GEORGE HENRY DERN was a native of Scribner, Nebraska. He graduated from Fremont (Nebraska) Normal College in 1888 and attended the University of Nebraska in 1893 and 1894, where he was captain of the football team. He became involved in mining and co-invented the Holt-Dern ore roasting process, a technique for recovering silver from low grade ores. Winning election to two terms in the Utah Senate as a Democrat and Progressive, he was an advocate of progressive social legislation. Nominated for governor in 1924 by the Democratic Party, and endorsed by the Utah Progressive Party and Progressive presidential candidate Robert M. La Follette, he defeated incumbent Governor Charles Mabey in the general election. Despite the fact that the Utah state legislature was under Republican control, Dern was successful in promoting his progressive agenda and won reelection to the state house in 1928. He secured adoption of a state income tax and supported unemployment insurance. He also won federal recognition that waters of all streams belonged to the states and not to the federal government, thus establishing a basis for equitable sharing of the Colorado River waters. While serving as Chairman of the National Governors Association, he accepted appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the position of Secretary of War, a cabinet post that he held from 1933 to 1936. Although he was viewed as having pacifist leanings, he won the support of military officials through effective administration and his support for the nation’s military preparedness. As Secretary of War, Dern was instrumental in the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
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. d. New York: James T. White & Company.
“Roosevelt Will Attend Dern’s Funeral,” Deseret News, August 27, 1936, pp. 1, 3, and 5; “Nation Mourns Passing of Dern,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 28, 1936, pp. 1, 8, 9, 10, and 13.