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James Douglas McKay

Gov. James Douglas McKay

  • January 10, 1949 - December 27, 1952
  • Republican
  • June 24, 1893
  • June 22, 1959
  • Oregon
  • Oregon Agricultural College
  • Married Mabel Christine Hill; three children
  • Resigned
  • Cabinet secretary
  • Army


JAMES DOUGLAS MC KAY was born in Portland, Oregon. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Oregon Agricultural College, he served as an infantry officer in World War I, nearly losing his life in the Meuse-Argonne in 1918. Seriously disabled, he was unable to pursue his goal of becoming a county farm agent, and turned instead to sales, first of insurance and then automobiles. He built one of Oregon’s most successful Chevrolet dealerships in Salem and served for a time as President of the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association. He was Mayor of Salem from 1933 to 1935 and state Senator for three terms in the late 1930s and again after World War II, during which he served in the Army at Camp Adair in his home state. In 1948 he won election to complete the unexpired term of Governor Earl W. Snell, who had died in a plane crash. McKay declined to use funds from the state’s financial reserve accumulated through wartime taxation to expand educational facilities or highway construction, relying instead on a pay-as-you-go system. He also sought federal funds when feasible to support state programs. A supporter of Dwight D. Eisenhower for President, McKay was appointed Secretary of the Interior following the election and resigned the governorship just short of completing his four-year term. In 1956 he was the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat but lost the general election to Democrat Wayne Morse. He was later tapped by President Eisenhower to chair the U.S. Section of the International Joint Committee to settle resource problems with Canada along the Columbia River. He held that position until his death from heart disease in 1959.


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.

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