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The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development building on Trenton. (Photo: Emporis).

Labor Leader: Lewis Bryant was the first N.J. Commissioner of Labor

Labor Leader: Lewis Bryant was the first N.J. Commissioner of Labor

By David Wildstein, September 05 2022 12:00 am

Lewis T. Bryant was New Jersey’s first Commissioner of Labor.

After the New Jersey Legislature created the Department of Labor in 1904 – the predecessor position was Inspector of Factories and Workshops — Gov. Franklin Murphy nominated Bryant to fill the post.

The 29-year-old lawyer and Atlantic City hotel owner had served as a U.S. Army captain and was serving as a Lt. Colonel of the New Jersey National Guard when Murphy named him as the state’s first labor commissioner.

Bryan, a Republican, remains the youngest Commissioner of Labor in New Jersey history.  He was just four days younger than Roger Bodman was when he became New Jersey’s Commissioner of Labor on January 25, 1982, at age 29.   Bodman remains the youngest commissioner under the current State Constitution; Kevin McCabe, now the Middlesex County Democratic Chairman, was 31 when he became labor commissioner in 2004.

He was named to additional three-year terms by Govs. Edwin Stokes in 1907, Franklin Fort in 1910, Woodrow Wilson in 1913 (just weeks before he resigned to assume the presidency), James Fielder in 1916, and Walter Edge in 1919.

Democrats had pushed Wilson to oust Bryant in 1913 – his term ended just weeks before Wilson resigned to assume the presidency – and nominate John Cosgrove, the president of the Associated Building Trades Councils of New Jersey.  But Wilson, with one foot already out of Trenton, said he would reward merit over partisan politics.

Bryant died in office of a heart attack in 1923.  He was a month shy of his 49th birthday.

Gov. George Silzer named Dr. Andrew McBride, the former mayor of Paterson, to succeed him as labor commissioner.

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