Langlie, Arthur B. (1900-1966)

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/11/2004
  • Essay 5634
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Arthur B. Langlie was the only mayor of Seattle to become governor of the state and the only Washington governor to regain that office after losing it. Langlie was born in Minnesota and moved with his family to Washington's Kitsap Peninsula at the age of nine. He practiced law in Seattle for nearly 10 years before winning a Seattle City Council seat in 1935 as a candidate of the conservative and moralistic reform group New Order of Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus soon faded, but the young, energetic, and politically attractive Langlie won the mayor's office in 1938. He became the Republican candidate for governor in 1940 and won a narrow victory. At 40, Langlie was the youngest governor in the history of the state until Dan Evans (b. 1925) was elected in 1964. Langlie was defeated for re-election in 1944 by Democrat Monrad C. Wallgren (1891-1961), but won the office back by defeating Wallgren in 1948. Langlie was easily re-elected in 1952, becoming the first Washington governor to serve three terms. Langlie left politics after failing badly in his 1956 campaign to defeat Democratic U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989). He spent the final years of his career as a magazine publisher in New York.

Life Before Politics

Arthur Bernard Langlie was born on July 25, 1900, in Lanesboro, Minnesota. His father, Bjarne Langlie, emigrated from Norway and settled in Minnesota. There he met and married Carrie Dahl, who was of Norwegian and Dutch ancestry. Arthur was the first of their four sons. When Arthur was five, the family began a gradual move west through a number of towns in Minnesota and North Dakota.

In 1909, Bjarne Langlie was running a hotel in Kermit, North Dakota, when a fire destroyed much of the town, including the hotel and most of the Langlies' possessions. Bjarne set off for Montana to look for new opportunities, but ended up on Puget Sound after he discovered that, because of special fares promoting the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a ticket to Seattle cost the same. The rest of the family followed, taking up residence in Charlottetown on the Kitsap Peninsula, where they ran a grocery store.

Arthur Langlie entered the University of Washington in 1918, and the following year his family moved to Seattle. To fund his education, Langlie took time away from school to work in wheatfields in Eastern Washington, logging camps at Clallam Bay, and a sawmill on Lake Union. He also found time to star on university tennis and baseball teams. Langlie gained his law degree in 1925, and after touring Japan that summer with the Tubby Graves Nine baseball team, he went to work for the Seattle law firm of Shank, Belt, and Rode. In 1928, Langlie married Evelyn Baker, whom he had met a few years earlier on a blind date. The Langlies had two children -- Arthur Sheridan was born in 1930 and Carrie Ellen in 1935.

The New Order of Cincinnatus

Langlie practiced law in relative obscurity for nearly 10 years without any noticeable interest or involvement in politics until he emerged in the March 1935 municipal elections as a Seattle City Council candidate sponsored by the New Order of Cincinnatus. The Order of Cincinnatus, named for the Roman statesman, was founded in 1933 by Seattle attorney Ralph Potts. The reform group quickly attracted idealistic supporters, mostly middle-class professionals, who were frustrated by both the corruption long common to Seattle politics and the influence that organized labor and other "radical" interests were gaining in the City during the Depression years.

In January 1935, Langlie's friend and fellow attorney Floyd Reischling approached him for help in finding candidates for Cincinnatus to endorse in the upcoming City Council election. Langlie ended up appearing before Cincinnatus along with several other potential candidates. Although not a member, Langlie agreed to take the Cincinnatus candidate oath (which included non-partisanship and a $25 limit on campaign contributions) and to support the Order's goals, and he received the endorsement. Langlie and another Cincinnatus candidate were the leading vote-getters in the March 1935 Council election, ousting incumbent members.

Running for Mayor

Langlie and the other Cincinnatans used their council positions to investigate police corruption and cut the budget requests of Mayor Charles L. Smith. Within months they were planning a campaign for mayor. Langlie was chosen as the Cincinnatus candidate in the 1936 mayoral election and won the most votes in the primary. However, he lost the final vote to former Mayor John F. Dore (1881-1938), who had narrowly edged Smith for the second spot.

The 1936 campaign left Langlie, who retained his seat on the Council, well-positioned to try again in two years. By 1938, Cincinnatus was declining in influence and although it encouraged support for Langlie, he stressed his independence from all political parties and groups. Mayor Dore was also losing popularity, due to bitter infighting among his labor allies and public unhappiness over the bankrupt municipal streetcar system. In addition, Dore was gravely ill and could barely campaign in the primary. The mayor finished third behind Langlie and Lieutenant Governor Vic Meyers (1898-1991).

Business and centrist interests, including conservative Democratic Governor Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955), supported Langlie, while the flamboyant and erratic Meyers had trouble gaining support from the progressives he was supposedly allied with. Langlie swamped Meyers in the final. Dore died on April 17, 1938, and Langlie took office early, appointed by the City Council to finish out Dore's unexpired term.

City Administration

Langlie's victory was hailed by newspapers around the state. Throughout his political career, the largely conservative press of the time usually viewed him favorably. Langlie moved to put Seattle on a sounder financial footing. He cut expenditures, raised electric and water rates, and called on Governor Martin to make good on his promises to provide greater state assistance.

Langlie's administration benefited as increasing defense production began to pull the city out of the depths of the Depression. Labor troubles declined and city revenues rose. Langlie worked out a deal with the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation for a loan that allowed the city to consolidate its debt and to replace the troubled streetcar system with trackless trolleys and buses. Federal funds also paid for building the Ballard Bridge and the West Seattle Viaduct and for repairing neglected recreational facilities. Thus Langlie's reputation as a fiscally responsible conservative putting the city's finances in order rested in considerable part on his success in obtaining funds from the liberal Democratic administration of President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945).

There was no serious opposition to Langlie in the March 1940 municipal election, and he was easily re-elected. By that time, he was already eyeing a run for governor in the fall. Democrats had dominated statewide offices since 1932, and Republicans saw Langlie, who formally identified himself as a Republican in 1939, as their best chance to regain the governor's office.

Republican Governor

Martin, the conservative Democratic incumbent, lost the Democratic nomination to former Senator Clarence C. Dill (1884-1978). Langlie surprised many by eking out a victory of fewer than 6,000 votes over Dill in an otherwise overwhelmingly Democratic year. There were allegations of vote fraud, and some Democrats in the legislature, led by state Senator Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) who had just been chosen majority leader, made an unsuccessful attempt to block Langlie's inauguration pending an investigation. Langlie was sworn in on January 15, 1941, becoming, at 40, the youngest governor in the state's history to that point.

The failed attempt to block Langlie from taking office foreshadowed the stalemate between the Republican governor and the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature that would mark his first term. With the Democratic majority split between liberals and conservatives, a small group of Democratic conservatives were able to team with Langlie and the Republican minority to block most bills sponsored by Rosellini and other liberal Democrats. Conversely, Democratic legislators were able to frustrate many of Langlie's proposals.

World War II dominated Langlie's first term. He had been in office less than a year when the United States entered the war following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Like most politicians on the West Coast, Langlie encouraged the federal government to intern Japanese residents as "enemy aliens." With the governor's strong support, thousands of Washingtonians of Japanese ancestry, including many American citizens, were removed from their homes to internment camps in a constitutional abuse that has since been generally condemned. Langlie was equally enthusiastic in supporting civil defense, urging residents to brace for possible air raids or sabotage and promoting blood drives, saving bonds, and victory gardens.

Concluding that he needed additional authority to address the war properly, Langlie submitted to the 1943 Legislature a package of bills that would have granted him sweeping emergency powers for the duration of the war, including the authority to set aside or modify laws. Even the usually supportive press considered this excessive, and extensive legislative amendment effectively denied Langlie the extra authority he sought.

Re-election Defeat

Langlie was up for re-election in 1944, but devoted much of his attention to national politics. He spent a lot of the 1944 campaign working for the Republican presidential candidate, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey (1902-1971), and for Tacoma Mayor Harry P. Cain (1906-1979), who was running against Democratic Congressman Warren Magnuson for an open U.S. Senate seat.

In turn, Democrats, frustrated by having their legislative initiatives blocked by Langlie, whom they labeled a "do-nothing governor," prevailed on U.S. Senator Monrad Wallgren to challenge Langlie. The governor's high-profile opposition to President Roosevelt's re-election and his attacks on a state ballot initiative to increase old age pensions allowed Wallgren to tag Langlie as an opponent of the popular New Deal.

Having tied himself closely to Dewey, who lost the state by 125,000 votes, and neglected to campaign on his own behalf, Langlie could not overcome a Democratic landslide as he had four years earlier, and he lost his office to Wallgren. Arthur Langlie, a puritanical teetotaler, and Mon Wallgren, who enjoyed drinking and playing cards and pool, had as little in common personally as they did politically, and avoided any meeting during the transition.

Ironically, one of Langlie's last acts before leaving office was to appoint Wallgren's drinking buddy and political ally Warren Magnuson, whose lifestyle Langlie also deplored, to the Senate to complete the final weeks in the term of retiring Democratic Senator Homer T. Bone (1883-1970). Bone, after being appointed a federal judge, had waited until Magnuson defeated Cain before resigning his seat, which placed enormous pressure on Langlie to appoint Magnuson so that Washington's new senator would have crucial seniority over incoming senators from other states.

A member of the Naval Reserve since 1936, Langlie spent much of 1945 on active Naval duty in Seattle and Norfolk, Virginia. He then became a senior partner in the law firm of Langlie, Todd, and Nickell, but devoted plenty of time to politics, maintaining his control over the state Republican apparatus and keeping in contact with local politicians around the state. It came as no surprise in 1948 when Langlie launched a campaign to regain the office he had lost in the previous election.

Making a Comeback

Just as Langlie had inadvertently assisted Wallgren's efforts in 1944, so Wallgren's performance helped Langlie re-capture the governorship. More comfortable as a legislator, Wallgren was not an effective executive. Wallgren's extravagance contrasted unfavorably with Langlie's frugality. Wallgren's biggest self-inflicted wound was his mishandling of the crisis over the ferries serving Puget Sound.

For years, the Puget Sound Navigation Company, operating as the Black Ball Line, had dominated the auto ferry routes that were a vital part of Washington's transportation system. When Transportation Director Paul Revelle denied Black Ball's request for a 30 percent fare increase in 1947, Black Ball president Captain Alexander Peabody (1895-1980) responded by shutting down the ferry system. Service was resumed under agreements between Black Ball and Puget Sound counties, at higher fares, but ferry riders called on the state to take over the system.

Wallgren made creating a state ferry system a campaign issue, but then he could not deliver when Peabody refused his purchase offer and the state legislature frustrated his attempt to issue state bonds to buy the line. Langlie, typically a supporter of private enterprise, denounced Peabody and called for the state to run the ferries as a public utility, touting his own success in modernizing Seattle's transportation system.

Aided by Wallgren's missteps, and with ample support from the Republican-leaning press, Langlie became the first (and so far the only) Washington governor to regain the office after losing it. Langlie had the liquor bar removed from the governor's mansion as soon as he moved back in. It took somewhat longer to resolve the ferry dispute. Langlie and Peabody bickered for nearly a year before the state reached an agreement in December 1949, to buy most of the Black Ball Line's ferries, docks, and routes from the Puget Sound Navigation Company. The newly created Washington State Ferries began operation in 1951.

The Second Term

In addition to the struggle over the ferries, Langlie faced a running battle throughout his second term over welfare and pension costs. Seeking to control cost increases, Langlie appointed Roderic Olzendam to head the Department of Public Assistance. Olzendam promptly began purging welfare roles of allegedly unqualified or overpaid recipients, and also cut Department employees. The Old Age Pension Union demonstrated in Olympia against the cutbacks, but by 1951 Olzendam had reduced welfare roles sufficiently that rate increases were no longer a major issue.

As with his first term, much of Langlie's second term was a stalemate between the governor and legislature although the Republicans controlled the state Senate for the first two years. Democrats regained control in the 1950 election. Disagreements over how to obtain needed new revenue led to budget deficits and special legislative sessions to deal with them. In addition to the ferry takeover, Langlie achieved funding for bridges at Agate Pass (linking the north end of Bainbridge Island to the Kitsap Peninsula) and the Tacoma Narrows (replacing the bridge that collapsed in 1940).

National Politics and a Third Victory

Langlie played an active role in the 1952 presidential election. He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of General Dwight D. Eisenhower's campaign for the Republican nomination. Together with Walter Williams (1894-1983), who chaired the National Citizens for Eisenhower and was a pivotal figure in the Eisenhower movement, Langlie secured Washington's Republican convention delegation for Eisenhower. At the convention, Langlie authored a procedural amendment that gave the Eisenhower forces a crucial victory over those of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft (1889-1953), the general's rival for the nomination.

Unlike in 1944, Langlie's efforts on behalf of the national ticket did not harm his own re-election chances, in part because the popular Eisenhower swept both the state and the nation. Langlie easily defeated his Democratic challenger, U.S. Representative Hugh B. Mitchell (1907-1996). Mitchell only gained the Democratic nomination after a bruising primary in which state Senator Rosellini, despite his own prior liberal record, attacked Mitchell from the right, denouncing him as a "left-winger." Rosellini's attacks opened Mitchell up to even fiercer denunciations by Langlie, whose successful campaign was based on connecting the Democratic nominee to Communism and subversion. With the "Red scare" of the 1940s and 1950s in full swing, the tactic worked. Langlie's victory made him the first Washington governor to win three terms. (Dan Evans, who won in 1964, 1968, and 1972, is so far the only other governor to do so).

Successes and Failures

Following the 1952 election the Republicans controlled both branches of the legislature for the only time in Langlie's years as governor (the Democrats narrowly won back the House in 1954), but Langlie had little more legislative success than in his first two terms. Major reforms that he had championed throughout his tenure as governor, including modernization of forest practices and government reorganization and adoption of a merit system for state employees, again failed.

Although his forest practices reform did not pass, Langlie successfully pioneered some environmental measures. As early as 1941, during his first term, he had presided at the dedication of the nation's first tree farm, the 130,000-acre Clemons Tree Farm operated by Weyerhaeuser on a mix of state and private land near Montesano in Southwest Washington. By 1956, state nurseries encompassed 3.3 million acres with 35 million seedlings. Langlie successfully reduced fire damage in the state's forests. He also worked to protect salmon and other fisheries by increasing hatchery production, restoring streams, and creating fishways past dams.

Langlie's final term was marred by a series of riots in the state's understaffed prisons. State institutions, including prisons and mental hospitals, had suffered years of inadequate funding and neglect. Riots erupted in 1953 at the Monroe Reformatory and at the Walla Walla Penitentiary, leading Langlie to replace some officials and attempt reforms. However, prisoners at Walla Walla rioted again in 1955. The crisis in state institutions became a major issue in Albert Rosellini's successful 1956 campaign for governor.

The Last Campaign

Although Rosellini campaigned against Langlie's record, Langlie was not seeking re-election in 1956. Many expected him to retire or obtain a judicial appointment from President Eisenhower, but Langlie instead embarked on a quixotic attempt to defeat Senator Magnuson. According to a Langlie aide, the governor made the decision after "consulting with President Dwight Eisenhower and God" (Scates, 167). Eisenhower encouraged Langlie's candidacy and enhanced his stature by making him the keynote speaker at the 1956 Republican national convention. Langlie's deep-seated moral distaste for Magnuson's "playboy" lifestyle was also a major influence.

What Langlie failed to realize was that even leading conservative businessmen, including many Republicans who typically shared his views, cared far less about Magnuson's lifestyle than about his proven ability to deliver for them and for the state. Despite an aggressive (some said mudslinging) campaign, the moral crusade against Magnuson went nowhere. Langlie was also forced on the defensive by Rosellini's attacks on his record. Rosellini easily defeated Republican Lieutenant Governor Emmett Anderson to succeed Langlie in the governor's mansion, and Magnuson's equally decisive victory in the Senate race ended Langlie's political career.

Final Years

From politics, Langlie switched to publishing, noting that he had "really been very much in communications all along" (Scott, 460). Los Angeles financier Norton Simon, who knew Langlie from his work for the Eisenhower campaign, asked Langlie to take charge of the McCall publishing house that Simon had just acquired. Langlie moved to New York and spent five years as president of the company that published the monthly magazines McCall's, Redbook and Saturday Review.

He stepped down in 1962, becoming Chairman of the Board, and in 1964 returned to Seattle. By then he was seriously weakened from heart disease. Langlie's last public appearance came in May 1966, at the Clemons Tree Farm in Montesano that he had dedicated 25 years before. Arthur Langlie died on July 24, 1966, one day before his 66th birthday.

Langlie's political ability was demonstrated when he won and then regained the governor's office as a Republican at a time when Democrats dominated state-wide offices. Although the partisan stalemate precluded dramatic legislative achievement, Langlie had some success in bringing stability and fiscal order to state government, as he had earlier to Seattle. Langlie's legacy includes the Washington State Ferries system inaugurated under his administration, additional road and bridge projects, and some of the first environmental measures adopted in Washington.


Murray Morgan, Skid Road (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971), 228-32, 250; Gordon R. Newell, Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen (Seattle: Hangman Press, 1975) 409-14, 422-31, 446-72; Shelby Scates, Warren G. Magnuson and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 90-91, 112-13, 167-76; George William Scott, Arthur B. Langlie; Republican Governor in a Democratic Age (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1971); Alan J. Stein, Safe Passage (Seattle: Washington State Ferries, 2001), 9, 14-23; Payton Smith, Rosellini: Immigrants' Son and Progressive Governor (Seattle: University of Washington, 1997), 28-32, 58-65, 74-96; John Vesko, Email to, January 10, 2005.
Note: This essay was corrected on January 10, 2005, and emended on January 25, 2012, to correct the birthdate of Clarence D. Martin.

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