John Volpe

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John Volpe
John Volpe (1970).jpg
Volpe as Transportation Secretary, 1970
United States Ambassador to Italy
In office
March 6, 1973 – January 24, 1977
PresidentRichard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Preceded byGraham Martin
Succeeded byRichard N. Gardner
2nd United States Secretary of Transportation
In office
January 22, 1969 – February 2, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byAlan Boyd
Succeeded byClaude Brinegar
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
October 16, 1967 – July 21, 1968
Preceded byWilliam L. Guy
Succeeded byBuford Ellington
61st and 63rd Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 7, 1965 – January 22, 1969
Preceded byEndicott Peabody
Succeeded byFrancis W. Sargent
In office
January 5, 1961 – January 3, 1963
LieutenantEdward F. McLaughlin Jr.
Preceded byFoster Furcolo
Succeeded byEndicott Peabody
Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration
In office
October 22, 1956 – February 5, 1957
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byCharles Dwight Curtiss
Succeeded byBertram D. Tallamy
Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Works
In office
February 1953 – October 22, 1956
GovernorChristian Herter
Preceded byWilliam F. Callahan
Succeeded byAnthony DiNatale
Personal details
John Anthony Volpe

(1908-12-08)December 8, 1908
Wakefield, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedNovember 11, 1994(1994-11-11) (aged 85)
Nahant, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Giovaninna Benedetto
(m. 1934)
EducationWentworth Institute of Technology (BS)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1942–1946
RankU.S. Navy O-4 infobox.svg Lieutenant Commander
UnitSeabees Instructor

John Anthony Volpe (/ˈvlpi/; December 8, 1908 – November 11, 1994) was an American businessman, diplomat, and politician from Massachusetts. A son of Italian immigrants, he founded and owned a large construction firm. Politically, he was a Republican in increasingly Democratic Massachusetts, serving as its 61st and 63rd Governor from 1961 to 1963 and 1965 to 1969, as the United States Secretary of Transportation from 1969 to 1973, and as the United States Ambassador to Italy from 1973 to 1977.[1] As Secretary of Transportation, Volpe was an important figure in the development of the Interstate Highway System at the federal level.

Early life and education[edit]

Volpe was born on December 8, 1908 in Wakefield, Massachusetts.[2] He was the son of Italian immigrants Vito and Filomena (née Benedetto) Volpe, who had come from Pescosansonesco, Abruzzo[3] to Boston's North End on the SS Canopic in 1905; his father was in the construction business.[citation needed]

Volpe attended the Wentworth Institute (later known as the Wentworth Institute of Technology) in Boston where he majored in architectural construction and entered the construction business, building his own firm in 1930.[4] By the outbreak of World War II, it was one of the USA's leading construction companies.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1934, Volpe married Giovannina Benedetto, with whom he had two children, John Anthony, Jr. and Loretta Jean Volpe Rotondi.[3] During World War II, he volunteered to serve stateside as a United States Navy Seabees training officer, enlisting with the rank of lieutenant commander.[3] He was a Knight of Columbus.[5]

Early political career[edit]

Volpe's first political post was in 1951, when he served as the deputy chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party.[3] In 1953, Governor Christian Herter appointed him the Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Works, and in 1956 he was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. In this position he oversaw the early phases of the development of the Interstate Highway System.

Governor of Massachusetts[edit]

Volpe with Boston Mayor John F. Collins (1960–1968).

In 1960, Volpe was elected Governor of Massachusetts, defeating Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Joseph D. Ward. He served as governor from 1961 to 1963. In 1962, Volpe was narrowly defeated for reelection, losing to former Governor's Councillor and JFK friend Endicott Peabody. In 1964, Volpe ran again for governor and was able to capitalize on disarray within the Massachusetts Democratic Party when Lieutenant Governor Francis X. Bellotti defeated Peabody for the Democratic nomination for governor. Despite the Democratic landslide nationwide that year, Volpe defeated Bellotti in a close race. In 1966, Volpe was elected to the first four-year term in Massachusetts history, defeating former Massachusetts Attorney General Edward J. McCormack, Jr.

During his administration, Governor Volpe signed legislation to ban racial imbalances in education, reorganize the state's Board of Education, liberalize birth control laws, and increase public housing for low-income families. Governor Volpe also raised revenues, engaging in a long and ultimately successful fight to institute a three percent state sales tax. He served as president of the National Governors Association from 1967 to 1968. On April 22, 1965, Volpe received a visit from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Massachusetts State House, after which King delivered an address to a joint session of the 164th Massachusetts General Court.[6]

In 1968, Volpe stood unsuccessfully as a "favorite son" candidate in the Massachusetts Republican presidential primary. Though he was the only person on the ballot, he was defeated by a spontaneous write-in campaign for New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.[7] Volpe endorsed Richard Nixon. Volpe was one of the finalists in Richard M. Nixon's decision concerning a running mate; he was considered acceptable to most wings of the party, but Nixon ultimately selected Spiro Agnew instead.[8]

Secretary of Transportation[edit]

Volpe in a group photo of Nixon's cabinet on June 16, 1972, second from the left on the bottom row.

Following the election, President Nixon rewarded Volpe for his support by appointing him Secretary of Transportation. He resigned as governor to assume the cabinet post, and served in that position from 1969 to 1973.

During his tenure, Volpe abandoned previous positions supportive of unfettered highway construction, instead pushing for a more balanced approach to the nation's transportation infrastructure. He was notably instrumental in effectively ending attempts to revive Boston's failed Inner Belt project, which he had promoted as highway administrator.[9] Likewise, Volpe's 1969 decision to kill the proposed Riverfront Expressway saved New Orleans's historic French Quarter and marked a substantial victory for preservationists, who were able to convince Volpe that an expressway that cut the Quarter off from the riverfront would have been disastrous.[10] Amtrak was established during his time in office. An avid cyclist who biked to work on a folding bike, he used his position - and the energy crisis - to encourage more Americans to bike.

Volpe was the second to serve in this role following the position becoming a Cabinet-level appointment. He received the Award of Excellence in 1970 from Engineering News-Record for his service as Secretary of Transportation.[11]

Ambassador to Italy[edit]

Volpe had a long and abiding interest in the homeland of his parents, and visited it many times. In 1969, he was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.[12]

In 1973, Volpe was nominated by President Nixon and confirmed by the United States Senate as United States Ambassador to Italy, a position he held until 1977. Volpe was looked down upon by elements of the Italian elite, due to his roots in southern Italy,[13] and upset leftist elements of its political establishment by making strong statements against the inclusion of the Italian Communist Party in its government. He was accused by the Italian Communist press of being "neo-Fascist" for his views.[14]

Death and legacy[edit]

Volpe died in Nahant, Massachusetts, on November 11, 1994, at the age of 85.[1] He was buried at Forest Glade Cemetery in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

The John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge was named in his memory, as well as the Governor John A. Volpe Library at Wakefield High School in Wakefield. Volpe's papers are stored in the Archives and Special Collections of the Northeastern University Libraries, in Boston.[15] Terminal E at Logan International Airport is also dedicated in his honor.


  1. ^ a b Jennifer Steinhauer (November 13, 1994). "John A. Volpe, Nixon Supporter And Massachusetts Governor, 85". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-11. John Anthony Volpe, a former Governor of Massachusetts, Ambassador to Italy and United States Secretary of Transportation, died on Friday night. He was 85 and lived in Nahunt, Mass. The Nahant police attributed his death to natural causes. ...
  2. ^ Kilgore, pp. 19-20
  3. ^ a b c d e Driscoll Jr., Edgar (November 12, 1994). "John Volpe, former Mass. Governor, Dead At 85". Boston Globe.
  4. ^ "Biography: John A. Volpe" Archived 2012-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, US Department of Transportation
  5. ^ Lapomarda, S.J., Vincent A. (1992). The Knights of Columbus in Massachusetts (second ed.). Norwood, Massachusetts: Knights of Columbus Massachusetts State Council. p. 88.
  6. ^ Levine, Hillel; Harmon, Lawrence (1992). The Death of an American Jewish Community: A Tragedy of Good Intentions. New York: Free Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0029138656.
  7. ^ Wainstock, p. 94
  8. ^ Wainstock, pp. 115-116
  9. ^ Rose and Mohl, pp. 154-157
  10. ^ Campanella, Richard. "Why idyllic Claiborne Avenue was undone by expressway, but planned French Quarter highway died". Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  11. ^ Lewis, Scott (April 20, 2015), "ENR Marks 50 Years of Excellence", Engineering News-Record, New York: Dodge Data & Analytics, vol. 274 no. 11, pp. 42–56, ISSN 0891-9526
  12. ^ Fornasier, pp. xvii-xviii
  13. ^ Gardner, p. 36
  14. ^ Fornasier, pp. 124, 226
  15. ^ John A. Volpe Papers - Northeastern University Library


External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles Gibbons
Republican nominee for Governor of Massachusetts
1960, 1962, 1964, 1966
Succeeded by
Francis W. Sargent
Political offices
Preceded by
Foster Furcolo
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Endicott Peabody
Preceded by
Endicott Peabody
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Francis W. Sargent
Preceded by
William L. Guy
Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Buford Ellington
Preceded by
Alan Boyd
United States Secretary of Transportation
Succeeded by
Claude Brinegar
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Graham Martin
United States Ambassador to Italy
Succeeded by
Richard N. Gardner