Ray Lyman Wilbur, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

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Ray Lyman Wilbur

Birthplace: Boone, Boone County, Iowa, United States
Death: June 26, 1949 (74)
Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, United States (heart disease)
Place of Burial: Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Dwight Locke Wilbur and Edna Maria Wilbur
Husband of Marguerite May Wilbur
Father of Private; Blake Colburn Wilbur; Dwight Locke Wilbur, II, M.D.; Lois Proctor Hopper; Jessica Foster Wilbur and 1 other
Brother of Curtis D. Wilbur, U.S. Sec'y of the Navy,19th Chief Justice of California

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Ray Lyman Wilbur, U.S. Secretary of the Interior


Ray Lyman Wilbur (April 13, 1875 – June 26, 1949) was an American medical doctor who served as the third president of Stanford University and the 31st United States Secretary of the Interior.

Early Life

Wilbur was born in Boone County, Iowa, to Dwight Locke Wilbur and Edna Maria Lyman. A brother, Curtis Dwight Wilbur, became United States Secretary of the Navy under President Calvin Coolidge and a Judge of the Supreme Court of California. The Wilbur family moved to Riverside, California when Ray Lyman was twelve.

Wilbur studied at Stanford University, receiving a B.A. degree in 1896 and an M.A. degree in 1897. He then studied at Cooper Medical College, receiving a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1899. While a freshman at Stanford, he met future US President Herbert Hoover, who was drumming up campus business for a local laundry. The two men became lifelong friends. Wilbur's wife, the former Marguerite May Blake, was a college friend of Hoover's wife, and was one of Lou Hoover's closest friends in Washington during Mrs. Hoover's years as First Lady. Mrs. Wilbur was severely injured when she fell from a horse in 1922, breaking several vertebrae in her spine and becoming permanently incapacitated. She died in 1946.

During World War I, Wilbur served as chief of the conservation division of the United States Food Administration. While at the USFA, he coined the slogan "Food Will Win the War." He later became US President Warren Harding's personal physician and was present at Harding's deathbed.

Stanford University

Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine from 1911 to 1916, Wilbur served as president of Stanford from January 1, 1916 until 1943, including during his period as Secretary of the Interior. In his most memorable address to the Stanford community, he told his students: "If you know a better place to live right now [1940] than this country, get a ticket and try to get there." From 1943 until his death in 1949 he served as the university's chancellor. Among his most notable stances while at Stanford were his opposition to fraternities and to automobiles on campus.

Wilbur served as President of the American Medical Association from 1923-1924. His son, Dwight Locke Wilbur, followed in his footsteps as President of the AMA in 1968-1969. Wilbur belonged to several private men's clubs, including the Bohemian Club, the Pacific-Union Club, the Commonwealth Club and the University Club in San Francisco.

When the California Legislature established the State Park Commission in 1927, Wilbur was named to the original commission, along with Major Frederick Russell Burnham, W. F. Chandler, William Edward Colby, and Henry W. O'Melveny.

Secretary of the Interior

President Hoover nominated Wilbur as United States Secretary of the Interior on 5 March 1929; Wilbur assumed that office the same day. His tenure ended on 5 March 1933, as Hoover left office.

As Interior Secretary, Wilbur addressed corruption in granting contracts for naval oil reserves, which had caused controversy during the Harding Administration's Teapot Dome scandal. Wilbur promulgated a policy that no new oil leases would be granted to private individuals except when mandated by law.

Secretary Wilbur was criticized by political opponents for his allocation of power from the Boulder Dam to private utilities. Opponents also criticized him for renaming the Boulder Dam after President Hoover.

Wilbur took a particular interest in Native Americans while in office and reorganized the department's Bureau of Indian Affairs. He assisted Native Americans in working to become more self-reliant.

New Deal Critic

After leaving the Department of the Interior Wilbur became a vocal critic of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and a leading champion of "rugged individualism." He wrote: "It is common talk that every individual is entitled to economic security. The only animals and birds I know that have economic security are those that have been domesticated--and the economic security they have is controlled by the barbed-wire fence, the butcher's knife and the desire of others. They are milked, skinned, egged or eaten up by their protectors."


Wilbur died of heart disease at his home in Palo Alto, California on June 26, 1949. Herbert Hoover eulogized him as "my devoted friend and constant friend since boyhood." He said of Wilbur: "During all his years, including his later chancellorship of Stanford, he has given a multitude of services to the people. Public health and education have been enriched over all these years from his sane statesmanship and rugged intellectual honesty. America is a better place for his having lived in it."


Wilbur Hall, a student residence on the Stanford University campus.

A dormitory complex at Stanford University is named after Dr. Wilbur.

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Ray Lyman Wilbur, U.S. Secretary of the Interior's Timeline

April 13, 1875
Boone, Boone County, Iowa, United States
September 28, 1899
San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States
May 29, 1901
San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States
September 18, 1903
England (United Kingdom)
October 19, 1904
Stanford University, California, United States
March 19, 1913
Stanford, California, United States
June 26, 1949
Age 74
Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, United States
Alta Mesa Memorial Park, Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, United States