Key Pittman

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Key Pittman
PITTMAN, KEY. SENATOR LCCN2016858404 (cropped).jpg
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
March 4, 1933 – November 10, 1940
Preceded byGeorge H. Moses
Succeeded byWilliam H. King
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
In office
March 4, 1933 – November 10, 1940
Preceded byWilliam Borah
Succeeded byWalter F. George
Secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus
In office
December 14, 1916 – March 3, 1917
LeaderJohn W. Kern
Preceded byWillard Saulsbury Jr.
Succeeded byWilliam H. King
United States Senator
from Nevada
In office
January 29, 1913 – November 10, 1940
Preceded byWilliam A. Massey
Succeeded byBerkeley L. Bunker
Personal details
Key Denson Pittman

(1872-09-12)September 12, 1872
Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedNovember 10, 1940(1940-11-10) (aged 68)
Reno, Nevada, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mimosa Gates
EducationSouthwestern Presbyterian University

Key Denson Pittman (September 12, 1872 – November 10, 1940) was a United States Senator from Nevada and a member of the Democratic Party, serving eventually as president pro tempore as well as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.


Early years[edit]

Pittman was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on September 12, 1872, a son of William Buckner Pittman and Katherine Key Pittman. His siblings included a younger brother Vail, who served as Governor of Nevada.[1]

Pittman was educated by private tutors and at the Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee. He studied law, then later became a lawyer. In 1897, Pittman joined in the Klondike Gold Rush and worked as a miner until 1901.

Pittman moved to Tonopah, Nevada, in 1902 and continued the practice of law. He represented Nevada at the St. Louis Exposition, the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, and the National Irrigation Congress.[citation needed]

Political career[edit]

Pittman in 1918.

In 1910, he made an unsuccessful run for the Senate. Later, he was elected as a Democrat to the Senate in 1913 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of George S. Nixon, and served until his own death in 1940.

Between 1933 and 1940, during the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pittman was the chairman of the powerful Committee on Foreign Relations and a member of the Committee on Territories and the Committee on Industrial Expositions. In addition, during those years Pittman was also President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

Among his legislation is the Pittman–Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 which set up a formula for federal sharing of ammunition tax revenue for establishing state wildlife areas. The program is still in effect.[citation needed] The Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area near Hiko, Nevada, which encompasses the Frenchy and Nesbitt Lakes, is named in his honor.

Death and legacy[edit]

It was falsely rumored for years that Pittman died before his final election in 1940, and that Democratic party leaders kept the body at Tonapah's Mizpah Hotel in a bathtub full of ice until after he was reelected so Governor Edward Carville, a fellow Democrat, could appoint a replacement.[2] However, the truth was, as former Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha wrote, "just as disreputable". Pittman suffered a severe heart attack just before the election on November 5, and two doctors told his aides before the election that death was imminent.[2] To avoid affecting the election, the party told the press that the senator was hospitalized for exhaustion and that his condition was not serious.[2] Pittman died on November 10 at the Washoe General Hospital in Reno, Nevada.[3]

Several pieces of legislation bore his name, including the Pittman Act of 1918 and the Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.

The Pittman section of the Alaska Railroad, more commonly known today as the community of Meadow Lakes west of Wasilla, was also named for him.[4] Pittman Road runs north from its intersection with the George Parks Highway at "downtown" Meadow Lakes.

In 1941, his wife donated Pittman's papers to the Library of Congress. She temporarily withdrew them in 1942. They were returned to the Library by the Gates family in 1954.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nevada Governor Vail Montgomery Pittman". National Governors Association. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Nevada Yesterdays. "The Truth Of The Legend Of Key Pittman". KNPR. Las Vegas, NV. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  3. ^ Rocha, Guy; Myers, Dennis (May 2003). "Myth #88 - Key Pittman on Ice". Sierra Sage. State Library and Archives, Department of Administration, State of Nevada. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  4. ^ Williams, Anita L.; Ewers, Linda D. (2003). Ride Guide to the Historic Alaska Railroad. Anchorage: TurnAgain Products. p. 30. ISBN 0939301016.
  5. ^ Brand, Katherine (2011), Key Pittman Papers: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Further reading[edit]

  • Cole, Wayne S. (March 1960). "Senator Key Pittman and American Neutrality Policies, 1933-1940". Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Organization of American Historians. 46 (4): 644–662. doi:10.2307/1886281. JSTOR 1886281.
  • Glad, Betty (1986). Key Pittman: The Tragedy of a Senate Insider. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06112-9.
  • Israel, Fred L. (November 1961). "The Fulfillment of Bryan's Dream: Key Pittman and Silver Politics, 1918-1933". Pacific Historical Review. University of California Press. 40 (4): 359–380. doi:10.2307/3636423. JSTOR 3636423.
  • Israel, Fred L. (1963). Nevada's Key Pittman. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
New office Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Nevada
(Class 1)

1910, 1912, 1916, 1922, 1928, 1934, 1940
Succeeded by
James G. Scrugham
Preceded by
Willard Saulsbury Jr.
Secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus

Succeeded by
William H. King
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
William A. Massey
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Nevada
Served alongside: Francis G. Newlands, Charles Henderson, Tasker Oddie, Pat McCarran
Succeeded by
Berkeley L. Bunker
Preceded by
William Alden Smith
Chair of the Senate Territories Committee
Succeeded by
Harry Stewart New
Preceded by
Thomas W. Hardwick
Chair of the Senate Industrial Expositions Committee
Position abolished
Preceded by
William Borah
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Walter F. George
Political offices
Preceded by
George H. Moses
President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate
Succeeded by
William H. King