Historical Markers
Joseph Ridgway Grundy (1863-1961) Historical Marker
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Joseph Ridgway Grundy (1863-1961)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
610-680 Radcliffe St., Bristol

Dedication Date:
October 18, 2008

Behind the Marker

In the early 1800s the term "Grundyism"–based on Mrs. Grundy, a character in the 1798 play "Speed the Plough"–meant narrow-minded and meddlesome conventionalism. In the early 1900s, critics of powerful Pennsylvania lobbyist and United States Senator Joseph Ridgway Grundy (1863-1961) seized upon the term to describe the pro-business, low tax, high tariff, and anti-labor policies that he led his party in supporting.
Joseph R. Grundy, head-and-shoulders portrait
Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association president Joseph Grundy, June 1926.

Born into a Quaker family and educated at Swarthmore College, Joseph Grundy was the son of William Hulme Grundy, the president of Grundy and Company, a textile mill in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Grundy spent much of his early life in his father's mill, worked as a wool buyer after 1885, and then took over control of the mill after his father's death in 1893.

Grundy also entered local politics, where his hard work, genial personality, honesty, and ability to negotiate brought him to the attention of state Republican party bosses markerMatthew Quay and Boies Penrose, with whom he developed close friendships. In 1909, Grundy founded the Pennsylvania Association of Manufacturers (PMA), a confederation of manufacturers responsible for lobbying the Pennsylvania State Legislature, and later the US Senate, in support of high tariffs and against Progressive era legislation laws to protect workers and their families. The PMA raised large sums of money for Penrose, the state Republican party, and Republican candidates, including Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge's successful presidential campaigns in 1920 and 1924.
A gray haired man, with thick mustache and eyebrows, wearing a three piece dark suit, white shirt, and tie sits in a chair at a desk. His right hand leans against his chin and his left lies on his leg.
Andrew William Mellon by Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley, 1923.

Grundy and the PMA expected returns for their "investment" in candidates; the most important of which were high tariffs to protect American manufacturers, low business taxes, and opposition to labor unions, which it viewed as disorderly organizations that restrained trade. Intense lobbying by Grundy and the PMA, and the group's contributions to conservative Republican politicians helped delay the passage of Pennsylvania workmen's compensation legislation until 1920. And it was in 1920 that he helped Boise Penrose engineer the Republican nomination of Warren G. Harding for president in 1920 and the appointment of the PMA's wealthiest member, Pittsburgh industrialist and banker Andrew Mellon, as Secretary of the Treasury.

In the 1920s, Grundy was one of the nation's most powerful lobbyists for federal protection of American manufacturers. In 1926, Grundy supported Governor markerGifford Pinchot's refusal to certify Philadelphia Congressman Bill Vare's election to the United States Senate. (The boss of Philadelphia's powerful Republican party, Vare represented a serious political threat to the Grundy/Mellon faction that controlled the Pennsylvania Republican party). The seat remained vacant for the next three years. In 1929, Grundy became a national celebrity when he testified before a Senate committee in favor of the pending Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which called for the second highest tariff on imported manufactured goods in United States history. (The Tariff of 1828 was the highest.) Confronting senators from southern and western states head-on, whose farmers would most suffer from the higher prices on manufactured goods, Grundy argued that since their poor states added little to the manufacturing wealth or tax base of the nation, they had no right to shape national economic policies. "Frankly," Grundy told them, "when you come to analyze what they mean in the national life of this country, they haven't got any chips in the game at all."
This picture displays Joseph Grundy under fire from leftwing and southern critics during the 1929 Senate Hearings. He is forced out of his position as a lobbyist and bounces back into a senate position.
"Must Be One of Those Boomerangs of Something," New York Herald Tribune, 1929

Grundy's aggressive support of Smoot-Hawley won him powerful friends–and enemies. When the Senate refused to seat Bill Vare in 1929, Pennsylvania Governor markerJohn Fisher appointed Grundy the state's second United States Senator. Grundy was now one of the most powerful men in Pennsylvania. But his good fortune was not to last.

After the stock market crash in October, 1929 set off the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover, more than a 1,000 economists, and some of the nation's great industrial leaders, including Henry Ford, opposed passage of Smoot-Hawley, which would raise duties on 20,000 imported goods and thus anger other nations. Despite the opposition, Grundy and Andrew Mellon helped lead the campaign that culminated in passage of the law in June 1930. Angered by impact of the new American tariff on their own economies, other nations retaliated and American exports collapsed by half, aggravating a Depression caused, in part, by the pro-business, anti-labor policies that Grundy and Mellon had so aggressively promoted.

Joseph Grundy had risen to national prominence based on his extraordinary skills as a lobbyist, but his bluntness and arrogance won him enemies in the Senate and back in Pennsylvania. Back in 1911 Boise Penrose had called him "the best money raiser and the worst politician since Julius Caesar." In the summer of 1930 Grundy was defeated in the Republican primary for the Senate seat he was occupying by United States Labor Secretary James J. "Iron Puddler" Davis. A former Pittsburgh steel worker, Davis was supported by Pennsylvania's railroads, which rivaled manufacturing as a political force within the Commonwealth.
James J. Davis, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, and Cabinet Member under the President, is seen here after he had left Federal Court in New York, where he was indicted on ten counts on charges of violating the Federal laws prohibiting matter pertaining to lotteries from the mails
James J. Davis, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, and Cabinet Member...

As chairman of the PMA executive committee, Grundy remained a powerful force in Pennsylvania and in Bucks County politics, where he served as a Bristol borough councilman for thirty years, and effectively ran the local government until 1947, when he sold his business, resigned from the PMA and stepped down as president of the Farmers Bank, which he privately owned.

Joseph Grundy never married. An firm believer in the Gospel of Wealth, he made sizeable contributions to his hometown of Bristol, funding a public library and the town's sewage system, and donating land for schools. Nor was he as conservative as some of his angrier critics had argued. In the 1920s Grundy supported a state minimum working age of fourteen and increased funding for public education. During the Great Depression he supported reform markerGovernor Gifford Pinchot in his efforts to control deforestation, build roads, and regulate the cost of electric power - all of which were favorable to PMA associated businesses.

Grundy was ninety-eight years old when he died at his vacation home in the Bahamas in 1961. He remained politically active to the end because, as he said in the 1960 presidential campaign, "there's always some s-o-b–- that needs to be defeated." In his will, Grundy set up a foundation to endow a museum of local history to be located in his home and to build and support the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library, named in memory of his sister.
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