The following nine people who once lived in North Dakota shared a similar political achievement: Theodore Roosevelt, Gary Johnson, Happy Chandler, Hazen Pingree, Arthur Crane, Horace Austin, Arthur Langlie, Ralph Herseth and Donald Nutter. They all served as governors of states other than North Dakota.
Austin (Minnesota), who later became the register of the U.S. Land Office in Fargo, was the only governor to move to North Dakota after he had served as a state chief executive. Johnson (New Mexico), who was from Minot, was the only one born in North Dakota, and Langlie (Washington), who lived in Divide County, was the only other child to have lived in this state.
Both Herseth (South Dakota) and Nutter (Montana) attended college in North Dakota; Herseth at NDAC, now NDSU, and Nutter at the Wahpeton State School of Science. Chandler (Kentucky) was a professional baseball player for Grafton; Pingree (Michigan) was a Stutsman County farmer; and Roosevelt (New York) was a rancher in Billings County.
Horace Austin was a popular Minnesota judge when he was elected governor of Minnesota in 1869. He was reelected in 1871, and in 1872, people who had lived in Centralia (now Fargo) solicited his help because the Northern Pacific Railroad forced them off the land on which they had settled. He helped get the issue resolved and the people were able to return to their homes.
Austin did not run for reelection in 1874 and accepted the position of auditor for the U.S. Treasury Department. After serving for seven years, “Austin wanted to return to the Upper Midwest,” and President Grant appointed him register of the U.S. Land Office in Fargo in 1881, where he became a leading member of the community. In 1885, Austin moved to Minneapolis to practice law.
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Hazen Pingree had built a thriving shoe manufacturing company in Detroit, Mich., when he became interested in growing potatoes. Through his research, he concluded that the best site for raising potatoes was north-central Stutsman County. In the spring of 1880, he journeyed to that region, purchased a large tract of land and planted his potato crop. When the yield proved to be less than expected, he returned to Detroit.
In 1890, Pingree was elected mayor of Detroit and he was reelected in 1892 and 1894. Pingree was so popular as mayor, he was persuaded to run for governor of Michigan and was elected in 1896 and reelected in 1898. When the Stutsman County town of Pingree was established in 1881, it was named in his honor.
Theodore Roosevelt was a New York state assemblyman (legislator) in 1883 when he went to the Badlands to hunt bison. While there, the future president fell in love with the area and said, “I have definitely decided to go into the cattle business,” and purchased a ranch and had it stocked with cattle. Roosevelt later purchased a second ranch, helped found the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association, established the Boone and Crockett Club and served as deputy sheriff of Billings County.
During the winter of 1886-87, he lost most of his cattle and returned to New York to serve as U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and an officer in the Spanish-American War. In 1898, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York and, in 1900, was elected vice president. With the death of President William McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt became president and was elected to that office in 1904. Roosevelt did not seek reelection in 1908, and unsuccessfully ran as a third party candidate in 1912.
Albert “Happy” Chandler, a talented athlete from Kentucky, took time off from college to play baseball during the summers. In 1920 he joined the Grafton team in the Red River Valley League, and a number of the teams he played against employed excellent African American players who were prohibited from playing organized professional baseball because of the color of their skin. Chandler returned to Kentucky to complete law school, establish a law practice and get involved in politics. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1931, and governor in 1935. In 1939, when one of Kentucky’s senators died, Chandler was appointed as his replacement.
With the death of MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1944, the baseball team owners elected Chandler to fill that position. Landis had continued the ban of black baseball players, but Chandler ended that ban by allowing the Brooklyn Dodgers to sign Jackie Robinson to a major league contract. In 1955, Chandler was elected to another four-year term as governor of Kentucky. Chandler Field, the baseball stadium in Grafton, is named in his honor.
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Arthur Langlie was born in Minnesota in 1900, and when he was 5, his family moved to the town of Kermit, in Divide County, where his father managed the hotel. In 1909, a fire destroyed most of the town, including the hotel, and the family relocated to the state of Washington. In 1938, Langlie was elected mayor of Seattle, and in 1940, he was elected governor of Washington. He was defeated for reelection in 1944, but was successful in regaining the governorship in 1948 and was reelected in 1952.
Langlie decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 1956, but was defeated by Warren Magnuson, who was born in Moorhead, Minn. Langlie left politics to become president of the McCall Publishing Co.
Arthur Crane was one of the most respected school administrators in North Dakota history. He served as high school superintendent in Minto and Jamestown before becoming the first president of the Minot Normal School (now Minot State University) in 1913. He resigned his position at Minot in 1920 and, in 1921, was named president of the University of Wyoming.
In 1946, Crane was talked into running for secretary of state of Wyoming and was elected. In 1949, the governor resigned and, since Wyoming did not have a lieutenant governor, the secretary of state was next in the line of succession. Consequently, Crane became governor, and served the remaining two years of the term before retiring.
After graduating from high school in Houghton, S.D., Ralph Herseth attended the North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) in 1928-29. He dropped out of college to become a rancher and farmer in South Dakota and served four years in the state legislature. In 1958, he was elected governor and was defeated in 1960 when he ran for reelection.
After graduating from high school in Lambert, Montana, Donald Nutter attended the North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton from 1933 to 1935, and then transferred to the University of Montana. During World War II he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and after the war he operated a farm equipment business and also served in the state legislature.
In 1960, Nutter was elected governor of Montana and was killed in an airplane accident in 1962.
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Gary Johnson was born in Minot and, while he was still a child, his family relocated to New Mexico. While attending college in Albuquerque he established Big J Enterprises, a construction company that eventually became a multimillion dollar corporation.
In 1994, Johnson self-financed his own run to become governor, which was successful, and he won reelection in 1998. Because of term limits he was prohibited from seeking a third term in 2002. In 2012 and again in 2016, Johnson was the Libertarian candidate in the election for president.
If you are aware of anyone I missed, I would appreciate very much if you would contact me. I want to thank author Bruce Gjovig for suggesting this article.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.