Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Lewisburg, Union County
Teamsters Union president and memoirist, Jimmy Hoffa served four years in Lewisburg Federal Prison.
Jimmy Hoffa was born to poor, working-class parents in 1913, which led him to a lifelong commitment to organized labor and unions. Hoffa is remembered for his charisma and devotion but also for his ruthless administrative tactics. The subject of extensive federal investigations, Hoffa was incarcerated in Lewisburg Federal Prison in Union County, Pennsylvania, from 1967 to 1971. Hoffa wrote two autobiographies: The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa (as told to Donald I. Rogers) and Hoffa: The Real Story (as told to Oscar Fraley). In 1975, Hoffa disappeared, and his death remains one of the great unsolved crimes of the last century.
Jimmy Hoffa was born on February 14, 1913, in the small town of Brazil, Indiana. His father died from lung disease in 1920, due to poor working conditions in the coal mines. Hoffa's mother later moved the family to Detroit, Michigan. Hoffa attended school until the ninth grade, when he became a full-time stock boy at Kroger's grocery store. At age 17, Hoffa cleverly planned a workers' strike to coincide with a delivery of fresh fruit. Management acquiesced quickly in order to get workers back on the job before the fruit spoiled. Hoffa parlayed this victory into a greater success: he incorporated Kroger's workers into a local Teamsters union.
With this local success, Hoffa came to the attention of the national union. By age 28, Hoffa had been elected vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and in 1957 he became its president. Hoffa made no secret of his connections to the mafia, believing his organized crime ties were useful in preventing strike interference for his union members. He used his connections to intimidate rival unions and to keep himself out of prison. Hoffa's actions made him the subject of a number of federal investigations during the 50's and 60's. In particular, he drew the ire of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who became determined to have Hoffa imprisoned. In 1964, Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering and the fraudulent use of union pension funds. Hoffa retained his IBT presidency while incarcerated in Lewisburg Federal Prison, but appointed Frank Fitzsimmons to watch over the union in his absence. He was denied parole three times, in part because of his unwillingness to renounce his union ties. Hoffa remained involved with both labor and organized crime until his disappearance in 1975.
While Hoffa is thought of as a labor leader first and foremost, he has two autobiographies to his credit. The first, The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa, was told to Donald I. Rogers and published while Hoffa was still in Lewisburg Federal Prison, in 1970. The second, written in 1975, was as told to Oscar Fraley, and is titled Hoffa: The Real Story. The writing style of these autobiographies mirrors Hoffa's own personality: straightforward and forceful. Hoffa confessed what he considered to be his two biggest mistakes: becoming involved in what he deemed a blood feud with Robert F. Kennedy and appointing Frank Fitzsimmons as his successor in the IBT.
Though Hoffa had supported Fitzsimmons initially, he later became determined to oust Fitzsimmons and take back his role as IBT president. To get out of jail, Hoffa formally agreed to relinquish his presidency, despite inwardly hoping to regain it once out of jail. President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence on December 23, 1971, and Hoffa left jail that same day. In Hoffa: The Real Story, Hoffa accused against Fitzsimmons of corruption, most likely in an attempt to recover control of the IBT. In this case, Hoffa's book was not merely a chance to tell his story; it was a power play. Some have suggested that Hoffa's writing may have even brought about his death. His son believes that only someone connected to Fitzsimmons would have had a strong motive to kill his father. While this is merely speculation, it is true that Hoffa's work was as incendiary as many of his union tactics.
Today, the story of Jimmy Hoffa still puzzles law enforcement officials. Hoffa left his home on July 30, 1975, promising his wife he would be back in time for dinner. He was headed to a lunch meeting with Anthony Giacalone, reputed to be part of Detroit's organized crime ring, and Anthony Provenzano, a New Jersey Teamsters boss. Witnesses report seeing Hoffa outside of the Machus Red Fox restaurant; what happened to him afterward remains unknown. His body has never been found. Police often pin Hoffa's death on the mafia but have never been able to convict anyone. Hoffa's life has inspired a number of books and one movie, Hoffa (1992), which starred Jack Nicholson. Each presents its own theory of Hoffa's demise, but none has been confirmed.
(As told to Donald I. Rogers). The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1970.
(As told to Oscar Fraley). Hoffa: The Real Story. New York: Stein and Day, 1975.
Brandt, Charles. I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank The Irishman Sheeran and the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the Final Ride of Jimmy Hoffa. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, June 2004.