Historical Markers
John K. Tener [Politics] Historical Marker
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John K. Tener [Politics]

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
7th and Fallowfield Sts., Charleroi

Dedication Date:
September 1, 2001

Behind the Marker

ohn Tener in his Chicago White Sox uniform
John Tener in his Chicago White Sox uniform, 1889.
The Pennsylvania governor responsible for more progressive legislation than any other began his life as an orphaned immigrant Irish boy from Pittsburgh. John K. Tener was the state's only governor born outside the United States and the only one to play professional baseball.

After his parents died when he was a boy, Tener grew up in Pittsburgh under the care of his older sister. At six feet four inches and 180 pounds, the lanky young man played briefly for the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association in 1885 and the Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs) of the National League. Having already worked in the offices of two Pittsburgh-area companies, he was selected by the players to represent them as Secretary of the Brotherhood of Baseball Players in their quest for better salaries in 1890. Tener quit baseball after one more season with the short-lived Players League, and then worked his way up from cashier to president of the First National Bank of Charleroi, Pennsylvania. From that position he organized the Charleroi Savings and Trust Company.
John Tener stands with a crowd in 1915
John Tener stands with a crowd in 1915

A joiner of the first degree, Tener became a Mason, and a member of Pittsburgh's Duquesne Club. He was most active with the Elks, who elected him national treasurer in 1904 and then grand master in 1907. The following year, he was elected to Congress, where his most notable achievement was to institute an annual baseball game between the Republicans and Democrats that continues to this day.

In 1910, the Pennsylvania Republican machine was still reeling from a series of scandals, including the cost overruns of the new markerState Capitol in Harrisburg, which had sent five men to jail. To prevent the Democrats or reform Republicans from winning the governor's office in the upcoming election, Pennsylvania Senator and Republican state boss Boies Penrose picked Tener, with whom he had become friends while living in the same hotel in Washington. The Democrats hoped to win with state treasurer William Berry, who had exposed the capitol construction thefts, but Penrose gained control of the Democratic convention, which nominated state senator Webster Grim.
Pinchot Road before the paving.
Unpaved road in rural Pennsylvania, circa 1910.

Penrose - and Tener - won the election. With the reform vote split between Berry, who won 382,000 votes on the Keystone Party ticket, and Grim who earned 129,000 as the Democratic candidate, Tener took the election with 416,000 votes. Berry's strong showing, however, showed that Pennsylvanians, who had voted for President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, and would again in 1912 when he ran on the Progressive Party ticket, were clearly in a mood to clean house.

As governor, Tener proved to be the Progressives' man, rather than Penrose's. Under his leadership, Pennsylvania enacted a host of state reforms. A child of immigrants educated in the public schools of Pittsburgh, Tener was a staunch supporter of public education. While he was governor, Pennsylvania established its State Board of Education, required children between the ages of eight to sixteen to attend school, established a minimum wage for teachers, set state standards for curriculum, and created state vocational schools.
Oil on canvas, official portrait.
Martin G. Brumbaugh, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1915-1919.

As America entered the automobile age, Pennsylvania needed highways. Tener and former governor markerJames Beaver supported passage of the Sproul Bill - proposed by state senator and future governor markerWilliam Sproul - through which the state Department of Highways took over maintenance of 9,000 miles of roads from local governments. Tener also sponsored legislation to control abuses by industry, including the regulation of insurance companies through a Department of Insurance, formed in 1911, which made sure that companies made good on their claims.

In 1913, the Commonwealth established the Public Service Commission (today's Public Utility Commission) to regulate the public-utility industries, including the gas, electric, sewage, telephone companies, and streetcar companies, many of which had become powerful monopolies. It created the state Department of Labor and Industry to investigate dangerous and unfair employment practices, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, charged with "marking and preserving the antiquities and historical landmarks of the Commonwealth."

Other statutes outlawed the use of waste from outdoor toilets for fertilization, and required licensing and oversight of public amusements. The latter emerged in response to the disastrous markerBoyertown opera house fire, which killed 170 people in 1908. Pennsylvania also adopted execution by electrocution rather than hanging. Meant to be more humane than gruesome choking by the hangman's rope, the state electric chair was centrally located at Rockville Prison in Centre County.
Tener exiting a building, walking down a fight of stairs, dressed in a tuxedo and top hat. Several men follow behind him and a door man stands along the sidewalk.
John K. Tener, President of the National League, circa 1916.

Tener was less successful in persuading the state legislature to approve a referendum on the ballot to give women the right to vote. State voters did have a chance to vote on a graduated income tax, but rejected it by only 119 out of over 400,000 votes. Most states did adopt graduated income taxes to address alarming and still growing disparities in income between America's wealthiest citizens and its poorest, and to return a share of their fortunes to the nation that had produced it.

Limited to one term in office by the state constitution of 1873, Tener became president of baseball's National League in 1914 while he was still governor and held that post until 1918. Following World War I, he worked with the United States Department of Commerce to help impoverished Europe, then assumed the presidency of an insurance company in Pittsburgh that bore his name.

Governing Pennsylvania when Progressivism was at high tide, John Tener followed former President Theodore Roosevelt's model for regulating big business rather than President Woodrow Wilson's call to dismantle the trusts and monopolies. A banker and insurance executive who rose from humble roots, Tener balanced the interests of business, labor, and consumers while shepherding into law a wave of legislation in the public interest second only to that passed under markerGovernor George Earle during the heart of the Great Depression.

To learn more about John Tener's career in baseball markerclick here.
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