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Governor of Kansas, Secretary of War
Harry Hines Woodring was born in Elk City, Kansas, on May 31, 1890. He was educated in city and county schools, but dropped out of high school a year before graduation; instead, he took a one-year course in business and commerce at the University of Lebanon (Indiana).
Woodring began his working career at the age of sixteen, as a janitor for the Elk City Bank. Soon promoted to bookkeeper, he became an assistant cashier within two years. Moving to Neodesha in 1907, he became the cashier of the First National Bank.
When World War I broke out, Woodring enlisted as a private, but was quickly commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Tank Corps.
After the war, Woodring returned to the First National Bank of Neodesha. Quickly rising through the ranks, he soon became president of the bank, and later its owner. A savvy businessman, he knew that the stock market bubble of 1929 would eventually burst, and he sold his interests in the bank in March, just a few months before the crash.
Woodring was elected Governor of Kansas in 1930, defeating Republican Frank Haucke and Independent John Brinkley. Taking office during the early Depression years, Woodring voluntarily cut his salary by ten per cent and appealed to other state employees to do likewise. He also made drastic cutbacks in most areas of state government. He got most of the legislation he wanted, including tax relief, tighter control on the sale of securities, a permanent Crippled Children's Commission, the requirement of drivers' licenses for motor vehicle operators, a separate Kansas State Labor Department, and the reduction of utility rates. His efforts to find markets for Kansas oil met with little success, however. During his administration, Woodring vetoed two bills. The first concerned an investigation into the State Highway Commission, which had become the largest state employer; the second would have reinstated capital punishment. He was defeated for re-election by Republican Alf Landon in 1932.
Soon after losing his bid for re-election, Woodring married Helen Coolidge, with whom he had three children. The couple divorced in 1960.
In 1933, Woodring was named Assistant Secretary of War, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Following the death of Secretary George H. Dern in 1936, he became Acting Secretary of War, and was confirmed as Secretary of War in 1937. During his tenure the military adopted the practice of competitive bidding as a standard procurement procedure. In addition, artillery guns were motorized, semi-automatic guns and anti-aircraft weapons were developed, and new tanks were built. It was Woodring who led the development of the four-engine B-17, which he dubbed the "Flying Fortress." Woodring was also the man who recommended the appointment of George C. Marshall as the Army Chief of Staff. Woodring resigned in June 1940 because of a dispute with President Roosevelt over the deployment of B-17's in Britain while the United States was still an officially neutral country.
Returning to Kansas, Woodring twice more tried to regain the governorship of Kansas. In 1946 he was defeated by Republican Frank Carlson; in 1956 he lost the Democratic nomination to George Docking.
Harry Hines Woodring died in Topeka, Kansas, on September 9, 1967.
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