James Rolph, Governor

Is your surname Rolph?

Research the Rolph family

James Rolph, Governor's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


James Rolph, Jr.

Also Known As: "Sunny Jim"
Birthdate: (64)
Birthplace: San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
Death: June 2, 1934 (64)
Santa Clara County, California, United States
Place of Burial: Colma, San Mateo County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of James Rolph and Margaret Nicol
Brother of Thomas Rolph, U.S. Congress

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About James Rolph, Governor


James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Jr. (August 23, 1869 – June 2, 1934) was an American politician and a member of the Republican Party. He was elected to a single term as the 27th governor of California from January 6, 1931 until his death on June 2, 1934 at the height of the Great Depression. Previously, Rolph had been the 30th mayor of San Francisco from January 8, 1912 until his resignation to become governor. Rolph remains the longest serving mayor in San Francisco history.


Rolph was born in San Francisco. He had one younger brother. After attending school in the Mission District, he went to work as an office boy in a commission house. He married Annie Marshall Reid (1872-1956) and had at least one son: James Rolph, III (1904-1980).

Rolph entered the shipping business in 1900, by forming a partnership with George Hind. He would over the next decade, serve as president of two banks, one of which he helped establish. Although he was asked to run for mayor in 1909, he chose to wait until 1911 to run for mayor–a position that he would hold for nineteen years. As mayor, he was known as "Sunny Jim" and his theme song was "There Are Smiles That Make You Happy". In 1915 he appeared as himself in an early documentary film titled Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco, which was directed by and starred Fatty Arbuckle. In 1924, Rolph appeared as himself in a Slim Summerville comedy short film, Hello, Frisco.

Rolph knew of the power in San Francisco of the Roman Catholic Church. Italians, Irish, French and Germans made up the majority of the population of the City. He established a deep friendship with Archbishop Edward Joseph Hanna. In turn, Hanna would support Rolph in his 1930 election as governor of California.

In addition to his mayoral duties and overseeing his shipping interests, he directed the Ship Owners and Merchants Tugboat Company, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. He also was vice-president of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and president of the Merchants' Exchange. He resigned in 1931 to assume the office of governor of California.

Rolph received considerable criticism for publicly praising the citizens of San Jose following the November 1933 lynching of the confessed murderers of Brooke Hart, a local department store heir, while promising to pardon anyone involved, thereby earning the nickname, "Governor Lynch". Four days before the lynching he had announced he would not call on the National Guard to prevent the lynching, which was already being discussed locally

After violence erupted during the San Joaquin cotton strike in October 1933, Governor Rolph appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate the deaths of several strikers. When the committee met in Visalia on October 19, 1933, Caroline Decker, a labor activist who had taken part in other California agricultural actions, took testimony from the strikers who testified about the growers' assaults on striking workers.


After suffering several heart attacks, he died in Santa Clara County on June 2, 1934, aged 64, three years into his term. Rolph was the second Governor to die in office, the first being Washington Bartlett in 1887. He is buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.


One of the unofficial names of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge is the James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bridge.

view all

James Rolph, Governor's Timeline

August 23, 1869
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
June 2, 1934
Age 64
Santa Clara County, California, United States
Colma, San Mateo County, California, United States