York City from 1918 to 1925.

Life and career

Hylan was born in Hunter, New York a town in upstate Greene County, where his family owned a farm. Hylan married young, became dissatisfied with farm life, moved to Brooklyn with his bride, and enrolled at New York Law School in Manhattan. He found work on the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad and rose through the ranks to become a locomotive engineer. Ambitious, he studied law even as he worked on the railroad. He was fired after allegedly taking a curve too fast, endangering a supervisor who had been preparing to cross a track. Hylan always contended that he was wrongfully discharged. (Some versions of the story have him reading his law book at the same time as driving).

He was a long-time resident of the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.[2]

Hylan became a judge in the Kings (Brooklyn) county court and was in that position when he was tapped by Tammany Hall as a dark-horse candidate for mayor, running as a Democrat, through the promotion of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who shared with him a desire for municipal ownership of utilities.

Hylan defeated the reformer John Purroy Mitchel in the four-sided 1917 mayoral election, restoring the power of Tammany at City Hall. He easily won re-election in 1921 but was defeated for re-nomination in 1925 by State Senator James J. "Jimmy" Walker. Walker later appointed Hylan to the municipal judiciary.

As mayor, Hylan railed against "the interests" and put in motion the building of a publicly owned and operated subway system, which became the IND division of the New York City Subway. The 14-mile Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island was later renamed for him.

Following his mayoralty, his successor Jimmy Walker, whom Hylan had criticized, appointed him to Queens Children's Court.[3] When Alva Johnston asked Walker why he would appoint a rival, he quipped that it was so "the children now can be tried by their peer".[4]


Hylan died of a heart attack at the age of 67 on January 12, 1936 at his home in Forest Hills, Queens.[5][6] He left an estate of less than $5,000 in personal property and he owned no real estate.[7]


Hylan's most famous statement against "the interests" was the following speech, made in 1922, while he was the sitting Mayor of New York City:[8]

The real menace of our Republic is the invisible government, which like a giant octopus sprawls its slimy legs over our cities, states and nation. To depart from mere generalizations, let me say that at the head of this octopus are the RockefellerStandard Oil interests and a small group of powerful banking houses generally referred to as the international bankers. The little coterie of powerful international bankers virtually run the United States government for their own selfish purposes.

They practically control both parties, write political platforms, make catspaws of party leaders, use the leading men of private organizations, and resort to every device to place in nomination for high public office only such candidates as will be amenable to the dictates of corrupt big business.

These international bankers and Rockefeller–Standard Oil interests control the majority of the newspapers and magazines in this country. They use the columns of these papers to club into submission or drive out of office public officials who refuse to do the bidding of the powerful corrupt cliques which compose the invisible government. It operates under cover of a self-created screen [and] seizes our executive officers, legislative bodies, schools, courts, newspapers and every agency created for the public protection.

In popular culture

In the first issue of The New Yorker (February 21, 1925), a humor piece on the history of New York refers to John F. Hylan as "Jonef Hylan":

The next great figure in the early legends of New York is that of Jonef Hylan. Hylan, in all probability, was not a real person; but it is impossible to understand New York without giving careful study to the Hylan myth. In many respects, it resembles the Sun Myth of other great civilizations; for his head was as a head of flame, and he rose early each morning from beyond the East River, bringing light into all the dark places and heat into the sessions of the Board of Estimate. The populace called their Sun God "Red Mike"; but in the frenzy of their devotions, they simply yelled "Ra! Ra!"

He is then characterized as a "Champion of the People versus the Interests", which are "not people". Satan, it says, was behind the Interests, but William Randolph Hearst was behind Hylan, "and that evened things up".

In the April issue of The New Yorker the same year, a cartoon by Alfred Frueh shows firefighters carrying people from a burning building wearing placards with notices such as "This lucky man is being rescued by Mayor Hylan's firemen."

See also


  1. "The Green Book: Mayors of the City of New York". City of New York.
  2. "Regional Plan Group Finds Geographic Center Is Far From Population Center", The New York Times, March 26, 1937. Retrieved June 8, 2009. "Its best known resident in recent years was former Mayor John F. Hylan, who lived on Bushwick Avenue."
  3. Andy Newman; Sam Roberts (October 17, 2013). "New York Today: The Ex-Mayors". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Mitgang, Herbert (1996). The Man Who Rode the Tiger: The Life and Times of Judge Samuel Seabury. New York: Fordham University Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-8232-1721-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "John F. Hylan Dies Suddenly Of Heart Attack. Former New York Mayor Achieved Fame in His 5-Cent Fare Fight". The Washington Post. January 13, 1936. John F. Hylan, a farm boy, who parlayed $1.50 into a comfortable fortune and twice was elected Mayor of New York, died early today at his home in Forest Hills, Long Island, of heart disease. He was 68 years old. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Ex-mayor Hylan Dies Suddenly of Heart Attack. Stricken After Retiring in His Forest Hills Home, Succumbs Within a Few Minutes. Mayor from 1918 to 1925. An Up-State Farm Boy With Little Schooling, He Studied Law While Working". The New York Times. January 12, 1936. Retrieved 2008-06-30. Former Mayor John F. Hylan died of a heart attack about 1:15 o'clock this morning in his residence at 2 Olive Place, Forest Hills, Queens. He was in his sixty-eighth year.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Hylan's Estate is Under $5,000; Former Mayor Left His Entire Property, in Which There Was No Realty, to Widow". The New York Times. January 23, 1936. Former Mayor John F. Hylan, who died Jan. 12, left an estate of less than $5,000 in personal property and no real property, it was revealed yesterday when his will was filed for probate. The testament directs that all of his estate go to his widow, Mrs. Miriam L. Hylan, of 2 Olive Place, Forest Hills, who is named executrix. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Hylan Adds Pinchot to Presidency List; Foresees a Revolt". The New York Times. December 10, 1922.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
John Purroy Mitchel
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
James J. Walker