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Peter Norbeck

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Peter Norbeck
United States Senator
from South Dakota
In office
March 4, 1921 – December 20, 1936
Preceded byEdwin S. Johnson
Succeeded byHerbert E. Hitchcock
9th Governor of South Dakota
In office
January 2, 1917 – January 4, 1921
LieutenantWilliam H. McMaster
Preceded byFrank M. Byrne
Succeeded byWilliam H. McMaster
11th Lieutenant Governor of South Dakota
In office
GovernorFrank M. Byrne
Preceded byE. L. Abel
Succeeded byWilliam H. McMaster
Member of the South Dakota Senate
In office
Personal details
Born(1870-08-27)August 27, 1870
Clay County, Dakota Territory
DiedDecember 20, 1936(1936-12-20) (aged 66)
Redfield, South Dakota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
ProfessionWell driller

Peter Norbeck (August 27, 1870 – December 20, 1936) was an American politician from South Dakota. After serving two terms as the ninth Governor of South Dakota, he was elected to three consecutive terms as a United States Senator. Norbeck was the first native-born Governor of South Dakota to serve in office, and the first native-born U.S. Senator from South Dakota (he was born in the portion of the Dakota Territory that would later become the state of South Dakota). He is best remembered as "Mount Rushmore's great political patron", for promoting the construction of the giant sculpture at Mount Rushmore and securing federal funding for it.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Norbeck was the eldest of six children born to immigrants George (born in Jämtland, Sweden) and Karen (Larsen) Norbeck, who was Norwegian. At the time of Norbeck's birth, his family was living in a dugout on the family's 160 acres (0.65 km2), located eight miles (13 km) northeast of Vermillion, Dakota Territory. He attended the public schools and the University of South Dakota at Vermillion.[2] In 1895 he was a contractor and driller of deep water, oil, and gas wells. He moved to Redfield, South Dakota, in 1900 and added agricultural pursuits.

He married Lydia Theresa Anderson in June 1901. They had three daughters, Nellie, Ruth, and Selma (aka Sally); and one son, Harold.[3]

Personal affiliations[edit]

Norbeck was a Freemason, and a member of the Grand Lodge of South Dakota.[4] He received the 32° of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction in Yankton, SD on 22 June 1919, and was also a member of Yelduz Shriners[5] in Aberdeen, South Dakota.[6] His Blue (Craft) lodge name and number are not known.


On May 9, 1908, Norbeck ran for the South Dakota State Senate from Spink County. After being elected to the first of three terms, he joined Coe Crawford's inner circle of Progressives. In 1914, Norbeck reluctantly accepted Governor Frank Byrne's invitation to run for Lieutenant Governor on the Republican ticket; they ended up winning.

In 1916, Norbeck ran for governor and beat Democratic candidate W.T. Rinehart, becoming the ninth Governor of South Dakota. He served in that office from 1917 to 1921.

In 1920, Norbeck was elected United States Senator. He won the election with 50% of the vote, running against a Democrat and two fairly strong independent candidates; the Democrat finished third. Norbeck was re-elected to the Senate in 1926 and 1932.

South Dakota tourism and Mount Rushmore[edit]

Norbeck made a number of contributions to South Dakota's tourism industry. He worked with sculptor Gutzon Borglum to help him create his huge sculpture at Mount Rushmore, convinced presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt to support it, and shepherded multiple bills through Congress to provide federal funding for it.[1] He encouraged the development of the Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills. He also pushed for the development of Sylvan Lake, Needles Highway, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the Game Sanctuary in the Black Hills.[7]

As outgoing Republican chairman during the last months of the Herbert Hoover presidency, Norbeck appointed Ferdinand Pecora as Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate's Committee on Banking and Currency. The Committee investigated the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Death and memorials[edit]

Norbeck died of cancer in Redfield, South Dakota, during his third term as United States Senator in 1936. He is interred at Bloomington Church Cemetery, Platte, South Dakota.[2]

The Peter Norbeck Summer House, in Custer State Park, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Biography: Senator Peter Norbeck". American Experience: Mount Rushmore. PBS. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Peter Norbeck". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
  3. ^ "Peter Norbeck". Soylent Communications. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
  4. ^ "Notable Masons". The Grand Lodge of South Dakota. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  5. ^ "Yelduz Shriners Website". Yelduz Shriners. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  6. ^ Denslow, William R. (1957). 10,000 Famous Freemasons. Columbia, MO: Missouri Lodge of Research.
  7. ^ "Peter Norbeck". National Governors Association. Retrieved October 18, 2012.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of South Dakota
1916, 1918
Succeeded by
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
(Class 3)

1920, 1926, 1932
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
E. L. Abel
Lieutenant Governor of South Dakota
Succeeded by
William H. McMaster
Preceded by Governor of South Dakota
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 3) from South Dakota
Served alongside: Thomas Sterling, William H. McMaster, William J. Bulow
Succeeded by