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Fred Thompson Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Thompson

Scope and Content of the Collection

Includes material related to Thompson’s immigration into the United States, photographs of unknown people, IWW and Kerr board meeting minutes, articles and manuscripts relating to the history of IWW and various other socialist organizations, and correspondence. The correspondence can be found in two places—the letters related to Thompson’s role with Kerr Publishing have been retained in Series 5, while the rest of his letters are in Series 2.


  • Creation: 1915-1997
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960 - 1985



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Fred Thompson Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Fred Thompson Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Fred Thompson

Frederick Willard Thompson was born in St. John, British Columbia, Canada, June 5, 1900. Shortly after graduating high school, Thompson began working in the shipyards in Halifax and then on the railroads in Edmonton and Calgary.

In 1922, he joined other workers in crossing the border into Washington State. Over the next year, Thompson worked as a laborer in short term positions involving lumber, irrigation, rail work, and construction in Washington, Oregon, and California. In 1928, Thompson began to teach at Work People’s College in Duluth, Minnesota, and he continued to teach there until the 1940s. He also maintained various labor jobs when not teaching, and bought a farm in Phelps in 1938.

Early in Thompson’s teenage years, he began to study economics and government. He soon became a member of the Socialist Party of Canada and educating himself on unions and socialist values. Upon immigrating to the United States, Thompson joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 1923, he was arrested in Marysville, charged and convicted of Criminal Syndicalism, and imprisoned in San Quentin until 1927. He was later pardoned of this conviction. In 1933, he moved to Detroit to work for the IWW and remained there until 1935, when he left to work for IWW in Ohio, and then later in Idaho and Oregon. He moved to Chicago in 1936 to work as General Secretary for IWW and later as editor of the IWW paper.

Thompson became one of the most prolific Wobbly scholars, well versed in the history of IWW and other American Labor movements, labor music and lyrics, and labor publications. In the 1970s, he worked with colleagues and friends to bring Kerr Publishing Company back from near bankruptcy, later becoming vice president and president of the Kerr Board.

Thompson married Jenny Velsek in 1928. They had one daughter, Florence Tromater. After almost 20 years of trial, Thompson was awarded United States citizenship in 1964. Thompson died on March 9, 1987.


2.2 Linear Feet (2 record cartons and 2 boxes)


Correspondence, writings, publications, photographs, etc. of Fred W. Thompson, I.W.W. official and historian, and president of the Charles H. Kerr Company. A radical in his native Canada, Thompson came to the United States in 1922 and joined the I.W.W. He remained an active member for over 65 years. In the 1970s, he joined a Kerr Publishing Company rescue effort. There is considerable correspondence with Wobblies, some addressed to Franklin H. Rosemont, and also photographs of union members.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Personal Papers, 1915-1989
Box 1
Series 2: Correspondence, 1944-1997
Box 1
Series 3: American Labor Movements, 1919-1996
Boxes 1-2
Series 4: Industrial Workers of the World, 1915-1997
Box 2
Series 5: Charles Kerr Publishing Company, 1928-1997
Boxes 3-4

Collection Stack Location

1 49 4


Gift of Penelope Rosemont, 2014 and 2017.

Processed by

Ella Wagner (processing plan), 2018; Emily Richardson, 2019.

Inventory of the Fred Thompson Papers, 1915-1997, bulk 1960-1985
Emily Richardson
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States