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John F. Anderson, Vice President, International Association of Machinists, to Inspector John Moffitt, Department of Labor


Organizing department, 301 American Federation of Labor Building

Office of the Vice President

Washington, D.C., May 25, 1918.   


Mr. John Moffitt,

Labor Department,

War 4115. 

Dear Sir:

     I herewith desire to call your attention to what appears to be gross misconduct on the part of two men representing the Naval Intelligence Bureau, and to ask that you kindly make an investigation without delay and ascertain if it now is, and if it is going to continue to be the policy of the Navy Department to permit of the operations of such irresponsible persons.

     The case is as follows:

     About ten o’clock on May 24, these two officers called at the shop of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, where Mr. A Zahn, a member of the International Association of Machinists, is employed as a toolmaker. He was told by a member of the firm to get his coat and hat and be prepared to leave the shop, and after calling at the office was put under arrest, as it were, by the two representatives of the Naval Intelligence Bureau and escorted to #25 – Wall Street, New York.1

     After arriving there, he was subjected to a severe cross-examination, bordering on to what is termed a Third Degree, and was there compelled to divulge in detail the entire history of his life. Mr. Zahn did this in an honorable way. The United States Laws, referring to the prosecution of those who may interfere with the conduct of war necessities, were then read to him. He was accused of having violated these laws, and for this was threatened to be sent to jail for a period of thirty years. He was told he was a traitor to his country and also that he was not fit to live in the United States for twenty years, having received his naturalization papers immediately upon having resided in this country a sufficient length of time. In addition to this, he has shown his devotion to his adopted country by volunteering his services to the military forces of the United States in 1899, and served in the Spanish-American War, and has an honorable discharge from the service.

     These naval officers informed Mr. Zahn that they had been watching him for several months, and that his activities justified them in sending him away for life.

     However, after submitting Mr. Zahn to all these indignities, he was told to go back to the shop and behave himself, otherwise he would be locked up with the pack of traitors that were with him on the Shop Committee.

     In connection with Mr. Zahn’s activities, let me say that he is a member of the shop committee of the aforementioned shop, and has been discharging the duties of his position in an upright and proper manner, and he has done nothing, so far as I know, that has not been entirely in accordance with what we expect all out shop committeemen to do. We expect our shopcommitteemen to look after the interests of the men they represent in the shop where they may be working, and to carry on the legitimate work of negotiating wages and adjusting grievances. This Mr. Zahn has done, and no one has the right to term him the most abhorred of all names – traitor.

     It just so happened that Mr. Zahn was wearing a Liberty Bond button for he had purchased a Liberty Bond. He was told he had no right to wear this button. I would say that anyone making this statement is violating the laws of the country, for we are all encouraged to buy the Bonds and wear the buttons.

     I am sure that the accusations made against Mr. Zahn, to the effect that his activities warrant his arrest, are false or he would not have been released.

     I will request that you kindly insist that the Navy Department call their representatives in to make an explanation. I think an apology is due Mr. Zahn, and the rest of the committee upon whom they have cast reflections, and these irresponsible parties should be deprived of their commissions, if they are regulate officers, or at least put where they cannot foment trouble between employer and employee. The Kaiser has no better friends than men who conduct themselves as these two men have, for we want industrial peace now, and accusing loyal citizens of being traitors is not conducive of peace.

     I shall expect prompt action from the Navy Department upon this question, and stand ready to call Mr. Zahn in to testify in his own behalf when called upon.

     Bespeaking an early reply, I am

          Yours very truly,

               (Signed) J. F. Anderson,

                    International Vice President.

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels papers, Roll 65.

Footnote 1: Armin Zahn was investigated for his union activities and for raising funds for International Workers of the World members under arrest for labor agitation. According to an unknown officer of the Naval Intelligence Service, management at the Sperry Gyroscopic Company reported Zahn because he:

. . . has been the author of the unreasonable demands made by the employees, and that the dissatisfaction among the workmen is due directly, and almost totally, to his influence. The records of the case on file at this Office show that he is the real disturbing element at this plant, which is producing confidential apparatus for the Navy Department, the production of which is of the highest importance. . .

The apparatus referred to was the Sperry gyrocompass piloting system for automatic steering of naval vessels. The author of the memorandum claimed that contrary to Zahn’s claims, the Naval Intelligence Officers claimed they only pointed out that Zahn was in violation of the April 20th, Sedition Law barring organization and speaking out against the war effort. However, they also noted that Zahn’s three brothers served in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Memorandum for Roger Welles, 7 June 1918, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels papers, Roll 65; “History of Sperry marine,” Sperry Marine, Accessed 18 May 2017,