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cover Daniel and Floyd Hungerford: Rocket Power, Interstellar Travel and Eternal Life

by Geoffrey N. Stein

Chapter 5: POLITICS

For a man who spent most of his life self-employed and for a while was even a corporate president, Daniel Hungerford surprises in his candidacies for public office. It appears his family for many years, including his mother and brothers, were socialists. Perhaps Hungerford's experience as a machinist employed by others, albeit for a brief time, was a factor in his thinking. Perhaps important were his associations with skilled workmen employed by the large factories in the Elmira area (Willys-Morrow, Eclipse Machine Company and American Sales Book are examples) were influential. Still one wonders why a figure, as inventive as he was and as independent of many societal influences and norms, identified himself as a socialist.

Hungerford, his brothers and his mother were involved with Socialist Party events. In 1913, for example, the local organization “gave a delightful dancing reception last Monday” (December 29) including “charming music.” Among the committee of arrangements were Daniel Hungerford and his mother. “The members of Elmira local intend to hold other dancing parties during the winter.”141

Daniel and Floyd Hungerford often were candidates for office; Marvin said their earliest elections date from 1908. In 1913, Floyd may have been a candidate, perhaps for alderman or supervisor, while “David D. Hungerford”[sic.] ran as Socialist candidate for district attorney;142 Daniel Hungerford gathered 158 votes, but the Republican (“Fusion”) winner had 7,707 votes.143 In 1915, Daniel Hungerford was the Socialist candidate for the third ward alderman; $1 was collected from Hungerford by the Socialist Party's county committee.144

In 1924 and 1926 Daniel Hungerford was the Socialist Party candidate for the 37th congressional district seat. In both instances, the Republican Party incumbent, Gale H. Stalker, won handily over his Democratic Party opponent with Hungerford running a distant third in the voting (1924: Stalker, 59,498; Charles L. Durham, 27,763; Hungerford, 1,720. 1926: Stalker, 46,757; Edwin S. Underhill, 32,618; Hungerford, 933). In 1930, Hungerford was the Socialist party candidate for the Assembly polling 364 votes against 13,574 for Republican G. Archie Turner and 10,384 for Democrat John B. McCann.145 Still such overwhelming defeats didn't seem to discourage Hungerford. Marvin noted that Hungerford acknowledged he could not be elected as a Socialist in the Southern Tier. “Dan knew this but, as he explained to me, he had a lot of fun running!”146 Hungerford himself wrote,

       Im [sic] a Gene Debs – socialists--, first last and all the time--. During the past fifty plus years Iv'e [sic] probly [sic] been a candidate for public office more times than Norman Thomas and William Jennings Bryan – put together--, and never for the sake of the office....I never was or wanted to be elected to office--. It gave me prestage [sic] to throw monkey [sic] wrenches in to the politicians [sic] camps--.147

On November 3, 1932, the Elmira Advertiser reported that Daniel Hungerford and his brother Floyd were going to drive their rocket car to Syracuse that day to “aid in the campaign for Norman Thomas, Socialist candidate for president and at the same time inaugurate a drive to raise $1,000,000 for the promotion of rocketry in this country.” Upon his return to Elmira, Hungerford planned to “canvas [sic] the county in the interest of his candidacy for sheriff.”148

As chairman of the Chemung County Socialist Party, Daniel Hungerford and William C. Perry, a “local party organizer”, issued a statement after the election.

The Democratic party has virtually been placed in the position of ushering in the great Cooperative Commonwealth (of Socialism) and that it must be....Thanks is hereby extended to the many friends and Comrades who assisted in getting out the Socialist vote....The people are now giving the Democrats a shot at straightening things out.... Unless the Democrats now produce results, the electorate will rise up again and dethrone the party just as easily and effectively as it put the party in power Tuesday....The national vote polled Tuesday by the Socialist party serves as a reminder to the Democrats that they must produce....The Socialist party headquarters at 316 East Water Street will be perpetuated, it was announced. Study classes in the principles of the party are to be begun. If we polled two million votes Tuesday, we will be more than satisfied. A party that can poll that many votes constitutes a force which cannot be ignored.149

A week later, Daniel Hungerford and E. Marshall Bush, of the “resolutions committee” of the Socialist Party, planned to present a petition to the Common Council, asking the city to take over the distribution of milk “to its citizens”. Noting that farmers received five cents a quart while consumers paid ten, the petition asked the city to pay farmers “a fair profit” while selling milk “at purchase price plus cost of distribution, either as a monopoly or in competition with present distributors.”150

At a meeting of party members in 1934, Daniel Hungerford as county chairman of the Socialist Party was designated as candidate for the post of county welfare commissioner.

Ever ambitious and optimistic yet cognizant of the specter of left-wing violence, Hungerford, quoted in the Elmira Advertiser as the 1935 election approached, said as “Socialist Party County chairman”, the successful Socialists would retain city manager Florence J. Sullivan  because he had operated “in an honest and efficient manner.” Hungerford added that the party would be pleased to see unemployed Elmirans get jobs “even if they have to be in a privately-owned factory.” 

       In criticizing the plan of bringing a new industry here we have merely tried to point out the insecurities of private profit system, the dangers involved therein to organized labor and the vicious circle of competitive capitalism.
       My policy of leadership of the Socialist Party in Elmira for the past 25 years has been such as to direct progressive thought and energy along constructive channels. In keeping with this policy the Socialist Party has been successful in keeping the radical vote within its ranks, thus making it unnecessary for the formation of political groups in this vicinity that espouse violence and dictatorship.151

In 1936, despite having been reelected county chairman, Daniel Hungerford was reported to have abandoned the Socialist Party in the face of a split in the organization between an Old Guard and followers of Norman Thomas. Hungerford reportedly “stood for reconciliation”. He declined an invitation to join the Republican Party, adding that to “go along with the new Socialist Party would involve more time than I can give. I feel that I can accomplish more in the mechanical field than in the political field.”152

Although Marvin noted three Hungerford brothers continued “avid and active work on behalf of the Socialist Party”, in the mid-1930s Daniel Hungerford left the old organization. William meanwhile ran for Assembly on the Socialist Party ticket in 1937 receiving 186 votes with Lewis E. Mosher, the American Labor candidate, getting 49 votes. For 1938, the Assembly votes from Chemung County reversed popularity as William Hungerford received 107 votes and American Labor candidate Harry B. Martin 971 votes.153  

Figure 18:
This Daniel Hungerford's photograph ca. 1945 was used when he ran for Assembly in 1948.

Figure 19:
Floyd Hungerford was photographed about the same date as Daniel, about 1945.

In spite of his promise to focus on inventions, a decade later politics was on Hungerford's mind, and in 1948 he ran for the state assembly on the American Labor Party ticket. His handbill noted he believed “that the benefits of inventions as well as of all labor should belong to the people, not the monopolists and will continue to work toward this end in Albany.”

Figure 20A:
After twenty years of running for offices, Daniel Hungerford hoped to be an American Labor Party Assemblyman. Hungerford's plans for New York included a price control on milk, aid for housing, free university and other state paid schools, progressive income taxes, repeal of the cigarette tax, and a minimum $1 hour wage.

Figure 20B:
After twenty years of running for offices, Daniel Hungerford hoped to be an American Labor Party Assemblyman. Hungerford's plans for New York included a price control on milk, aid for housing, free university and other state paid schools, progressive income taxes, repeal of the cigarette tax, and a minimum $1 hour wage.

On November 7, 1948 just after the election, Hungerford wrote in response to a New York Times editorial (“Perspectives on the Election”) a six-page letter in pencil to the editors. Principally, Hungerford pointed to the significance of minor political parties. He praised Henry Wallace, presidential candidate for the American Labor Party, for warning the public about “the rapid drift toward world war three.” Minor parties, he continued, provide a public service “by presenting issues that otherwise would go by the board.” Then, Hungerford concluded his piece by moving his thought to other worlds.

...our great destiny does not consist in just quarreling over economics and national boundries [sic] in this world – but, involves the conquest of Space – occupation of the stars – and the attainment of Eternal Life on this Side of the grave-. Since that is true - Lets hasten our Progress – by ridding ourselves of all - Lost motion and most effort-. Let all the able bodied - do His and Her share of the usefull [sic] labor – but, before any has anything lets provide abundantly for the Incapacitated – what ever the cause -. Had Ponc Delion [sic] -,x Explorer of the Rivers of Florida – for the fountain of youth-, but know[n] that latent within himself resided the very Element Essential to the Ends he sought-, He might find him self reading this letter in an early issue of the New York Times.154

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In 1939, developers for a shopping site planned to demolish the Jervis Langdon family mansion, perhaps known best as the nineteenth century home of Olivia Langdon, who married Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). As Jervis Langdon was selling the property, the city discussed acquiring the house as a museum. But in the end, the city council declined to buy the property for its assessment valuation.155

The Elmira Advertiser reported that demolition beganon November 6, after the Langdon house was open to the public that morning from ten to twelve o'clock. On November 8 Hungerford and Marshall Bush on the scene carried signs for “Elmira Must Save Mark Twain Home. This Property Must Not Be Destroyed.” Hungerford announced that he planned to park the rocket car “under the traffic signal at Main and Church Sts. unless workmen engaged on the building laid down their tools.” He also said he had sent via telegram to the national announcer Lowell Thomas an “appeal...over a national radio hookup for preservation of the property.”

In response to Hungerford, Langdon said,

At no time has the Langdon family thought it possible that the residence might be preserved as a municipal memorial. Such a course did not seem practical I regret very much that any measures have been taken to picket the property.156

The next day, November 9, Hungerford said, “Uppermost in our minds is the preservation of the building for the future.” He added that he thought passersby “appeared deeply interested in the effort of halt demolition of the historic building. Experts have said that if the work can be halted before it proceeds further, a temporary roof can be applied without heavy expense.”

Meanwhile one man had sold several “large doors to preserve them.” He said he thought most items could be returned. Meanwhile, the demolition contractor, William Pedrick, said “picketing had reduced sales of material from the home.”157

There were three picketers now, Hungerford, Bush and Erwin D. French, identified, in the 1970s, as “leaders of the Socialist Party in Elmira.”158 Hungerford said he had spent “greater parts of the morning discussing the proposition with Elmira businessmen but had not obtained an acceptable plan.” The picketing would continue.159 

But in November 10, its purpose changed “to develop public sentiment in favor of devoting the property to memorial rather than commercial use.” A committee was to be organized to receive money “on a national scale”. Hungerford and Bush said they had not convinced the public to preserve the house; “there was strong sentiment for erecting a shrine on the property.” A Hungerford letter to the editor of the Star-Gazette on November 13, said that the “Mark Twin center” would provide the city as nationally known as was the “national gliding center.” Elmira would lose a “hundred thousand dollars” for tourist visitors if the shrine did not appear. Hungerford said actually the Langdon property had not been sold as one thought so that the construction of fifteen stores was not certain. Hungerford also added that Bush and he “found ourselves looking into a commercial movie camera. The old building was also movied [sic].”160

On November 10, 1939, the Advertiser said “souvenir hunters, mostly” had taken Langdon material. The contractor, William Pedrick, stated the “odd items” had no estimated value. But a few years later Hungerford said he had saved the important, historic newel post from the Langdon house. Hungerford said Mark Twain asking for Olivia Langdon's marriage had his hand on the post and Olivia's on top of his.161

In 1992 Shirley Hungerford Hyde remembered that her father fought a campaign to save the Langdon house. She wrote that friends from Elmira agreed it was a “crime to have lost a beautiful, historical landmark in order to erect a tiny two-bit plaza. Dan was a prime example of a man TRULY born way ahead of the times.162 In 2000, Thomas J. Carpenter related “the Hungerford Brothers picketed the site in opposition to destroying the Mansion. They did not succeed but they were way a head of their time [in terms of historic preservation].”163

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In the 1950s, Daniel Hungerford proposed a local museum project as he turned again to the preservation of local history. A supporter identified only by “Museum-Minded” in a letter to the editor of the Star-Gazette in November 1957 praised Hungerford's suggestion since “Relics now old will soon pass out of existence if not preserved now.”

       Dan Hungerford has been accused of being a theorist. His theories of the past are realities of today. Was it not Dan who was talking 30 years ago about the possibilities of space travel? Didn't he pioneer in aviation and built the first airport in Chemung County? Didn't he build the first rocket automobile ever licensed in the United States? The same vision lies behind his effort to establish a museum in Chemung County.164

            In 1967, Hungerford hoped to save the West Second Street house from which he had been evicted. The effort to demolish the house was, he said, “THE REASON FOR ALL this destruction –     THE LOCAL POLITICIANS ARE TRYING TO GET FOURTEEN—MILLLION [sic]  DOLLARS FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT –FOR URBAN RENEWAL--.” Hungerford continued to say the plan was to demolish all the structures on the south side of Water Street in the central district of the city. But he remembered,

IN 1956 WE [One assumes he meant Floyd and Daniel] DREW PLANS OF SUCH A PROJECT AND SUMITED [sic] A COPY TO GLENN BANFIELD – GLEN [sic] WAS CITY MANAGER – at the time – OUR PLAN WAS TO BUY THE LOTS – AS RAPIDLY AS THEY BECAME AVAILABLE—FOR ANY REASON –TOM LIKED OUR PLAN AND REMARKED—WE HAD DONE A LOT OF WORK—DRAWING UP THE PLAN AND NOT AT ANY COST TO THE CITY—THE CITY IS HIRING A MAN FROM ITHICA [sic] AT SEVERAL THOUSAND TO DRAW THE PLANS—NOW—OF SUCH IS OUR ADMINISTRATION—THERE WAS NO CHACE [sic] FOR KICK BACK IN OUR PLAN—OUR COUNCIL MEN HAVE THEIR HAND OUT FOG GRAFT AT EVERY TURN--.165

Still in the early 1960s, Daniel Hungerford thought the benefits of socialism were obvious. Contemplating the closing of the Chemung County [poor] Home at Breeseport, he wrote to the editor of the Star-Gazette that the county board of supervisors had better have invested in the facility “maintaining it in a world that is turning so rapidly to socialism.” A sales tax would not have been needed “if our people and public officials had set up a first class wholesale and retail business. The profit could have gone to defray the cost of government and we could have abolished all taxes.”166

And in November 1966 Hungerford wrote, “The capitalist system, [sic] is about 800 years old and coming to an end with terrible violence....You cant [sic] make capitalism work without war or preparation for war. Since World War Two our government has spent just under one trillion dollars for war.” But then he moved to other interests.

We are in the space age. Every living thing on this earth will be involved in this great task. You will no longer teach your children, that three score and ten stuff. You will teach them, to, achieve [sic], a life span of thousands of years. Even millions. So great will be mans [sic] ventures in to space. Had Ponce Deleon, explorer of the rivers of Florida, but known, that latent with in him self were the very elements, essential to the very ends he sought, might very well be reading this letter to day.
Very Sincerely
Daniel D and Floyd S. Hungerford167

In 1966, Daniel Hungerford promoted the candidacy of George Romney, governor of Michigan, for the presidency in the election of 1968. Why Hungerford thought Romney, a Republican, would fit into a socialist mold remains a mystery here. In any case, Romney in December 1966 wrote that if he were to run, he would contact Hungerford “concerning your participation.”168 That note elicited a three-page Hungerford letter disparaging capitalism and war. He urged Romney to run for president as an independent and promised to “campaign on your behalf, until [sic], as my mother used to say, the last dog is hung.”169 In a letter January 5, 1967, Hungerford indicated that it was Romney's success as the head of American Motors that prompted Hungerford's interest. He would have wanted Romney to run as an independent endorsed by Republicans and Democrats. With efficient operation of “our great industrial system” society would have “all we could possibly use.”

For some reason, Hungerford associated a Romney candidacy with a means to reoccupying the Hungerford house from which he had been evicted for non-payment of property taxes. In his letter to Robert John McIntosh, a lawyer in Port Huron, Michigan, Hungerford wrote of his eviction ending with “I know eternal God is on my side – and will avenge the acts of the local politicians....Unless we can elect – George Romney – Pres. In 1968 – We better not nominate him--.” In another letter Hungerford wrote, “We will organize – a Romney – for President – club as soon as we have the go ahead---.”170

 

 

141 The Telegram, January 4, 1914. “A feature of the evening was the ‘moonlight' dances in which varicolored calcium lights were thrown on the dancers....The programs were dainty affairs of red, gold and white, with the Socialist party emblem on the cover.”

142 The Telegram, November 16, 1913. The city directories 1912 and 1914 have no listings for “David D. Hungerford”.

143 Elmira Star-Gazette, November 5, 1913. The Democrat had 6,762 votes. Candidates for other parties received much smaller votes.

144 The Telegram, November 14, 1915.

145 New York State Red Book for 1931. Keith Marvin in his manuscript for “The Wizards of West Second Street”, p. 3, said all three Hungerford brothers “ran regularly on that ticket for county office – state senate, assemblyman, sheriff and others, and had done so as early as 1908.”

146 Keith Marvin to Geoffrey Stein, April 24, 2004.

147 Daniel D. Hungerford to Robert John McIntosh, January 5, 1967.

148 The Elmira Advertiser for August 17, 1932 reported the Socialist slate of candidates for the November election. Other Socialists running for office included E. Marshall Bush for assembly and Israel S. Putnam for county clerk. For county offices, the number of required signatures on the nominating petitions for county office was two for the Socialist and Law Preservation parties. For Republicans, 292 signatures were needed. For Democrats, 500.

149 Elmira Advertiser, November 10, 1932.

150 Elmira Advertiser, November 19, 1932.

151 October 31, 1935.

152 Unidentified clip from a pre-election 1936 Elmira newspaper.

153 Hutchins, Mason C., editor, The New York Red Book 1938 and 1939 (Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1938 and 1939). 

154 L. P. Huger, Letters Editor, responded to Hungerford on November 11, 1948, that the newspaper editors    “appreciate the courtesy and interest that prompted you to send us the enclosed contribution, but regret our inability to make use of it.”

155 Chemung County 1890-1975, pp. 86-87.

156 Star-Gazette, November 8, 1939.

157 Elmira Advertiser, November 9, 1939.

158 Chemung County, p. 87.

159 Star-Gazette, November 9, 1939.

160 Star-Gazette, November 13, 1939.

161 George Mapes telephone to Geoffrey Stein, September 19, 2009. 

162 Shirley H. Hyde to Geoffrey Stein, September 9 1992.

163 T. J. Carpenter to Igor Spajic, May 16, 2000. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) married Olivia Langdon in the house.

164 Newspaper clip dated November 18, 1957. The author suggests the writer was Erwin D. French, who elsewhere praised Daniel Hungerford's accomplishments.

165 Daniel D. Hungerford (signed “Daniel D. & Floyd S. Hungerford by D.D.H.”) to Steve Sekella, January 12, 1967. The buildings at the south side of East Water Street were demolished following the flood of 1972.

166 Undated clip. Hungerford's reference to “122 years of service” would suggest 1958 or 1959 for the date of the letter. Byrne, Chemung County 1890–1975, gives both 1836 (p. 210) and 1837 (p.434) as founding dates for the facility. The poor farm there closed in 1960 with the county infirmary moving to Elmira in 1971. 

167 Daniel D. Hungerford to Klaus Feuchtwanger, November 2, 1966. The contents of this letter parallel the text of “Our Philosophy of Life” a document dated May 23, 1962 in Hungerford's hand. A copy was made available to the author by Linda Lathrop, Hungerford's great-niece.

168 George Romney to Daniel D. Hungerford, December 3, 1966.

169 Daniel D. Hungerford to George Romney, December 12, 1966. In a postscript, Hungerford added, “In the event, Gov. Romney, you go over seas, please, be carefull. [sic] D.”

170 One letter is dated January 5, 1967. The other survives copied and incomplete in Hungerford's hand. Both letters are signed “Daniel D. & Floyd D. Hungerford by D. D. H.” as was Hungerford's custom after his brother's death.  More about the eviction history follows later in this work.




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