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Joseph Jacob Foss
South Dakota

Gov. Joseph Jacob Foss

  • January 4, 1955 - January 6, 1959
  • Republican
  • April 17, 1915
  • January 1, 2003
  • South Dakota
  • Sioux Falls College, Augustana College, University of South Dakota
  • Married twice--June Shakstad (three children), Donna Wild Hall
  • Air Force, Marines
  • Congressional Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross


JOSEPH JACOB FOSS was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He attended Sioux Falls College and Augustana College and received a B.A. degree from the University of South Dakota in 1940. He served with distinction in the Pacific Theater as a Marine Corps fighter pilot during World War II, receiving the Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart, and on May 18, 1943 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also served in the Korean War as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force directing training, and then held the rank of Brigadier-General in the Air National Guard and in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. After World War II he started a flying service in Sioux Falls and in 1953 he established the Foss Motor Company. He entered politics in 1948, serving as State Representative for Minnehaha County for two terms. He lost the 1950 Republican gubernatorial primary but won both the primary and the general election four years later. During Foss’s two terms as governor, he won a bonus for Korean War veterans, helped increase aid for education, and secured passage of a record state budget. In 1958 he lost a bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to George McGovern. After leaving office, Foss maintained his interest in aviation and remained active in civic work. From 1960 until 1966, he was Commissioner of the American Football League.


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. I. New York: James T. White & Company.

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