Mayor John F. Hylan records
Collection REC0013 - RG 001. Office of the Mayor of the City of New York
Collection REC0013 - RG 001/RG 001.JFH. Office of the Mayor, John F. Hylan
267 cubic feet (502 boxes and 34 volumes)
1912-1925, bulk 1918-1925
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John Francis Hylan (1868-1936) was the 96th Mayor of New York City from 1918 to 1925. He was born on a small, upstate farm in Hunter, New York, in the Catskills, on April 20, 1868. His father was an Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran; he served as a corporal in the 120th New York Infantry. His mother was of French and Welsh descent. Hylan and his siblings spent most of their childhood working on the family farm but were able to attend school for about five months a year.
At the age of 19, Hylan moved to New York City. He started out as a railroad track walker for the Brooklyn elevated railroad system. Once he felt financially secure, he returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Marion O’Hara, and the two moved to Bushwick. The couple later had one daughter, Virginia.
In 1891, he was promoted to a locomotive engineer on the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad (later known as the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT)). At night he took classes at Long Island Business College and New York Law School and would study during the day in the locomotive cab, a habit that allegedly led to his firing after taking a curve too fast, endangering a supervisor near the tracks.
While his railroad career was cut short, Hylan passed the bar in 1897 and began a small law practice. In 1906, then-Mayor McClellan appointed him as one of the two city magistrates for the Borough of Brooklyn, until he resigned in 1914 to accept the Governor’s appointment as a county judge in Kings County. It was here that Tammany Hall tapped him as a dark-horse Democratic candidate for Mayor. Newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, avidly promoted Hylan’s candidacy, as the two were both eager to install municipal ownership of utilities. Hylan won the 1917 election, defeating the reformer candidate and then-Mayor, John P. Mitchel, and won reelection in 1921.
Not surprisingly, a particular focus of the Hylan administration was transportation. During Hylan’s first year as Mayor, a Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) train on the Brighton Beach line derailed and left 93 passengers dead. Already financially struggling, the BRT became insolvent, eventually restructuring as the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT). Concurrently, the Interborough Rapid Transit System (IRT) was preparing to increase fares to fund track expansion. Hylan, a staunch defender of the five-cent fare, wanted to remove subway transportation from private interests entirely, so he formed a transit commission to begin conceptualizing a city-owned and operated subway system. On March 14, 1925, during his last year in office, the city-run Independent Subway System (ISS or IND) was established with a groundbreaking ceremony for its first line at St. Nicholas Avenue and West 128th Street. A fully city-run subway system was not established for another 15 years when the ISS merged with the BMT and IRT.
Highlights of his administration include building and repairing schools and hospitals; starting a system of terminal markets to reduce food costs; and securing New York City’s place as the healthiest city for a baby to be born. Plans to modernize and develop the city’s waterfront began. He constructed a long-anticipated boardwalk at Coney Island and opened it with much fanfare. A new Mayor’s Reception Committee began its formal welcoming of notable guests and foreign dignitaries to the city. One of the first municipal radio stations, WNYC, went on air. An expanded Fire Department installed new fire alarm systems and established a Bureau of Fire Investigation to operate 24-hours a day. There was over a 33% decrease in rates of murder, assault, and robbery by the end of Hylan’s administration.
In 1925, Hylan sought reelection for a third term, but lost the seat to fellow Tammany man and New York State Senator, James J. Walker. He attempted to secure the mayoralty once more in 1929 but ultimately withdrew. In 1930, Mayor Walker, in his second term, appointed Hylan to the Children’s Court bench.
On January 12, 1936, after a brief illness, John F. Hylan died at his home in Forest Hills, Queens. He is buried in St. John Cemetery, Middle Village.
- Feinman, Mark S. 1999, 2000. "History of the Independent Subway." nycsubway.org. https://www.nycsubway.org/wiki/History_of_the_Independent_Subway.
- Hylan, John F. 1922. Autobiography of John Francis Hylan, Mayor of New York. Authorized ed. New York: The Rotary Press.
- Hylan, John F. 1925. "Important Public Improvements and Achievements by the Municipal and Borough Governments of the City of New York, 1918-1925." New York City.
- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 1936. "City's Flags at Half-Mast for Ex-Mayor Hylan - Rites Slated for Wednesday." January 13.
- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 1906. "Hylan and Geismar Win." October 25.
- The New York Times. 1917. "Tammany's Candidate for Mayor." August 19.
- Guide to the records of Mayor John F. Hylan, 1918-1925
- Alexandra Hilton
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- 2018: Revised by Alexandra Hilton