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'Ham and Eggs' Pension Plan Promised $30 a Week in '30s

February 13, 2005|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

The Allens collected nearly 800,000 signatures -- along with more than $300,000 -- and got the measure, Proposition 25, on the November 1938 ballot.

Critics denounced the plan as irresponsible, saying it would attract bums from out of state. Banks and some businesses cautioned that they would never accept such warrants. Critics called the idea a "flimflam" and a "snare and delusion." Upton Sinclair described it as a "cruel hoax" that "would not work."

The Allens hired broadcaster and orator Sherman Bainbridge as a promoter. Some say it was Bainbridge who coined the "Ham and Eggs" slogan.

With labor union support, he tried to wrestle "Ham and Eggs" away from the Allens. They expelled him from the movement and denounced him as a traitor.

Hundreds of Ham and Eggs clubs sprang up across California. Each meeting opened with the audience shouting, "Ham and eggs!" at the speaker, who responded, "Ham and eggs!" Members paid dues of a penny a day and bought booklets and lapel pins. By 1938, the clubs had 200,000 members and a newspaper. Profits went -- where else? -- to the Allens.

During the campaign, the brothers exhumed the body of Archie Price, a penniless, 64-year-old San Diegan who had killed himself because he was considered too old to work and too young for a pension.

They made Price a martyr, staging an elaborate ceremony to move his body from a potter's field to an expensive gravesite.

Proposition 25's popularity grew until, just before the election, Kynette -- in jail on an attempted-murder conviction -- charged that he had lent money to the Allens and wanted it back.

The allegations undermined Proposition 25. Although more than 1.1 million people voted yes, it received just 45% of the vote. But it helped revive the Democratic Party in California. "Ham and Eggs" supporter Culbert Olson was elected governor, and liberal Sheridan Downey won a U.S. Senate seat. (Noble had lost in the primary.)

The Allens persuaded Olson to call a special election in 1939 to give "Ham and Eggs" another chance. He did, but made clear that he no longer supported it. The Allens virtually doubled their campaign treasury, to nearly $600,000, but the measure lost again.

After that, "Ham and Eggs" was cooked in California.

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