Copyright © by Toucan Valley Publications, Inc. | Source Citation


27th Governor of
California, January 6, 1931 - June 2, 1934

Born:  August 23, 1869, in San Francisco, California

Died:  June 2, 1934, in Santa Clara County, California

Marriage:  Annie Marshall Reid (1900), 3 children


James Rolph, Jr., also known as “Sunny Jim,” was the fourth California governor to be born in California. He was the second governor to die while in office.


Early Life

James was born in San Francisco and spent much of his life there. He graduated from Trinity Academy in 1888 and became a messenger boy for DeWitt Kittle and Company, a shipping firm.



After 12 years of holding various positions with DeWitt Kittle and Company, Rolph and a friend, George U. Hind, founded their own shipping business. A few years later Rolph was a founder and then president of the Mission Bank. When the 1906 earthquake and fire devastated the city, Rolph organized relief services. A later business of building wooden ships at a shipyard on Humboldt Bay proved unprofitable as the market disappeared with the end of the First World War.

Positions with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and as vice-president of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition brought Rolph into the political scene. He was mayor of San Francisco for 19 years (1911-29), during which time the civic center complex was begun, street car service started, and the Hetch Hetchy water system secured.



Rolph began his term as governor with great optimism, but it was soon evident that the surplus left in the treasury by the previous administration was not enough to offset the economic depression. In addition, charges of fraud and the granting of contracts to friends and supporters were brought against Rolph. As the governor failed to address issues, many felt he did not realize the gravity of the situation. Farmers belonging to the State Grange circulated a petition of recall of the governor, and a Senate committee held investigations, issuing a report that was highly critical of the administration.


Later Years

In February 1934, while trying to build up some support for another term as governor, Rolph fell ill. The next several months were spent in a hospital or at his Santa Clara County ranch. He died in June of a heart ailment.


Go to Top