Friday, May 6, 2011

Quite the Pair: Herbert H. Bigelow and Charlie Ward

Hubert Huse Bigelow was the chief executive officer of Brown and Bigelow, a company in St. Paul, Minnesota which produced playing cards and calendars. Industry magazine described him as "one of the foremost citizens of the Midwest." His partner, Hiram Brown, was actually quite apart from the day to day operations of the company, but Bigelow was famous for a meticulous management style and a tendency to wear unnecessarily cheap suites.

When the Sixteenth Amendment created the federal income tax, Bigelow simply ignored the law and became the first "big-name" target of government prosecutors. As a result, he was convicted on June 24, 1924. Bigelow was fined ten thousand dollars and sentenced to two years in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Prison life was not exactly comfortable for businessman Bigelow. Indeed, he constantly felt as though his life was being threatened. Something had to be done, or someone was going to have to step in and provide protection. As U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle described it, Bigelow just happened to meet a man “in the cell next to him” and the two became "friends.” But others would claim that Bigelow’s lawyer, Will Oppenheimer, arranged for his client to meet and share the same cell with one Charles Allen Ward, the man who would provide the necessary protection.

Ward had been in prison for almost four years by the time he “met” Bigelow. He was born in Seattle and, after high school, went from a job selling newspapers to a job shining shoes. This led him to work as a commercial fisherman and driving dog-sleds. He even managed a hotel before moving to Tijuana to run his own casino.

With a craving for greater variety in his life, Ward moved to Mexico and met legendary bandit and revolutionary Pancho Villa. Some suggest Ward “fought” for Mr. Villa. Others recognize Ward’s value – as a cattle thief - to Mr. Villa’s commissary. Either way, Ward was arrested in the middle of a trip to Denver for possession of drugs in violation of the Harrison Anti-Narcotics Act. Ward called the charge a “bum rap” and claimed that the damning package had been planted in his room by people who were out to get him. The jury responded with two indictments and a conviction. In December of 1920, he was fined two thousand dollars and sentenced to ten years in federal prison.

So, businessman Bigelow and the diversified Ward became friends in prison. Most accounts of their friendship observe Bigelow promised Ward a job when their days in the pen were up. It was that least that could be done for the needed protection. Ward was released on parole May 15, 1925, and discharged from the conditions of parole on September 1, 1927.

President Calvin Coolidge granted Hubert H. Bigelow a pardon on April 13, 1928. The Annual Report of the Attorney General observed that the pardon was supported by Governor Christianson of Minnesota, Judge Cant and a prosecuting attorney and the Attorney General.

As was supposedly promised, Ward went to work at Brown and Bigelow. As the years passed, the company actually became famous for hiring hundreds of ex-convicts. By 1933, ex-convict Ward was Vice-President of Brown and Bigelow. Ironically, he and Bigelow did not get along well when it came to conducting the company’s business.

1933 also happened to be the year that the sixty-three year old Hubert Bigelow decided to take a canoe trip in Northern Minnesota. An Indian guide was said to have “sniffed at the wind” and warned Bigelow to take an additional guide and a larger canoe. But Bigelow would not buy into the idea. The bodies of the president of Brown and Bigelow and one thirty-nine year old Mrs. Ralph Mather were found some time later. Their guide, Howard Schaeffer, was unaccounted for.

Herbert H. Bigelow left a three million dollar estate.

Franklin Roosevelt granted Ward a pardon to restore his civil rights on September 19, 1935. The President’s clemency warrant noted Ward had conducted his life in a “law-abiding manner” since his release from prison. Attorney General Biddle noted Ward married a “pretty wife” at fifty-three and was a millionaire in ten years. Brown and Bigelow employed five thousand men. Armand Hammer’s autobiography would later note that, in 1943, Ward was able to express his gratitude to Roosevelt by giving him a Faberge egg worth fifty thousand dollars as a birthday present.

Brown and Bigelow began its relationship with Norman Rockwell and the Boy Scouts of America in the 1920’s, but much of the post depression success of the convict employing company could be attributed to its emphasis on calendars of pin-up models. From 1946 to 1950, Earl Moran created several images of a young blonde, named “Norma Jean” Dougherty. “Norma Jean” graced the pages of Brown and Bigelow calendars, went on to become “Marilyn Monroe” and the rest is history.

Charles Ward died in 1959. Today, company spokespersons are more likely to emphasize the production of wildlife and scenic calendars.

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