Harold H. Burton, U.S. Senator, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

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Harold Hitz Burton

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Alfred Edgar Burton and Anna Gertrude Burton
Husband of Selma Florence Burton
Father of Lt. William S. Burton (USN) [U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts]

Managed by: Private User
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About Harold H. Burton, U.S. Senator, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court


Harold Hitz Burton (June 22, 1888 – October 28, 1964) was an American politician and lawyer. He served as the 45th mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was known as a dispassionate jurist who prized equal justice under the law.


He was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, to Alfred E. Burton and Anna Gertrude Hitz. His father was a Dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was also an explorer. He had accompanied Robert Peary on several expeditions to the North Pole. He was also a second cousin of J. Edgar Hoover on their mothers' side. Their common great-grandparents were Johannes (Hans) Hitz, first Swiss Consul General to the United States, and wife Anna Kohler.

Burton attended Bowdoin College, where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, was quarterback of the football team, and graduated summa cum laude. His roommate and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Theta chapter) brother was Owen Brewster, later a U.S. Senator from Maine. He went on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1912.

After graduating, he moved to Cleveland and began the practice of law there. However, in 1914 he joined his wife's uncle as a company attorney for Utah Power and Light Company in Salt Lake City. He later worked for Utah Light and Traction, and then for Idaho Power Company and Boise Valley Traction Company, both in Boise, Idaho.

When the U.S. entered World War I, Burton joined the United States Army, rising to the rank of Captain. He served as an infantry officer, saw heavy action in France and Belgium, and received the Purple Heart and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

After the war, Burton returned to the practice of law in Cleveland. He also taught at Western Reserve University Law School. In the late 1920s he entered politics as a Republican. He was elected to the East Cleveland Board of Education in 1927, and to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1928. After serving briefly in the Ohio House, he became law director for the city of Cleveland in 1929, till returning to private practice in 1932.

In 1935 he was elected Mayor of Cleveland. He was re-elected twice, and served until entering the U.S. Senate in 1941. For his decorous personal life and opposition to organized crime, he was dubbed "the Boy Scout Mayor".

In 1940, Burton was elected to the U.S. Senate, with 52.3% of the vote.

It was in the Senate that he first met fellow Senator Harry S. Truman. Burton served on Truman's "Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program", which monitored the U.S. war effort during World War II, and the two got along well.

Truman was elected Vice President in 1944, and became President upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

Justice Owen J. Roberts retired later that year, and Truman decided to appoint a Republican to replace him as a bipartisan gesture. He selected Burton as someone whom he knew and respected. (See, Harry S. Truman Supreme Court candidates.) His nomination was announced to the Senate and confirmed unanimously on the same day, without hearing or debate. Burton resigned from the Senate on September 30, 1945, when President Truman nominated him, and took his seat on the Court the next day. Burton was the last serving member of Congress appointed to the Court, although former Senator Sherman Minton was appointed in 1949.

Burton served until retiring on October 13, 1958. According to Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren's papers, Burton was influential in bringing about the Supreme Court's unanimity in the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.

Burton married Selma Florence Smith in 1912. They had four children: Barbara (Mrs. Charles Weidner), William (who served in the Ohio House of Representatives and was a noted trial lawyer), Deborah (Mrs. Wallace Adler), and Robert (a distinguished attorney and counsel to athletes).

He suffered from Parkinson's disease in his later years. He died on October 28, 1964 in Washington, DC, from complications arising from this, kidney failure and pulmonary trouble. His remains are interred at Highland Park Cemetery in Cleveland.


Cleveland's Main Avenue Bridge was renamed in his honor in 1986.

His papers and other memorabilia are primarily in four collections. Bowdoin College has 750 items including documents concerning 47 judicial opinions;[8][9] The Hiram College Archives collection holds 69 items. The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress has 187 ft. (120,000 items) consisting mainly of correspondence and legal files. The Western Reserve Historical Society has 10 linear ft. relating mainly to his tenure as mayor of Cleveland; the collection contains correspondence, reports, speeches, proclamations, and newspaper clippings relating to routine administrative matters and topics of special interest during Burton's mayoralty. Other papers repose at various institutions around the country, as part of other collections.

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Harold H. Burton, U.S. Senator, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court's Timeline

June 22, 1888
October 28, 1964
Age 76