Monday, December 26, 2011

George Perkins (1839-1923) - California Governor; Long-serving Senator

Governor George Perkins

George Perkins early years were spent working on the family farm, which he did not enjoy. His dream was to become a captain of a ship. At age 13, he applied for a position as a cabin-boy, but he was considered too young. Not to be deterred, George hid on the ship and was not discovered until the ship set sail. He was set to work as one of the cabin-boys. He arrived in San Francisco when he was 16. Perkins tried his luck at mining for several months, but was unsuccessful. He moved to a mining camp in Ophir where he drove a mule train and worked as a porter in a store. Perkins eventually became a clerk at the store and earned a salary of $60 a month. When business had slowed, Perkins bought the store. By the age of 20, Perkins grossed about $500, 000 annually through his trade in merchandise, produce and provisions.

Grave of George Perkins (photo by Michael Colbruno)

Perkins was elected to serve as a term as a state Senator in 1869 and was re-elected in 1871. This was the turning point in Perkins’ political career as well as in his business career. While Perkins was in the Senate he met Captain Manor Goodall. In 1872, Perkins and Goodall formed the Goodall, Nelson and Perkins Steamship Company, which was renamed the Pacific Coast Steam Navigation Company. It was a very successful company. In 1873, Perkins was elected to fill the unexpired term of Senator Boucher, who passed away in late 1872.

In 1875, Perkins moved to San Francisco, leaving his brother to run the store. In addition to his store, Perkins also owned sheep and cattle ranches, was involved in mining and lumber interests. He was also a member of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, president of Arctic Oil Works as well as president of Starr and Company. He helped establish Bank of Butte County, and was a director for the California State Bank in Sacramento and First National Bank of San Francisco. 

At the Republican State Convention of 1879, Perkins was selected as his party’s nomination for governor. His campaign for governor was successful garnering him 20,000 votes over the next closest candidate. Perkins was the first governor to work under the new state constitution. During his tenure, the State Normal School opened (which later became UCLA), and the University of Southern California was established. Perkins also pardoned numerous prisoners, personally interviewing each prisoner. 

After his term as governor, Perkins returned to his business interests. However, in 1888, he was appointed as one of the directors of the deaf, dumb and blind asylum at Berkeley and was reappointed in 1891. In 1889, Perkins was appointed a trustee of the state mining bureau. 

In 1893, Governor Markham appointed Perkins to fill out the unexpired term of U.S. Senator Leland Stanford, who had passed away. Perkins was re-elected to the U.S. Senate three more times. He retired from the Senate in 1915 and returned to Oakland. He was the third-longest serving senator in California history, after Hiram Johnson and Alan Cranston, serving 22 years.

George Pardee (July 25, 1857-September 1, 1941) - California Governor

Governor George Pardee

The son of a prominent physician and politician (who served as Mayor of Oakland, State Senator and State Assemblyman), George Pardee was destined to follow in his father's footsteps. He was born in San Francisco in 1857 and raised in the family home in Oakland.

Pardee attended the University of California where he received a Bachelor of Philosophy in 1879 and a Master of Arts in 1881. He attended the Cooper Medical College for two years and he received his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Leipzig, Germany in 1885. Pardee joined his father’s medical practice, which specialized in diseases of the eye and ear.

Pardee Grave in Plot 1; Pardee home in Oakland

Pardee’s political career began when he was appointed to serve on Oakland’s Board of Health in 1889. In 1891, he was elected to Oakland’s City Council and in 1893 was elected Mayor for a two-year term. He served as California Governor from 1903 -1907 and became known as "The Earthquake Governor," since he oversaw the aftermath of the Great Earthquake of 1906. Pardee sought to take command of the situation himself, traveling to his native Oakland in the later afternoon to oversee the state response to the disaster. Making his headquarters in Oakland Mayor Frank K. Mott's office, Pardee worked twenty-hour days during the disaster, signing travel permission papers, coordinating state and federal relief funds and trains, and remaining in contact with the outside world through Oakland's undamaged telegraph lines. In addition, Pardee also visited other afflicted cities, such as San Jose and Santa Rosa, to tour and coordinate their own disaster responses.

Pardee was the second native-born Californian to assume the governorship, after fellow Mountain View Cemetery denizen Romualdo Pacheco, and the first governor born in California post-statehood.

His exposure to innovative environmental conservation efforts in Germany heavily influenced his political decisions; as Governor, he was a strong supporter of conservation measures. After leaving office he was president of the East Bay Municipal Utilities district. The Pardee Dam, near Jackson, is named after him.