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Rhinelander Waldo (May 24, 1877 – August 13, 1927) was appointed the seventh New York City Fire Commissioner by Mayor William Jay Gaynor on January 13, 1910. He resigned on May 23, 1911, less than two months after the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to accept an appointment as the eighth New York City Police Commissioner. On December 31, 1913, he was dismissed by the outgoing acting mayor, Ardolph Kline. Among other achievements in office, Waldo contributed to the motorization of both departments.

Rhinelander Waldo
Where is Waldo.jpg
Waldo circa 1915
7th New York City Fire Commissioner
In office
January 13, 1910 – May 23, 1911
Appointed byWilliam Jay Gaynor
8th New York City Police Commissioner
In office
May 23, 1911 – December 31, 1913
Appointed byWilliam Jay Gaynor
Personal details
Born(1877-05-24)May 24, 1877
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 13, 1927(1927-08-13) (aged 50)
Garrison, New York, U.S.


Rhinelander Waldo was born on May 24, 1877 in New York City to Francis Wilson Waldo, a stockbroker who died in 1878, and Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo.[1] He joined the Seventeenth Infantry Regiment of the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1899, after the United States had occupied the Philippine Islands in the Spanish–American War. In the course of nearly four years in the Philippines, he served under General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., was on the staff of General Leonard Wood during the Moro rebellion, and commanded a battalion of Philippine Scouts. He resigned from the Army in 1905 with the rank of Captain, and became New York's First Deputy Commissioner of Police in January 1906, at the age of 28.[2] He married Virginia Otis Heckscher on April 20, 1910 in New York City.

Waldo, who had served as New York City Fire Commissioner since the beginning of Mayor Gaynor's term in January 1910, was in office at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which occurred on March 25, 1911 and killed 146 people.[3]

On June 9, 1911, only 17 days after taking office as Police Commissioner, Waldo founded the motor-cycle squad, organized under the Office of Street Traffic Regulation Bureau.[4] Another of his early acts as Police Commissioner was the appointment of three "Strong Arm" anti-vice squads and their commanders—one of whom, Charles Becker, was later executed for complicity in the July 1912 murder of the bookmaker Herman Rosenthal (shortly after Rosenthal had told the press of extortion by Becker and other police).

Acting Mayor Ardolph Kline's elected successor, John Purroy Mitchel, indicated before taking office at noon on January 1, 1914, that he would not keep Commissioner Waldo in office. Waldo tendered his resignation effective at midnight December 31, 1913, after transferring or accepting resignations from most of the department's senior officers and specialists. Amid much confusion and discord, Mayor Kline (who had taken office after Mayor Gaynor's death in September 1913) refused to accept Waldo's resignation (which would have left the Department without leaders for the first 12 hours after New Year's Eve) and fired him instead.[5]

He died on August 13, 1927 in Garrison, New York of sepsis.[6]

Fictional portrayals of WaldoEdit

Waldo was portrayed by James Cagney in the 1981 film, Ragtime, despite the age difference (Cagney was 81 years old when he filmed this movie; the real Rhinelander Waldo was only 32 at the time in which the movie was set and died at age 50.) However, in E.L. Doctorow's original novel Ragtime (published in 1975), Waldo's role is minor while Charles S. Whitman, the real-life Manhattan District Attorney at the time, performs most of the fictional words and deeds that the film based on Doctorow's book would later assign to Waldo.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gray, Christopher. "From a Mysterious Mansion to a Ralph Lauren Store", The New York Times, published on line October 7, 2010, and on page RE9 of the printed New York edition of Sunday, October 10, 2010. (Retrieved October 12, 2010).
  2. ^ Rhinelander Waldo Is First Police Deputy; Was a Captain in the Regular Army – Only 30 Years Old – Appointment a Surprise – New Deputy Made a Good Record in the Philippines – Is a Cousin of Lispenard Stewart. The New York Times, Wednesday, January 24, 1906, page 2, retrieved June 20, 2008, beginning "Capt. Rhinelander Waldo, until recently a Captain in the United States Army, was appointed First Deputy Commissioner of Police yesterday by Commissioner Bingham. None of the many guessers had hit upon Mr. Waldo's name, and his appointment surprised everybody not in the Commissioner's confidence."
  3. ^ 141 Men And Girls Die In Waist Factory Fire; Trapped High Up In Washington Place Building; Street Strewn With Bodies; Piles Of Dead Inside – The Flames Spread with Deadly Rapidity Through Flimsy Material Used in the Factory. The New York Times, Sunday, March 26, 1911, page 1, retrieved on June 20, 2008.
  4. ^ "Indian" brand Motorcycle Exhibit Archived 2009-03-19 at the Wayback Machine at the New York Police Museum -- retrieved on June 20, 2008.
  5. ^ Kline Ousts Waldo; Calls Him Childish – Willing to Break Down Police Department to Satisfy His Pique, Mayor Writes. The New York Times, Thursday, January 1, 1914, page 1, retrieved on June 20, 2008, beginning "Rhinelander Waldo was summarily dismissed from office as Police Commissioner yesterday by Mayor Kline. The removal came as the climax of a series of complications that had kept the department in a turmoil ever since it became definitely known that Mayor-elect Mitchel intended to let Waldo go and appoint a Police Commissioner of his own choosing."
  6. ^ Col. Waldo, 50, Dies Of Septic Poisoning – Former Police and Fire Head Succumbs at Garrison, N.Y., of an Old Ailment – Served in the Philippines – Arduous Labors There Blamed for Fatal Illness – Storm Centre While In Office HereThe New York Times, Sunday, August 14, 1927, page 28, retrieved on August 10, 2008.

Other sourcesEdit

  • Gaynor Puts Waldo In Cropsey's Place - Tells Him to Banish Favoritism from Police as He Did from Fire Department - New York Times article: May 24, 1911, page 1, retrieved on June 21, 2008. This article reprints (among several other documents) a letter from outgoing Fire Commissioner Waldo to Acting Fire Chief John Kenlon, in which he claims, "During my administration I inaugurated the use of motor apparatus. I believe this will become more general and greatly increase the efficiency of operation." However Donald J. Cameron's article on "firefighting" in The Encyclopedia of New York City (edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, Yale 1995, ISBN 0-300-05536-6) says that the Department started installing motor engines in 1907 and completed the process by 1922.
  • Mayor Stays Away From Waldo Dinner - Much Comment Among 600 Guests at Testimonial to Commissioner - No Explanation Given - Mr. Kline Was Chairman of Committee That Arranged Function and Was to be Toastmaster. The New York Times, Tuesday, December 30, 1913, page 2, retrieved on June 20, 2008 - This story reports Commissioner Waldo's farewell remarks, including a review of his own record.

External linksEdit