Historical Markers
Gifford Pinchot [Great Depression] Historical Marker
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Gifford Pinchot [Great Depression]

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
U.S. 6 NW of Milford

Dedication Date:
June 1, 1948

Behind the Marker

"Let it be said of this great Commonwealth," said Governor Pinchot in his 1932 message to the General Assembly, "that it never turned a deaf ear to the cry of the hungry. The honor of the Commonwealth demands a different reply." The new governor's different reply, however, would meet tremendous resistance on both the state and local level.
Oil on canvas of Gifford Pinchot.
Gifford Pinchot, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1923-1927 and 1931-1935.

Born in 1865 in Simsbury, Connecticut, into a wealthy and influential family, Pinchot attended public school in Simsbury and the elite Philips Exeter Academy. The Pinchot family vacationed both in Europe and in the States in resort areas near forests. In this manner Pinchot developed a lifelong love of nature.

After graduating from Yale University in 1889, he studied at the L'Ecole National Forestier in France and with German forester Dietrich Brandis. Upon his return to the United States, Pinchot became the nation's most famous and influential forester.

In 1914 he married the former Cornelia Bryce and made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate on the Progressive Party ticket. In 1916, he became state forestry commissioner under markerGovernor William C. Sproul.

Supported by the state Republican machine, Pinchot in 1922 was elected the governor of Pennsylvania. Committed to the enforcement of Prohibition, clean government, and regulation of utilities, he eliminated the state's $3 million deficit and signed into law new mental health legislation and an annuity system for state employees.

Outraged at the arrogance of the state's powerful coal companies, Pinchot played a pivotal role in settling bitter anthracite coal strikes of 1923 and 1925. Because the state constitution forbade governors to succeed themselves, Pinchot left office in January 1927.
Image of a smiling Mrs. Pinchot marching with men, women, and children.
Mrs. Gifford Pinchot (wearing hat) marching with striking clothing workers,...

In 1930, a split in the Pennsylvania Republican Party between the followers of Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association head markerJoseph Grundy and Philadelphia boss Bill Vare gave Pinchot another shot at the governorship. Backed by Grundy, and promising to take on the powerful state utility industry and "to get the farmers out of the mud" marker through road improvements, Pinchot defeated Democrat John M. Hemphill by more than 32,000 votes.

When Pinchot took office in 1931, Pennsylvania was sinking deeper into the Great Depression and poor relief was breaking down across the state. In April, several hundred unemployed Pennsylvanians staged a "hunger march" to Harrisburg.

That summer, as demonstrations, protests, and confrontations erupted across the Commonwealth, Pinchot concluded that the county Poor Boards, which since 1883 had distributed public relief throughout the state, could no longer meet the demands of the state's growing unemployed. With almost 40 percent of Pennsylvania's workers unemployed, Pinchot called a special session of the General Assembly on September 17, 1931.

Since the Commonwealth could not make appropriations to any person or community for charitable purposes - this was forbidden by Article III, Section 18 of the state constitution - Pinchot proposed to raise $35 million in relief money by placing a sales tax on cigarettes, gasoline, and billboards.

Bonus-seeking veterans encamp with their families.
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Bonus Army veterans encamp with their families near Johnstown, PA, fall, 1931.
Agreeing with President Herbert Hoover that the deepening crisis was a temporary downturn best remedied by giving the economy "a shot in the arm," the Republican controlled General Assembly used its "police power" to approve $12 million for direct relief through the Poor Boards and more than $2 million in work relief. It failed, however, to provide measures for raising this money.

Then the State Supreme Court struck down the legislation, known as the Talbot Act, and ordered $10 million diverted from other state funds in order to keep the state government within its constitutional debt limit. While the state government remained stalled and inactive, much of the available Poor Board money was spent on printing, postage, stationery, solicitor's fees, bond premiums, and kickbacks while the poor went hungry.

Confronted by his own party's foot-dragging and inaction, Pinchot in 1931 appealed to President Hoover, who responded that the federal government could not commit money for local uses. Responding to protests from across the country, Congress in 1932 created a "Reconstruction Finance Corporation" from which Pinchot received the first federal relief.

Furious with his own party's inaction, Pinchot openly supported Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt after his election as president in 1932. When the Roosevelt administration set up the Federal Emergency Relief agency, Pinchot traveled to Washington D.C. to make personal appeals for more federal assistance, then had the state create a State Emergency Relief Board to distribute federal assistance.

Pinchot's courting of federal assistance put him in direct and bitter conflict with his Republican-controlled state legislature, which feared a federal assault on state sovereignty - and their own loss of power. The legislature's allocations for emergency assistance constantly fell short of what the state actually needed and the state constitution only permitted a state debt of $1 million. As the legislature refused to increase state appropriations for relief, Washington repeatedly threatened to cut off all aid to Pennsylvania.
Governor Pinchot is smiling and holding a shovel, surrounded by both state officials and farmers.
Governor Gifford Pinchot breaking ground on one of his "farm to market roads,"...

Pinchot had better luck on other fronts. Prompted by his wife's own campaign against the marker exploitation of garment workers, Pinchot established a Sweatshop Commission, which exposed workplace abuses, was able to secure the passage of pensions for the blind and aged, strengthened the child labor law, oversaw the improvement of 20,000 miles of roads, known popularly asmarker "Pinchot Roads,"and increased state cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service in fire prevention and establishment of local forest advisory councils.

Much like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pinchot also was married to a highly intelligent and politically active woman who made him seem almost conservative in comparison. Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, although from a wealthy family, was a highly visible and vocal presence in her flamboyant outfits as she attended rallies supporting labor unions and women's issues.

After his term as governor, Pinchot spent much of the late 1930s fighting against his former friend, Interior Secretary markerHarold Ickes to keep the Forest Service autonomous from the newly formed Department of Conservation and Public Works. Best known today for his fine work before his fortieth birthday balancing conservation with the needs of economic development, Pinchot also deserves significant credit for utility regulation and highway development in Pennsylvania.

To learn more about Pinchot's first term as governor in the 1920s markerclick here.
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