Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis of Ottawa, Illinois served on the federal bench in Chicago from 1905 to 1920 and as the first Commissioner of Baseball from 1920 until his death in 1944. His no-nonsense reputation for honesty and integrity helped to restore the reputation of professional baseball after the Black Sox bribery scandal in the World Series of 1919.
Landis was born in 1866 in Milville, Ohio. His unusual name was taken from the fact that his father, a Union Army doctor in the Civil War, had fought at a battle near Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia. Notwithstanding the fact that the family misspelled the name of the mountain with only one "n," the name stuck. Landis was a high school drop out whose highest ambition as a young man was to become a brakeman for the Vandalia and Southern Railroad. But his application for a permanent job on the railroad was turned down. Landis gained a small amount of fame as a bicycle racer at Indiana fair grounds and he operated a roller rink and worked as a reporter for the Logansport Journal in Indiana. The reporting job covering court cases sparked his interest in the study of law. Later, two of his brothers were elected to Congress from Indiana. Landis graduated in 1891 from Chicago Union Law School, now a part of Northwestern University School of Law. President Teddy Roosevelt appointed Landis to the federal bench in Chicago in 1905.
Landis was involved with several famous trials in Chicago, the most famous of which was a trial of owners of the SS Eastland for conspiracy to operate an unsafe boat. The Eastland was a well-known Lake Michigan tour boat that could carry about 2,500 passengers. On early Saturday morning, July 24, 1915, The Eastland was fully loaded and ready to depart from a dock near the Clark Street Bridge in the north branch of the Chicago River. The passengers were mostly employees, family, and friends of Western Electric who were headed to an all-day company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Because of the sinking of the Titanic when it hit an iceberg in 1912, US maritime regulations required even more lifeboats on all passenger ships. The Eastland was already top heavy and the addition of even more weight from additional lifeboats on the roof made the ship unstable. A few passengers on deck ran to the port side to see some mishap in the water. As more followed about 100 gathered on the port (left) side and the top-heavy ship began to roll over onto the port side. It was the worst loss of life on water in the Chicago area since the loss of The Lady Elgin on Lake Michigan near Wilmette in 1860. It remains today the worse loss of life on water in Illinois history. More than 844 passengers were killed including many women and children trapped in decks below. Three inquiries were started by the Chicago City Council, the US Secretary of Commerce, and the Coroner of Cook County. Judge Landis issued an arrest warrant for the owners of the Eastland and consolidated all inquiries into a single case before the federal court.
In 1920, Charles Comiskey, owner of The Chicago White Sox, and other major league owners turned to Judge Landis to offer him the new job of Commissioner of Baseball after lower courts, possibly with rigged juries, had found bribed players (some of whom admitted they took money to throw a game) to be not guilty of bribery in the 1919 World Series. Landis demanded and got unlimited power to throw players out of baseball for the good of the game regardless of how lower courts ruled on the bribery cases. He then suspended eight White Sox players for life including Shoeless Joe Jackson and other famous players. Landis worked in Chicago and lived in Ottawa, Illinois. He died in Chicago in 1944 and is buried in Ottawa in La Salle County. He is a non-player member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Reed G. Landis was the first aerial combat ace from Illinois in World War I. He was the son of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and was born in 1896 in Ottawa, Illinois. He left his studies at the University of Chicago in 1917 to enlist as a private in the First Illinois Calvalry and was then assigned to the aviation division of the Army Signal Corps. Along with other American aviators at the start of World War I, he was trained for combat and assigned to fly as an American citizen attached to the 40th Squadron of the British Royal Flying Corps. This same practice was followed in World War II when the Eagle Squadron of American aviators flew for Britain before America entered that war. Landis became the first ace from Illinois in World War I. An ace is defined as a pilot who has shot down at least five confirmed enemy planes. In the first half of 1918, Landis shot down eleven German planes before transferring back to the 25th Aero Squadron of the US Army Air Corps not long before the Armistice in November. He received Britains Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and America's Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). After the war, he ran a public relations company in Chicago and returned to the US Army Air Corps as a colonel in World War II. He died in 1975 at the age of 78 in Arkansas.