American in the Making

He also knew the judge, who was an affable Tammany judge. The judge went out of his way to be nice to Jimmy, and my case was dismissed then and there. I started to protest—for all the good it did me! I had known Jimmy for some time, and after the case was dismissed, the judge came out, and Jimmy and the judge invited me to have a drink.

I was still protesting at the dismissal of my case. "Jimmy," I said, "how in the world can you possibly appear in a case to defeat your own law?"

And Jimmy, in his urbane way, said: "Fiorello, when are you going to get wise? Why do you suppose we introduce bills? We introduce them sometimes just to kill them. Other times we even have to pass a bill. Why are you in the Attorney General's office? You're not going to stay there all your life. You make your connections now, and later on you can pick up a lot of dough defending cases you are now prosecuting." And, of course, the judge acquiesced in all that.

"But," I said, "a lot of little storekeepers have been fined for selling the same kind of hams in wrappers."

"Fiorello," said Jimmy, "you stop worrying about those things. What are you in politics for—for love?"

Well, that was the end of the Walker Law so far as the big packers were concerned. When I reported the incident, no one in the department seemed to be shocked. They had run into the same kind of thing in the course of trying to enforce a great many of our laws. Once in a while, a conscientious deputy would proceed with his case, but sooner or later he would find himself blocked if big interests were involved. Politics, politics, politics! I found very little difference in their philosophy among members of either big party. I was to find the same kind of thing going on after I went to Congress.

But I just could not be a regular. Not to comply and accept the established custom, things as they are, but to raise a howl and kick, brands one as an insurgent. I managed to survive, but many others who bucked the machine during their early careers were through before they could get their start. I enjoyed the work in the Attorney General's office. I left it much wiser and not so innocent as when I entered it.


IN November, 1914, when I ran for Congress the first time and was defeated, there was very little war talk in the United States, though the war in Europe had been going on for four months. War orders were having their stimulating effect on employment, production, and business in general, and the country began to pull out of the depression it had been in just before the European nations went to war. While I was serving as Deputy Attorney General in 1915, I became convinced that the situation was serious, and decided that I might as well get myself ready for war.

I decided that I wanted to go into our Air Corps. I got hold of my friend Giuseppe Bellanca, the brother of my friend August Bellanca, the garment workers' leader. As a boy in Sicily, Giuseppe had got interested in aviation, when Santos-Dumont first started to fly there. Bellanca spent hours on the Sicilian beaches scaling flat stones and watching them hop. He carefully watched the birds fly and studied aerodynamics by himself. He managed to get a grounding in higher mathematics. Even as a boy he was always talking about flying.

Giuseppe Bellanca came to this country before the war and started making airplanes by hand. I was the attorney for the company he formed, which consisted of about twenty-five cooks and waiters, each of whom had put in about $100. All of thorn attended all the meetings of the company, which were quite exciting. I did their legal work free of charge.

Besides building planes, Giuseppe Bellanca ran a small flying school at Mineola, Long Island. It was there that I studied flying. Aviation was young then. Bollanca had two planes. One was used for instruction. It was a light Bleriot-type monoplane with a three-cylinder Anzani motor. It was a pretty little toy, but it flew. The motor was supposed to develop about thirty horsepower. If we got fifteen out of it, on actual test, we were doing well.

Quite an assortment of individuals were learning to fly at this school. We flew irregularly, whenever we had the time, and whenever the wind was right. I taught Bellanca how to run my secondhand Ford, while we were on route to his flying school. Mile-a-Minute Murphy was one of the other pupils. He was a New York City policeman who had made a record a generation before by riding a bicycle at the speed of a mile a minute, paced by a Long Island Railroad train. Bicycles were now too slow for him, so he decided to learn to fly. There was a Chinese, who was always mysterious about himself, and we never did learn where he had turned up from. There was also a Vermont farmer whose aunt was paying his bill and was very eager that he should learn how to do stunt flying. Then there was a young lady who had a perfect wardrobe of flying clothes, but who showed up very seldom for her lessons.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In