A native of Simsbury, Connecticut, GIFFORD PINCHOT graduated from Yale University in 1889 and went on to study forestry in Europe. He surveyed forests for the Phelps-Dodge Company and for George W. Vanderbilt, after which he opened a forestry consulting office in New York City, working for—among others—the Vanderbilts and the state of New Jersey. He served on the National Forest Commission from 1896 until 1898, was Chief of the Division of Forestry under the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1898 to 1905, and was Chief Forester on the National Conservation Commission from 1905 to 1910. Under his leadership, the aggregate area of national forests tripled. In addition, Pinchot was instrumental in organizing the first gathering of Governors in 1908 to focus on the importance of conservation. Theodore Roosevelt, who led the conference at the White House, called Pinchot “the man to whom the nation owes most for what has been accomplished as regards the preservation of the natural resources of our country…” Pinchot went on to focus on state government, becoming Forester of Pennsylvania in 1920. Two years later he won the governorship. During Pinchot’s gubernatorial administration, state government reorganization helped erase a large deficit, laws for the care of treatment of the mentally ill and mentally retarded were reformed, a retirement system was devised for state employees, and an old-age pension system was established. Under the state Constitution, Pinchot could not succeed himself. However, he returned four years later to win reelection and continued the reforms he had begun during his first term. Rural roads were improved and legislation was enacted to address abuses in the banking industry, to halt unfair use of labor injunctions, to reduce utility rates, and to provide pensions for the blind. After leaving office for the second time, Pinchot returned to conservation work. During World War II, he designed a fishing kit for downed aviators and sailors adrift to catch fish and extract non-saline water from their tissue. Pinchot died in New York City.

SOURCES:

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 36. New York: James T. White & Company.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission