Corrupting Portland: Municipal corruption, organized crime, and the Teamsters Union in a post-World War II city

Robert C Donnelly, Marquette University


Despite Progressive Era reform efforts, Portland, Oregon was considered "wide-open" for gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging, and was riddled with municipal corruption. By the 1950s, municipal corruption and vice activities remained an entrenched part of Portland's culture. In April 1956, Oregonian crime reporters Wallace Turner and William Lambert launched a series of articles that exposed municipal corruption, described the extent of organized crime, and detailed evidence of labor racketeering in the Western Conference of Teamsters. The report attracted the interest of national political figures investigating racketeering by union officials in cities across the country. The subsequent congressional hearings publicized both Portland's failure to control vice crime and the municipal officials who tolerated, sanctioned, and profited from the city's vice economy. Using FBI records, reports of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, local court documents, memoirs, Oregon State Attorney General records, and oral histories, this dissertation documents the investigations into municipal corruption, organized crime, and labor racketeering in postwar Portland, and discusses the ramifications of the inquiries for the city and organized labor on both the local and national stages. This local history provides the basis for a broader understanding of the post-World War II era and the post-World War II city in America. Oregon, like Wisconsin, was a leading progressive state, and Portland in particular sought to address the problem of moral and political corruption. Thus, looking at Portland in this period allows us to understand the limits of Progressive Era reform while also posing the question whether the impetus to reform politics can be better understood as a modernist response, given the recurrence of municipal corruption and persistence of vice crime in this later period. Moreover, the role of the Teamsters in postwar Portland raises an important question about business unionism and the legacy of the Cold War.

Recommended Citation

Donnelly, Robert C, "Corrupting Portland: Municipal corruption, organized crime, and the Teamsters Union in a post-World War II city" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3123973.