by Timothy Messer-Kruse, October 1, 2002
In the history of labor in Toledo, no figure stands taller than Richard T. Gosser.
Gosser's life both spanned and reflected the major trends of labor in the Twentieth Century. Born at the dawn of the century, on Dec. 13, 1900, Gosser ran with a tough crowd in his youth. Toledo in the early 1920s was a wide-open city with open defiance of Prohibition, slot machines blatantly displayed in drug stores, and a red light district that operated under the watchful but winking eye of the local police. In those days many young men bounced from factory job to factory job, as the city's automobile plants chewed up, spit out, and laid off employees at an alarming rate. Gosser entered the Willys-Overland plant in 1919, but supplemented his income through odd jobs for the local rackets. Soon he was in trouble with the law and spent a stint in a Michigan prison for highway robbery.
But though such a troubled biography would have meant the end of the line for many young men, Gosser rose above these circumstances. He returned to Overland by the mid-1920s and was soon promoted to foreman. There he gained the respect of his fellow workers and became active in the organization of an industrial union at the plant. In 1937, he was elected chairman of his union's plant committee and the following year he was elevated to president of the newly founded Local 12 of the United Automobile Workers of America.
Gosser was not satisfied to be a big fish in a small pond, and he strove to become a force in the national labor movement. Partly because his local was the second largest in the nation (only the River Rouge local that covered all of the west side of Detroit was larger) and partly because of his strong-arm tactics, Gosser soon became the kingmaker of the union. During World War Two he was elected director of a large chunk of the Ohio and Indiana region (Region 2B). Soon after the war, he became an international vice-president. In 1949, he played a crucial role in the election of Walter Reuther to the presidency of the union.
Locally as well, Gosser set his sights above union affairs. He became a powerful player in the local Democratic Party, he helped organize the Toledo Industrial Development Council and the Labor-Management Cooperation Council, and sat on the county port authority, all bodies in which he reveled in hobnobbing with the city's corporate and political chieftains.
Within his own union, Gosser's control was virtually uncontested; those foolish enough to challenge him were soon shown the door. But his popularity among the rank and file was genuinely earned as he took credit for the steady progress in union wages and benefits throughout the postwar years and the roster of expanding services offered to its members by Local 12. The scope of both the power and goodwill Gosser had built up over the past two decades is evident in the birthday dinner thrown in his honor in 1964.
It was not long before Gosser's expanding power and his unsavory friendships among a few underworld figures attracted the attention of his political foes. In 1959, when the Democrats in the Senate began an investigation into criminal racketeering in unions (focusing on the Republican-oriented Teamsters union), Senate Republicans responded by investigating the UAW, darling and pillar of the Democratic Party. Though little dirt could be dug up on Reuther directly, he was attacked indirectly through his ally, Gosser, for whom plenty of embarrassing details were found out (aided enthusiastically by the Toledo Blade, which had been watching Gosser closely for years). Though the McClellan committee investigations did not lead directly to any indictments or charges against Gosser, they did open the question of unreported income, which the I.R.S. did eventually look into. In a tangled succession of events, Gosser was eventually charged with conspiracy and jury tampering and sent to Federal Prison in 1965.
Speech of Richard Gosser on the occasion of Richard Gosser Day, June 18, 1964. (Canaday Center for Special Collections, University of Toledo)
When he was paroled in 1966, Gosser returned home to Toledo, not in disgrace, but to the open arms of his former constituents. A "Welcome Home" dinner for Gosser was attended by about 2,000 people.
Program for "Welcome Home" dinner thrown for Richard Gosser upon his release from prison. (Canaday Center for Special Collections, University of Toledo)
After his parole for medical reasons, Gosser petitioned President Johnson for a pardon. This request spurred the F.B.I. to compile a dossier on Gosser for the Justice Department's consideration of his pardon application, a dossier which is published here for the first time.
The F.B.I. dossier on Gosser reveals a number of interesting facts. For the most part, it confirms the substance of the earlier Blade investigations into Gosser's underworld connections. It also reveals that the F.B.I. knew of these activities, but had little interest in them during Gosser's career and only compiled a file on him when called upon to do so by the Justice Department. For the most part, these documents do not reveal anything terribly new, though they do illustrate well the context and environment of Toledo's labor movement during these years.
Richard Gosser died in 1969, though his legacy lives on in the large monument erected in his name on Ashland Avenue, as well as the various scholarships, buildings, and institutions in the area named in his honor.
The Gosser File begins with documents relating to the federal investigation into allegations of conspiracy and jury tampering in 1962 and 1963 (pages 1-38). It then deals with Gosser's attempt to win a presidential pardon (pages 39-46). Reports of field offices on their investigations into Gosser's background complete the file; the Miami office's investigation can be found on pages 47-66. The Cleveland office's interesting and revealing probe extends from pages 67 to 102.
The F.B.I. File of Richard T. Gosser [PDF]
Letter from Paul Block, Jr. to Richard Gosser welcoming him home from prison in 1966. [image/jpeg]
Letter from Toledo Bishop George J. Rehring to Richard Gosser in 1960. [image/jpeg]
Program for birthday dinner thrown for Richard Gosser. [PDF]
Speech of Richard Gosser on the occassion of Richard Gosser Day, June 18, 1964. [PDF]
Richard Gosser Award from the War Manpower Board, World War II. [image/jpeg]
Program for "Welcome Home" dinner thrown for Richard Gosser upon his release from prison. [PDF]
Richard Gosser speaking on occasion of Army Navy production award given to Willys-Overland in 1942. [image/jpeg].
Award given to Richard Gosser by the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, 1958. [image/jpeg].
Telegram from anonymous supporter to Gosser, 1960. [image/jpeg]
Thanks to Barbara Floyd of the Canaday Center for Special Collections at the University of Toledo for help with this exhibit. Original copies of the Gosser File are now included with the Richard T. Gosser Collection at the Canaday Center (MSS-025):