Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946) was a talented and gifted public servant. Of his friend and adviser, Roosevelt wrote, “I believe it is but just to say that among the many, many public officials who, under my administra­tion, rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United States he, on the whole, stood first.” Among Pennsylvania’s twentieth century politicians Pinchot holds the unusual distinction of being a product of the elite who was sincerely committed to public service, reform-­minded and progressive in social and economic policy, challenged the status quo, and earned popular long-standing support among hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians across social classes. Bridging cultures and eras, Pinchot was born in and was part of the Gilded Age. Yet, at the same time He was molded by and remained a proponent of Progressive Era reforms.

Pinchot was born at Simsbury, Connecticut, on August 11, 1865. His great­ grandfather, Elisha Phelps, was a congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1820s. Growing up amidst the trappings of wealth and status, Pinchot spent his time summering in Connecticut, in New York City where his father’s flourishing wallpaper business was based, and later, at the family home, Grey Towers in Milford, Pike County. James Wallace Pinchot, his father, was a widely respected businessman and influential philanthropist who lent prestige and gave money to such causes as the creation of the American Museum of Natural History. His mother, Mary Jane, was the daughter of Amos R. Eno, a wealthy and well-known New York City merchant and real estate investor. James Pinchot traveled extensively for business and pleasure, often accompanied by his family that included Gifford, his sister Antoinette, and brother Amos. World travel sparked the intellectual curiosity of the eldest Pinchot offspring and, by his teens, a love for the natural environment. Private schooling at Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire, prepared him for entry into Yale University in 1885 from which he graduated in 1889.

With his father’s encouragement, Pinchot moved to France to study with renowned German forester Dietrich Brandis and enrolled in the L’Ecole Nationale Forestiere in Nancy. Forestry was virtually an unknown field of study or practice in the United States. Notions of forest conservation and managed utilization were dwarfed by the consumptive nature of free enterprise capitalism. As Pinchot put it, “the nation was obsessed with a fury of development. The American colossus was fiercely intent on appropriating and exploiting the riches of the richest of all continents.” Although he grew restless with academics at L’Ecole­he dropped out after one year of study­Pinchot would become a forestry pioneer in the United States.

Pinchot returned to the United States in 1890 and took a job surveying forest-­lands for the Phelps-Dodge Company. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a friend of James Pinchot, recommended him to George Vanderbilt who hired the young forester to work on lands at Biltmore, his vast estate of more than one hundred thousand acres at Asheville, North Carolina. Pinchot experimented at Biltmore with the novel notion that forests could simultaneously produce timber for consumer use and be maintained for future generations. Following a brief stint as a consulting forester with the U.S. Department of the Interior, in 1898 he was appointed chief of the Division of Forestry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In this position Pinchot educated and influenced the media, public officials, a growing corps of forestry professionals, and the public regarding the importance of public policy that balanced conservation and productive consumption. In 1905, his friend and ally, President Roosevelt, was convinced enough of Pinchot’s vision that he obtained Congressional approval to create the U.S. Forest Service in the Agriculture Department and made it responsible for managing the country’s federal forest reserves (later renamed National Forests). Thanks to Gifford Pinchot, the number of national forests increased from thirty-­two in 1898 to 149 twenty years later.

Pinchot’s friendship with Roosevelt had been solidified by their mutual admiration and by their love of nature and the outdoors. His role would change, however, not long after William Howard Taft assumed the presidency in 1909. Both Taft and Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger favored releasing federal control of public lands in Alaska to private interests for fossil fuel development. Pinchot vehemently opposed the idea. Despite the fact that public opinion sided with Pinchot, Taft fired him.

Pinchot remained committed to conservation and public affairs. He formed and financed the National Conservation Association and served as its president from 1910 to 1925. When Teddy Roosevelt failed to win the Republican presidential nomination from Taft in 1912, Pinchot took an active role in founding the Bull Moose Party. The forester represented the more radical wing of the party’s politics, advocating stricter antitrust laws and innovative social reforms. In 1914, running on the progressive platform as the Washington Party candidate, Pinchot sought and lost a seat as U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. He ran that year against Republican machine politician Boies Penrose, of Philadelphia, who Pinchot despised, associating him with corruption and malfeasance in public service, and called him “the most perfect living example of everything that is wrong with Pennsylvania politics.”

Although he failed in his bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate, the campaign gave the reformist Pinchot a platform to air his views. He advocated a graduated income tax, recognition of labor unions, compensation insurance for injured workers, workplace safety standards, regulation of trusts, and import tariffs to protect jobs and the domestic economy. Pinchot even proposed public ownership of coal mines and railroads. The campaign set him apart from machine politics that had dominated Pennsylvania in the early twentieth century. It also yielded him a wife; a few months before the election Pinchot married Cornelia Bryce (1881-1960), a thirty-three-year-old descendant of wealthy industrialists whose home was on Long Island near Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill at Oyster Bay. At forty-nine years old, Pinchot was attracted to the bright young woman who had championed women’s suffrage and other progressive causes (see “The Lady in Red: Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, Feminist for Social Justice” by Mary Beth Kennedy Voda, Fall 1997). Returning to the Republican Party, Pinchot remained a significant figure in reform-minded politics. Few old-guard Republicans had any use for the upstart from Pike County – usually referring to him as ‘Pin­shot’ – although Governor William C. Sproul appointed him to the State Forest Commission in 1920. Pinchot used his skills to become head of the commission where he instituted new personnel policies to hire forestry professionals, expand the agency’s budget, and revamp its bureaucratic functions.

Keenly sensing the changing nature of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, Pinchot launched a campaign for governor in 1922. “New” Republican voters had gained more prominence, including enfranchised women and an anti-machine sector of the party that had become influential after the death of Penrose in late 1921. Pinchot’s main campaign themes included enforcement of prohibition, better roads, reorganization of state government, modernized state financial accounting, protection of women’s rights to vote, an end to utility monopoly, and enhancements to the Commonwealth’s educational system. Pinchot and his lieutenant governor candidate, David J. Davis of Scranton, traversed the state in a convertible automobile and appeared at county fairs, grange and union meetings, at town halls, and before women’s groups who, for the first time, could cast their vote for the state’s highest elective office. With the support of the temperance movement, Christian organizations, rural residents, labor unions, women, and voters weary of machine politics, Pinchot captured 831,696 votes to the 581,000 garnered by his Democratic opponent, John A. McSparran, of Furniss, Lancaster County.

‘it was an unusual ceremony and a very unusual address as Pennsylvania inaugurals go,” reported the Harrisburg Patriot of Gifford Pinchot’s swearing in on Tuesday, January 16, 1923. Compared to previous inaugurals, the crowd was small a few thousand out-­of-towners in addition to the usual cadre of Harrisburgers, legislators, and state government employ­ees. The festive atmosphere of past inaugurals was lacking, prompting the newspaper to describe it as a “slouch hat” event. “The people of Pennsylvania have declared for a new order in the govern- ment,” Pinchot announced to muffled applause. Pennsylvania would “live within our income, as every family should,” he said, and added that citizens would “get a dollar’s worth of service for every dollar spent.” Consistent with the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, temperance was to be the order of the day. “This administration will be dry [and] the Executive Mansion will be dry,” Pinchot pledged, further promising to “drive all saloons out of Pennsylvania.”

Pinchot’ s address was followed by an inaugural parade, described by the Patriot of possessing “little glamour.” There was something, however, scarcely seen in previous inaugural parades: women. An estimated four hundred women – many who had campaigned for Pinchot­ – proudly marched past the new governor who was visibly pleased with their attendance. Following the parade, Pinchot greeted the public at a reception whose line of well-wishers wound through the rotunda of the State Capitol. In less than two hours, however, the line wound down, the crowd dwindled, and all grew quiet. The Pinchot administration was off to a not-so-ordinary start.

Gifford Pinchot enjoyed a mix of accomplishments and disappointments. He completely overhauled state government through enactment of a new administrative code, Act 274 of 1923. The law demanded greater accountability among state agencies by spelling out their duties; required agency heads to prepare and submit public biennial reports; and mandated, for the first time, that the Commonwealth publish details of its biennial budget. In a novel twist, Pinchot implemented a rudimentary merit system in the bureaucracy to partially replace patronage with qualified professionals. And, as an example of austerity, he reduced his own state salary from $18,000 to $10,000 annually.

The governor vehemently enforced Prohibition and, as a condition of employment, each of his appointees swore an oath to uphold the Eighteenth Amendment. He secured legislation prohibiting the manufacture and sale of spirits, except as allowed by federal law, and gave enforcement to the Pennsylvania State Police. When the General Assembly of Pennsylvania backpedaled on funding the law, Pinchot turned to his faithful – and powerful – ally, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which raised $200,000 to fund the State Police’s efforts.

Improvements to the Commonwealth’s roads topped his agenda as well. Along with a voter-approved $50 million special bond issue for roadway improvements, more than $200 million in state funds were appropriated to the Department of Highways during his term. The funding resulted in construction of 4,500 miles of roadways, installation of 700 miles of guardrails, placement of 20,000 roadway signs, and recruitment of 350 Highway Motor Patrol Officers.

In January 1926, Pinchot called a special session of the state legislature to consider a myriad of additional reforms. Topping the agenda were twelve “clean election” bills to end fraudulent practices ranging from ballot box stuffing to deliberate miscounting. Pinchot fumed when legislators agreed to only one resolution allowing a state constitutional amendment to permit the introduction of mechanical lever voting machines (a resolution that was later deferred). Also considered but voted down were two proposals granting the Commonwealth the authority to regulate the troubled and monopolistic anthracite industry. Likewise, the legislators did not agree to Pinchot’s proposals to enhance state regulation of banks and trusts. While he fell short in reforming the Public Service Commission that regulated public utilities – a rubberstamp for utilities, he believed – Pinchot succeeded in creating the Commonwealth’s first State Athletic Commission to regulate boxing and wrestling, activities frequently plagued by corruption and extortion.

The 1926 special session did yield a new statute to enhance Pennsylvania’s power to collect gasoline taxes, an increasingly important source of revenue. Pinchot did stabilize funding for common schools, which the general assembly sought to reduce. The session also enacted a Pinchot-inspired drunk driving law, a first for the Keystone State. The new statute allowed the State Police and the Highway Patrol to arrest suspected offenders and mandated that their licenses be suspended for one year.

In a high profile assessment of social conditions, Pinchot’s Department of Welfare inaugurated a Negro Survey of Pennsylvania. The study found that the Commonwealth’s population of 350,000 blacks had grown precipitously since 1910 as thousands moved from the South to the North in search of economic opportunity. In examining social, economic, and living conditions among blacks, the study concluded that “the Negro is suffering today … from the denial of certain privileges such as decent housing, wholesome recreational and social service facilities, and from segregation and discrimination.” The report recommended that housing, education, and employment discrimination be addressed by state policy and legislation, but it would be decades before such steps would be taken.

Pinchot was labeled out-of-the-ordinary and ahead of his time. He sometimes went out of his way to be atypical; ego, no doubt, played a role. The governor made certain his legacy would be documented as no one before him had. His final public report to the general assembly – the most exhaustive on a governor’s work yet presented – delivered in January 1927, comprised neatly two hundred pages of details on how the administration had impacted life in Pennsylvania. He personally authored its compelling introduction that likened his administration’s achievements to the “liberal movement to which [Theodore] Roosevelt gave cause” and said that he was leaving behind “a new order in government [where] the public good comes first [rather than] where the people got little more than the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” He said, “True Americans everywhere indignantly reject the theory that it is the destiny of this Nation, or any State within its borders, to be controlled by money.”

A constitutional provision prohibited a chief executive from succeeding oneself, but Pinchot’s interest in state politics didn’t wane when he departed Harris­burg in January 1927 to turn the reins of government over to Governor John S. Fisher. He was again elected in 1930, the only governor in the twentieth century to serve two non-consecutive terms. Campaigning as a solid “dry” Republican who favored greater government involvement to heal the economic and social wounds of the Great Depression, he narrowly defeated Democrat John M. Hemphill. (Pinchot’s margin was 58,600 votes out of two million cast.) Pinchot and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected governor of New York in 1930, were rumored to be presidential contenders in 1932.

Pinchot and Roosevelt shared remarkable similarities. Both were highly critical of Herbert Hoover and his administration’s laissez-faire policies. Both also advocated public sector involvement in the private economy and the advancement of the welfare state. The policies Pinchot pursued during his second term were, in many ways, consistent with FDR’s “New Deal.” One study of Pin­chot’s second term observed that he steered a course consistent with the continuation of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal.”

Women played a key role in his second term. Pinchot appointed Alice F. Liveright of Philadelphia, secretary of Welfare and Charlotte E. Carr, of Harrisburg, as secretary of Labor and Industry. Efforts to deal with impact of the Great Depression were central and with unemployment as high as 37 percent, Pinchot called four special sessions of the general assembly. A 1931 session turned down Pinchot’s proposal to sell $35 million in “prosperity bonds” to the wealthy to fund programs for the indigent. Instead, the legislature agreed to a $10 million appropriation for indigent care. A 1932 session approved, for the first time, a one-­percent sales tax to fund welfare programs and established a State Emergency Relief Board to distribute aid. About two million Pennsylvanians received three dollars per family weekly. A third session in 1933 allocated $20 million in proceeds from state liquor store sales to the State Emergency Relief Board. A final session, in 1934, allotted an additional $15 million. All told, combined state and federal spending for relief totaled an astonishing $241 million dollars in Pinchot’s second term.

Ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that repealed Prohibition prompted Pinchot and the general assembly to establish the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to regulate alcohol production and sales in the Commonwealth. A resolute “dry,” Pinchot persuaded the legislature to create one of the most tightly controlled alcohol markets in the country. He also established a Milk Control Board to regulate the production and price of milk and increased state responsibility for building and maintaining roads. Although Pinchot espoused the need for greater state control over utilities and advocated policies for unemployment insurance and occupational disease compensation, few practical results were realized.

When Pinchot left office in 1935, he was seventy years old. Near the end of his governorship he waged a campaign for U.S. Senate but lost the primary to David A. Reed. Four years later he campaigned again for the governorship, but his efforts stalled in the primary. He assisted his wife in her continued activist career. Cornelia Pinchot had also been in the public eye by campaigning unsuccessfully for a Pennsylvania congressional seat in 1926, 1928, and 1932 and by launching an unsuccessful drive for governor in 1934. In his remaining years, Pinchot led efforts to fight the transfer of the U.S. Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior, an agency he insisted remained corrupt and inefficient. During World War II, he developed a special fishing kit to help sailors adrift in lifeboats to survive. The U.S. Navy adopted Pinchot’s model and commended him for saving countless lives.

Shortly before his death, he completed a decade-long effort to write an account of his work between 1889 and 1910 that details the development of forestry and conservation in the United States. Breaking New Ground was pub­lished posthumously in 1947. His publications included The Fight for Conservation (1910), a dozen monographs on forestry subjects, a popular book on his journey To the South Seas (1930), and numerous articles, reports, bulletins, lectures, and addresses.

On October 4, 1946, at the age of eighty-one, the former forester, governor, activist, and individual of eclectic interests died of leukemia in New York City. His remains were interred in a family mausoleum in Milford Cemetery, the grounds around which he had mandated be allowed to return to their natural state after his burial. A year after his death, his widow spoke at the dedication of Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State. In 1961, Governor David L. Lawrence dedicated the 2,338-acre Gifford Pinchot State Park in northern York County, between Rossville and Lewisberry, in his memory. Grey Towers, designed by eminent American architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895), has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Administered by the U.S. Forest Service, Grey Towers is home to the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, inaugurated by President John F. Kennedy shortly before he was assassinated in 1963.


Grey Towers

No visit to the eastern end of Route 6, ”The Grand Army of the Republic Highway,” is complete without a visit to Grey Towers, originally the summer home of James W.and Mary Jane Eno Pinchot,which their son Gifford Pinchot made his legal residence when his interests turned to Pennsylvania politics. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the chateau-style mansion to reflect the family’s French heritage. Cornelia Bryce Pinchot’s first impression of Grey Towers was of a dreary castle standing naked on a hill. Using much of her own money – she was the daughter of the wealthy and powerful journalist and politician Lloyd Bryce – she remodeled the house, adding windows, combining rooms, and redecorating extensively.

The U.S. Forest Service has recently undertaken extensive renovation of Grey Towers, including conservation of historic furnishings and acquisition of fine and decorative accessories to offer visitors a glimpse of how Grey Towers might have looked to guests of the Pinchots in the 1920s and 1930s. During the two-year project, which totaled nearly $20 million, the Forest Service historically furnished the hall, library, the governor’s study, a sitting room, and a bedroom. Researchers relied on photographs taken between 1927 and 1946 and an inventory completed in 1921.

In addition to touring the house, visitors may explore the highly landscaped grounds, which include an outside dining area, terraces, and walks.

To learn more about visiting the historic site, write: Grey Towers, P.O. Box 188, Milford, PA 18337; telephone (570) 296-9630.


For Further Reading

Fausold, Martin L. Gifford Pinchot, Bull Moose Progressive. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1961.

Miller, Char. Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2001.

McGeary, M. Nelson. Gifford Pinchot, Forester-Politician. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960.

Pinchot, Gifford. Breaking New Ground. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1987.

____.Training of a Forester. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1914.

Roosevelt, Theodore. Theodore Roosevelt; An Autobiography. New York: Tile MacMillan Company, 1913.

Steen, Harold, ed.The Conservation Diaries of Gifford Pinchot. Durham, N.C.: The Forest History Society, 2001.


The author thanks the staff of Grey Towers National Historic Landmark in Milford, Pike County, for its gracious assistance with papers and photographic collections of Governor Gifford Pinchot.


Kenneth C. Wolensky is a historian with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg. He is a frequent contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage and has authored numerous publications on Pennsylvania’s public policy, political, labor, and industrial history.