Historical Markers
William C. Sproul Historical Marker
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William C. Sproul

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Pa. 896 at Octoraro Creek, just W. of county line, Lancaster

Dedication Date:
January 3, 1951

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas formal portrait.
William C. Sproul, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1919-1923.
Although his middle name honoredmarker Simon Cameron, Pennsylvania's first and arguably its most powerful political boss, William Cameron Sproul was an honest and capable public servant who worked within the state Republican machine to promote progressive legislation. In turn, the machine and its boss Senator Boies Penrose were content to permit popularly desired reforms to pass, if doing so permitted them to retain their positions and patronage. Born in 1870 near Octoraro in Lancaster County, Sproul came from a Quaker family that moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when he was a child and then returned to Chester County in 1883.

After graduating with honors from Swarthmore College in 1891, Sproul entered the newspaper business, and became first editor and then president of the Chester Daily Times and The Morning Republican. A smart businessman and investor, he held stock and posts in manufacturing, mining, iron processing, railroads, banking, and farming enterprises in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In 1896, he became a Republican state senator from Delaware County, a position that he held until he became governor in 1919.

Governor William C. Sproul of Pa., at a podium. Gov Sproul at podium, 1922.  President Warren G. Harding is sitting to his left.
Pennsylvania Governor William C. Sproul speaking before an audience of national...
As a newspaperman and public servant, Sproul earned a reputation for honesty, philanthropy, and public service. He took a special interest in his alma mater, serving as a Swarthmore trustee. In 1906, he provided the college with a state-of-the art astronomical observatory, which was later renamed in his honor. Whenmarker John Tener pushed a progressive legislative agenda after he became governor in 1909, Sproul was his man in the state Senate.

Previously, roads had all been administered at the county or local level, with no coordination. Sproul led the campaign that resulted in the 1911 passage of the Sproul Bill, which established the Pennsylvania state highway system. Deeply interested in Pennsylvania history, he also became chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, founded in 1913.

Sproul remained in the Senate until the state Republican leaders asked him to run for governor in 1918. Sproul easily won the election and took office only months after the end of World War I. During his first year in office the state and the nation were racked by the largest wave of strikes in American history and a wave of government repression led by Attorney General markerA. Mitchell Palmer, a Pennsylvania lawyer from Monroe County. Sproul called out the State Police to assist companies defeat strikes in the state's coal and steel industries, which earned him the censure of the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor headed bymarker James Maurer.

A gray haired man, with thick mustache and eyebrows, wearing a three piece dark suit, white shirt, and tie sits in a chair at a desk. His right hand leans against his chin and his left lies on his leg.
Andrew William Mellon by Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley, 1923.
Sproul had been in office for less than two years when Boies Penrose, one of the most powerful men in the United States Senate, helped broker the deal that made Ohio Governor Warren G. Harding the Republican candidate for president in 1920. (Penrose rejected Sproul as a presidential candidate because he was too independent and progressive but secured for him an informal offer of the vice-presidential nomination.) Sproul was popular with progressives, women - he supported their right to vote - and prohibitionists, but he preferred to remain in Pennsylvania, so Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding on his death in 1923.

When Boies Penrose died in 1921, the state Republican machine that Simon Cameron had put together in the 1860s lost its last singular boss. Political power was then split among the Vare machine in Philadelphia, the Mellon interests in Pittsburgh, and Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association president Joseph Grundy. In the 1920s, Andrew Mellon of Pittsburgh became one of the nation's most powerful and influential men, serving for eleven years as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. By then, Mellon, who had made a fortune in banking and investment, trailed only John D. Rockefeller as the second wealthiest man in America.

Leaving Pittsburgh politics to the local bosses, the Mellons liberally funded the Pennsylvania Republican Party and worked well with Boies Penrose, who had engineered a change in Pennsylvania's divorce laws so that Andrew Mellon's estranged wife would not expose their marital difficulties in public, and who arranged his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury in 1921.

Governor Sproul seated signing with quill and ink,
Pennsylvania Governor William Sproul signing the Nineteenth Amendment, which...
Until midway through Hoover's presidency, Mellon almost single-handedly shaped the economic policy of the United States that propelled the nation's economy during the "Republican prosperity" of the 1920s, and that also plunged it into the Great Depression in 1929. Mellon believed in low federal taxes - only wealthy citizens paid income taxes at the time - high tariffs to protect American industry, and collection of the debts that European nations had contractedmarker during World War I. The American economy boomed in the 1920s, then collapsed into the worst depression in the nation's history.

Back in Pennsylvania, Sproul as governor concentrated on two reforms businessmen found attractive: education and conservation. During his administration, the state standardized curricula, teachers' qualifications and salaries, and began to provide more significant aid to education through the Edmonds Act of 1921. He established Arbor Day, appointedmarker Gifford Pinchot, the nation's leading forester, as state forestry commissioner - Pinchot would also succeed him as governor - and supported the creation of the state Department of Public Assistance, and government assistance for veterans.

After retiring from the governor's office in 1923, Sproul returned to Delaware County, and devoted himself to his business interests and humanitarian affairs. Before he died there in 1928, Sproul dispensed his entire fortune, worth millions, to Quaker charities.
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