Ernest Gruening

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Ernest Gruening
Ernest Gruening (D-AK).jpg
United States Senator
from Alaska
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1969
Preceded by None (one of the first two senators following statehood)
Succeeded by Mike Gravel
7th Governor of Alaska Territory
In office
December 6, 1939 – April 10, 1953
Nominated by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by John Weir Troy
Succeeded by Benjamin Franklin Heintzleman
Personal details
Born Ernest Henry Gruening
(1887-02-06)February 6, 1887
New York City
Died June 26, 1974(1974-06-26) (aged 87)
District of Columbia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Dorothy Elizabeth Smith
Children Ernest Gruening, Jr. ("Sonny"),
Huntington Sanders Gruening ("Hunt"),
Peter Brown Gruening
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Journalist, Politician
Religion Judaism

Ernest Henry Gruening (/ˈɡrnɪŋ/ GREEN-ing; February 6, 1887 – June 26, 1974) was an American journalist and Democrat who was the Governor of the Alaska Territory from 1939 until 1953, and a United States Senator from Alaska from 1959 until 1969.

Early life[edit]

Born in New York City, Gruening attended The Hotchkiss School, and he graduated from Harvard University in 1907 and from Harvard Medical School in 1912. He then forsook medicine to pursue journalism. Initially a reporter for the Boston American in 1912, he went on to become copy desk editor and rewrite man for the Boston Evening Herald and, from 1912 to 1913, an editorial writer. For four years, Gruening was, consecutively, managing editor of the Boston Evening Traveler and the New York Tribune. After serving in World War I, Gruening became the editor of The Nation from 1920 to 1923 and the editor of the New York Post for four months in 1934.

Political career[edit]

Intrigued with New Deal politics, he switched careers. Gruening was appointed to the U.S. delegation to the 7th Inter-American Conference in 1933, Director of the Division of Territories and Island Possessions of the Department of the Interior, 1934–1939, Administrator of the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, 1935–1937. He moved to the Alaska International Highway Commission from 1938 to 1942. In 1939 Gruening was appointed Governor of the Territory of Alaska, and served in that position for 13 1/2 years. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1952, 1956, and 1960.

Pending statehood, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1958; with Alaska's admission to the Union in 1959, Gruening served in the Senate for 10 years.

Gruening’s most notable act as Senator was being, along with Wayne Morse of Oregon, one of only two Senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized an expansion of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He was also responsible for introducing a sense of Congress resolution to establish the nationwide 911 number.

Gruening was defeated for re-election in 1968 by fellow Democrat Mike Gravel. Gravel defeated Gruening in the Democratic primary, but Gruening ran in the general election as an independent, taking third place, behind Gravel and Republican former Anchorage Mayor Elmer E. Rasmuson. He continued his active political involvement as president of an investment firm and as a legislative consultant. He died on June 26, 1974.


While Gruening was not an Alaska resident when he was appointed governor, he stayed in Alaska after leaving office. Remaining in Juneau, he spent most of his later years living with Dorothy in a cabin at Mile 26 of the Glacier Highway. The cabin is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In spite of only one of his three sons reaching full adulthood, Gruening's descendants nonetheless managed to establish roots in Alaska after him, mostly in Juneau. In 1980, Gruening's grandson, Clark Gruening (who grew up in Juneau but moved to Anchorage following college, serving from there for two terms in the Alaska House of Representatives), defeated incumbent Gravel for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. Senate primary.

Another grandson, Winthrop H. "Win" Gruening, was the longtime head of The Alaska Committee, organized in Juneau in 1995 to lobby for keeping Juneau as Alaska's capital.[1] Win Gruening also had a long career in banking in Juneau, originally with B. M. Behrends Bank, which called itself the oldest bank in Alaska prior to being absorbed by KeyBank, and with KeyBank following the acquisition. His daughter, Caroline Gruening, enjoyed success in basketball, playing guard for Juneau-Douglas High School and Santa Clara University.


Gruening Street in Homer, one of several communities throughout Alaska which has a street named for Gruening.

The Ernest Gruening Building, a classroom building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, is named in his honor. The building is eight stories with 72,000-square-feet, making the Ernest Gruening Building the first building on the college campus to be more than three stories tall. In 1977, Alaska donated a statue of Ernest Gruening to the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection. Ernest Gruening Middle School in the Eagle River community of Anchorage, Alaska is named in his honor. Numerous roads and streets in Alaska are named for him as well.


  1. ^ McAllister, Bill (September 8, 2000). "Juneau Color – Piloting, permanent fund and paragliders". Juneau Empire. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  • This article incorporates material from the National Statuary Hall website.
  • Gruening, Ernest (1973). Many Battles: The Autobiography of Ernest Gruening. Liveright. ISBN 0-87140-565-2. 
  • Johnson, Robert David (1998). Ernest Gruening and the American Dissenting Tradition. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-26060-3. 
  • Johnson, Robert David (1997). "Anti-Imperialism And The Good Neighbour Policy: Ernest Gruening and Puerto Rican Affairs, 1934–1939". Journal of Latin American Studies 29 (1): 89–110. doi:10.1017/S0022216X96004634.  (Argues Gruening tried to implement the anti-imperialist principles he had outlined in the 1920s. He failed because he lacked local support.)
  • Naske, Claus-M (2004). Ernest Gruening: Alaska's Greatest Governor. University of Alaska Press. ISBN 1-889963-35-6. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Ernest Gruening at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by
John Weir Troy
Territorial Governor of Alaska
Succeeded by
Benjamin Franklin Heintzleman
United States Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Alaska
Served alongside: Bob Bartlett and Ted Stevens
Succeeded by
Mike Gravel