E. H. Crump of Memphis
      ...Historic "Boss" of the city 1910-1954



Edward Hull Crump was the dominant force in Memphis politics for most of the first half of the 20th century.  And he also dominated the state of Tennessee politics for most of the time from the 1920s to the 1940s.  He was only mayor of Memphis from 1910 through 1915, and again briefly in 1940.  But, he effectively appointed every city mayor from 1915 to 1954.  He was the  "Boss" and ran the city of Memphis at the same time as Mayor Richard Daley ran everything in Chicago.  This is his story.



Click on small photos to see an enlargement 

E. H. Crump, a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, was born in 1874.  His father died in 1878 of Yellow Fever and his widowed mother along with young Ed and two other children, moved in with her family at the Sam McCorkle house in Holly Springs.  It was not an easy life for the family and Ed dropped out of school at 14 and went to work.  He then took a course in bookkeeping and began working his way up to management.  From the beginning he was good at business.

    Holly Springs, MS

Holly Springs, MS Sam McCorkle House Crump Place

Seventeen year old Ed moved to Memphis in 1893 with only a few bucks in his pocket.  When he arrived, the city was involved in the worst recession in the United States up to that time and it was difficult for him.  He did however have plans, and was able to obtain a clerical position with the Walter Goodman Cotton Company on Front Street.  This was the beginning of a successful business career.  Always one to think of bettering himself, Ed joined social clubs hoping to meet the right people.   Within ten years his political career began, as a delegate to the state convention and a spot on the Board of Public Works.  




In 1901, Crump began courting a 23 year old woman named Bessie Byrd McLean a prominent Memphis socialite who was said to be "one of the city's most beautiful and most sought after women."  She was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Robert McLean.   Robert was then vice president of the William R. Moore Dry Goods Company.  Crump and Bessie were married January 22, 1902 at the Calvary Episcopal Church. 

Bessie        Bessie Bessie Bessie Byrd McLean Ed and Bessie Ed and Bessie

At the time of his marriage,  Ed was treasurer of Woods-Chickasaw Manufacturing Co, a carriage-saddle firm.  His wife's father provided him with the funds to buy the company and the name was changed to "E. H. Crump Buggy and Harness Co".  After 8 successful years he sold it to devote all his time to public office.  Crump and Betty had three sons, Ed Jr, Robert, and John.  He was supposedly a devoted family man, and his family cared deeply for him, although it never looks like it in family photos.  The Crump home at 1962 Peabody Avenue was built in 1909 with Doric Columns and a Greek Revival Porch. 


Bessie and Ed


Crump 1948            Calvary

Crump Home:  1962 Peabody

Crump departs         Crump home today

138 Rare photos of the entire Crump family

Memphis Magazine

Crump's Death

1954 Funeral


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E. H. Crump began to make political connections that served him for the rest of his life.  He was a delegate to the Tennessee Democratic State Convention in 1902 and 1904.  In 1905 he was named to the municipal Board of Public Works and appointed Commissioner of Fire and Police in 1907.  He was on his way.   In 1909, W. C. Handy wrote the first blues song. It was actually a campaign theme for  E. H. Crump called "Boss Crump Blues" and was later published as "The Memphis Blues".  It really caught on quickly in the clubs, in part, due to its unique sound.   Crump was elected for his first term as Mayor or Memphis.



 Boss Crump Blues

In 1910 crump began to build a political machine which came to have statewide influence.  He was particularly adept in the use of what were the two politically weak minority groups in Tennessee - blacks and Republicans.  Unlike most Southern Democrats of his time, Crump was not opposed to blacks voting in Memphis  and they, for the most part were reliable Crump machine voters.  A relationship developed in which they aided him and he aided them.  He also skillfully manipulated Republicans, who were numerically very weak in Tennessee.  They frequently found it necessary to align themselves with Crump in order to accomplish any of their goals. 

Crump 1911  

When he was Commissioner of Fire and Police, Crump began a life-long interest in building the best Fire and Police Departments in the country.  He campaigned to upgrade both departments and to build inspiring public buildings for them.  After he became Mayor in 1910, he followed through on this.  Memphis Fire House #1 was built in 1910 and Crump continuously supported upgrading the fire department equipment and turning it into an all motorized department by 1919.


Fire Station #1

When the Great Depression hit, Crump was in firm control of Memphis.  Even if he weren't in an elected office at the time, one of his supporters would be.  Few politicians were elected to statewide office during this time without the support of the Crump political machine.  When Crump ran for County Trustee in 1916 and won, he developed a technique for registering voters that served him well over the next three decades.  Firemen and police officers who were now his friends, were taken off duty and used to transport people to register to vote.  25,000 voters were added to the polls in this election.  Crump's personal honesty was never questioned.  He wouldn't steal a nickel - just an election!



Crump was county treasurer of Shelby County from 1917 to 1923.  This gave him the salary he needed.   He was also a delegate to the Democratic National Convention seven times.  During this time he decided to run Memphis through intermediaries.  He set up his own insurance company in the Memphis Savings Bank building.  He named it "The Crump Insurance Co" and ran Memphis from the company office on the 6th floor - unofficially.  Those in government or wanting business with the Memphis government found it advisable to get their insurance from Crump's Insurance agency. 


Crump Ins Co

When Crump last left the mayor's office he left what he thought would be a puppet in charge.  The puppet rebelled and Crump promoted the election of another. This one was independent so Crump got someone else elected.  He also was a disappointment so Crump went to Nashville to arrange for Memphis to have a city-manager form of government which would abolish the office of mayor.  He was almost successful.  Having failed with his plan to abolish the mayor's office, Crump choose Rowlett Paine and got him elected.  But he wasn't satisfied with Paine and in the 1927 election he ran Watkins Overton for mayor.  Of course he won.  Overton was a member of the Memphis elite and was entirely willing to let Crump run Memphis for him.    Crump was happy!


In partnership with U. S. Senator Kenneth McKellar, Crump continued his domination of Tennessee politics in 1932.  He was then a member of Congress but essentially had no power in Washington, so he picked his successor for Congress (Walter Chandler) and went back to Memphis where his authority was relatively unchallenged.   He assembled a coalition of old-time Democrats, local civic and social groups, and groups of African Americans to vote his way.  He arranged to pave streets in the black parts of town and to develop a new park for African Americans in order to get their support.  

Senator McKellar - Crump        

Crump backed a city commission in Memphis to help fund temporary employment for out of work people and to give food and clothing to needy people.  After the 1937 flood of the Mississippi, Crump  pushed for a flood control project for the county.  He and other Tennessee lawmakers were influential in persuading the federal government to invest $9 million in the project.   
For twenty years, Crump had kept a card index of every white voter.  He knew how everyone voted and because he controlled every public job, he could pressure city workers and their families to vote for whomever he chose. 


In 1939 Crump was elected a final time as mayor, although that term was actually served by Walter Chandler.  At the time Chandler was U.S. Representative and Crump thought that Chandler's time was better spent with congressional matters in Washington than in local campaigning for mayor.  So, without a platform, without a speech, and without opposition, Crump ran and was elected mayor of Memphis.  He resigned immediately and the next day, the City Commission met and unanimously elected Chandler as Mayor. 

  Crump - Chandler

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By now, Crump had accomplished all his goals for Memphis, which were established when he first ran fro office.  He had gotten flood control, pushed private utility companies into public ones, and gotten the state legislature to allow counties to decide whether or not they wanted liquor sold there.  Crump usually preferred to work behind the scenes.  After his two terms as mayor at the beginning of his career, he essentially named the next several Mayors of Memphis.  And after years of working behind the scenes, he decided to run for U.S. Representative in 1930.  Crump was easily elected and served two terms.  In 1936 he was named to the Democratic National Committee, serving on that body until 1945. 

Formal Photo  

Crump - cronies     Crump 1948 Clifford Davis-Crump 1949 Crump - cronies 1950

Crump-Holly Springs 1952

<....The faces of E. H. Crump - mostly at Sports Events.  He rarely missed one...>

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The Crump organization used charity events and rewards, such as "Crump Charity Day at the Fairgrounds", to keep voters happy.   If a business were critical of Crump, they might find themselves being trailed by police officers and given tickets for the slightest infraction.  By controlling the vote-counting process in Shelby County, Crump could affect state elections.  Election returns from Shelby County were never turned in until all the rest of the state's voting had been recorded.  This gave the impression (probably correctly) that Shelby County officials were just waiting to see how many votes to assign to their favored candidate.  Voters who didn't show up to vote at the polls would have been surprised that they actually did vote.

Pippin Coaster   Greeting Ship Pax Island Queen

Cotton Carnival 1947

Whenever the Cincinnati excursion vessel, “Island Queen” arrived in Memphis, Mr. Crump saw to it that she was not charged a fee for docking. In return orphans, shut-ins, disabled, military personnel, etc. were taken on a day excursion, called "Crump's Boat Rides", including all the refreshments, free of charge. Of course all of the food and drinks were furnished by many Memphis businesses. No one refused a request from Boss Crump. 
No One!


Island Queen

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Crump made the cover of Time Magazine in 1946 and was described as "...the most absolute political Boss in the United States..."  Although he was still influential in Memphis politics until his death in 1954, Crump lost a lot of his power in 1948 when he opposed the election of Harry Truman as president.  He had supported the States' Rights Party who were opposed to Truman's Civil Rights laws which would have abolished the poll tax and increased penalties against lynching.  Crump's coalition fell apart as African Americans voted for Truman instead of with Crump.  He was not able to put the coalition back together. 

Time 1946  

In 1947 "Boss" Crump wouldn't allow the "Freedom Train" to stop in Memphis because he didn't want integrated crowds to view its precious original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The joke was no longer funny. The racism of this decision was likened to the policies of Hitler by some black preachers, and progressive Memphians were finally ready for a change.


Freedom Train

Freedom Train

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Crump's marks on Memphis can be still be seen today.  He was a strong supporter of fire service and for many years the Memphis Fire Department was considered one of the best in the country and is still quite well regarded.  He felt separate operations for each municipal utility were inefficient and today, the Memphis Light, Gas, and Water is one of the largest combined municipal utilities in the United States.  He believed that cities shouldn't be too noisy.  Memphis has strong noise ordinances that are more aggressively enforced than those of other cities.  He was an early supporter of automobile safety inspections.  All of  Memphis-registered vehicles are inspected annually.    

And  Crump  believed that cities should be clean.  Memphis developed the Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up campaign and was named Tennessee's cleanest city from 1940 through 1946 and the Nation's Cleanest city for 1948, 49, 50, and 51.  Very interesting, considering that during its early years Memphis was considered the dirtiest and most foul-smelling place on earth.  While all of these projects and innovations certainly benefited Crump personally, they also certainly benefited the city of Memphis  as well.  Memphis has shown its gratitude in multiple ways...

Crump Stadium

Crump Stadium was the Memphis Sports Stadium  built in 1934 with a capacity of 7,500. This WPA project was named for political boss E. H. Crump.  In 1939 the stadium was enlarged to hold 25,000. All high school football games were played here as well as intercollegiate football games.   E. H. Crump was a frequent visitor for most games .


In 1960 plans were to enlarge the stadium to 45,000 but halted when a new stadium was built at the Fairgrounds.  Crump Stadium was turned over to the Memphis City Schools.  In 2006 the school district demolished the decaying stadium and replaced it with a stadium "more appropriate for high school football".

Crump in stands The original gate The original Gate-Stands The original scoreboard... The new Crump Stadium
Crump Memorial

Memorial to Edward Hull Crump located near the Brooks Museum in Overton Park.  "Erected by the people of the city of Memphis in memory of Edward Hull Crump (1874-1954). His was a life of dedicated public service, wise counsel, human understanding, designed to make Memphis the city of good abode. This memorial sponsored by The Friends of Edward Hull Crump."


Crump Memorial

Crump Steamer

Named after Mayor E .H. Crump. this was the Memphis Fire Department’s first horse-driven steam fire engine.  In the 40s and 50s it was on display in a glass enclosed pavilion in Overton park.  It is now on display in the Memphis Fire Museum.

  Overton Park Pavilion

Memphis Fire Museum

Crump Building

Built in 1901, this was the North Memphis Savings Bank. But in 1920 it became the home of the E. H. Crump Insurance Company and it was here that "Boss" Crump controlled the city and state through his political machine. The building is now home to the Chamber of Commerce and the Center City Commission.

  The Crump Building


Crump Boulevard

Major Memphis highway named after E. H. Crump.


Crump Station

A new police station on Crump Boulevard which provides services to the most densely populated areas of Memphis.  This is the area to many of Memphis' oldest neighborhoods.


Crump Station


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The Georgia Tann association...

Crump's association with Georgia Tann is a less flattering view of his legacy.  Georgia Tann enjoyed his powerful protection in Memphis  as she illegally placed babies in adoptive homes.  Often these babies were stolen.  Ironically, Crump's association with Georgia Tann  lives on:  32 states still have sealed birth certificates for adoptees.


Georgia Tann

Judge C. Kelly

By 1924 Georgia Tann was working for the Tennessee Children's Home Society Orphanage, and specialized in adoptions.  Judge Camille Kelly has spent two years in medical school before marrying a prominent attorney.  She became the first female Juvenile Court judge in the south.  At some point Judge Kelly and Georgia Tann apparently reached a business agreement.  As a child custody case was brought before the court, the judge would award guardianship to the orphanage.  From that point, the child could, and would be adopted  - all quite legal.   The orphanage  received $7  for each child adopted

within the State of Tennessee.  But out-of-state adoptions cost as much as $5,000.  The money was split between the judge and Georgia.  Some of the people who adopted were quite famous, such as actress Joan Crawford, actor Dick Powell and his wife June Allyson, writer Pearl S. Buck, actress Lana Turner, and western actor Smiley Burnette.  It was very profitable to market to out-of-state wealthy people.

Tann didn't work alone; she bribed and paid off law enforcement, media, attorneys, and medical personnel.  Memphis Mayor Crump knew about these activities. Tann employed “spotters” to scout for children to steal and parents to scam.  From the 1920’s into the 1950’s it's impossible to know how many children went through her Children’s Home.  Many children died as a result of neglect and abuse.  Others were starved, beaten, molested,  Only when dedicated social worker Anne Beals began chipping away at Tann's respectable veneer did the terrible truth come to light.  But Georgia Tann was never punished for her deeds.  She died of cancer before the investigation was complete.

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Burial in historic Elmwood Cemetery

E. H. Crump died on October 16, 1954 and is buried in Memphis Elmwood Cemetery.  He had his headstone installed before his death and the legend is he would bring a picnic blanket and eat lunch admiring it.


        E. H. Crump Bessie Ed, Jr. Robert


Crump had been able to discard some of the more objectionable of his machine's practices because he knew that clever politicians will ultimately give the people the government that they want.   What Crump wanted was power - not money.  With power, there was no need for anyone to steal one single cent.  And he did have a sincere love for Memphis and Memphians - as long as they agreed with him.  With Crump, Memphians had gotten efficient government services, law and order, lower taxes, and a clean, quiet, beautiful city.  Was the trade-off worth it?





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