How Abe Ruef Became a Political Crime Boss in San Francisco

By Phineas Upham

The story of Abe Ruef involves one of the most widespread corruption cases in San Francisco history, but it’s a tale that many of us have heard before to varying degrees. Ruef was a Republican at the time, which put him square in the group of allies that supported expansion of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Ruef was a patient and methodical man. He sought out groups over the years who would support his agenda, reaching across political spectrums to minorities as well. During this time, Ruef also built several relationships with unions, as he recognized their place in the working society and knew he needed some kind of insiders edge. There is evidence that he was quite close to taking control of the Teamsters Union at one point.

During his travels, he met the president of the Musician’s Union. The man was a violin player by the name of Eugene Schmitz. Schmitz and Ruef fast became friends, with Schmitz having no real idea of Ruef’s true intentions. When the Labor Union Party sought a mayoral candidate in San Francisco, Ruef put a significant amount of money behind Schmitz.

Because Ruef knew all the bar and restaurant owners, thanks to his relationships with respective union parties, he was able to keep conversation about Schmitz going in the various taverns around the city. With Schmitz elected, Ruef was free to handle contracts on behalf of Labor.

Ruef managed to funnel funds by writing himself into books as a political consultant, or an advisor. Once Schmitz was in office, there was little that he could do to stop Ruef and the two were eventually tried in 1905. This kicked off a series of attempts to find Ruef and his colleagues guilty, but Ruef only served four years in prison for his crimes.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.