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Harley Martin Kilgore
United States Senator
from West Virginia

In office
January 3, 1941 – February 28, 1956
Preceded by Rush D. Holt Sr.
Succeeded by William R. Laird III
Personal details
Born (1893-01-11)January 11, 1893
Brown, West Virginia
Died February 28, 1956(1956-02-28) (aged 63)
National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland
Political party Democratic
Profession Lawyer, Judge, Military

Harley Martin Kilgore (January 11, 1893 – February 28, 1956) was a United States Senator from West Virginia.


He was born on January 11, 1893 in Brown, West Virginia. He was born to Quimby Hugh Kilgore and Laura Jo Kilgore.[1] His father worked as an oil driller and contractor.[1] He attended the public schools and graduated from the law department of West Virginia University at Morgantown in 1914 and was admitted to the bar the same year.

He taught school in Hancock, West Virginia in 1914 and 1915, and organized the first high school in Raleigh County, West Virginia in the latter year. He was the school's first principal for a year, and commenced the practice of law in Beckley, West Virginia in 1916. During the First World War he served in the infantry from 1917 and was discharged as a captain in 1920; in 1921 he organized the West Virginia National Guard and retired as a colonel in 1953. He was married to Lois Elaine Lilly in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1921.[1]

He was judge of the Raleigh County criminal court from 1933 to 1940, and was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1940, and won re-election twice. He was a member of the Senate from January 3, 1941 until his death in Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1956. Kilgore was a member of the Truman Committee,[2] and from October 1942, he chaired the Subcommittee on War Mobilization of the Military Affairs Committee, otherwise known as the Kilgore Committee,[3] that oversaw U.S. mobilization efforts for World War II. He also helped establish the National Science Foundation in 1950.

Senator Kilgore was West Virginia's favorite-son candidate in 1948 Democratic presidential primaries and won his home state unopposed.

He died on February 28, 1956, aged 63 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

National Science Foundation

In 1942, American manufacturing expert Herbert Schimmel advised Kilgore to form a committee to centralize scientific research done for the war effort. The Kilgore Committee drafted legislation for an Office of Technological Mobilization, which would have power to fund research, share patents and trade secrets, and facilities that could help the war effort. Additionally, the organization would be able to draft scientists and facilities for the war effort.[2]:23

In 1943, government scientists, most notably Vannevar Bush, voiced agreement with the spirit of Kilgore's proposal, but opposed the bill's aim to involve government administration of science funding and patent sharing. As the war neared its end, many prominent scientists feared a peacetime Kilgore plan. The Kilgore Committee, in an effort to mollify scientists concerned with a government-run funding agency, proposed calling the proposed organization a Foundation, to give the superficial impression of a private, philanthropic funding body like the Rockefeller Foundation. The scientists running the war-time Office of Scientific Research and Development sought to bypass the Kilgore Committee in forming a postwar science policy. While ostensibly working with Kilgore to plan for a science administration, Vannevar Bush privately obtained an invitation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to write his own plan for a government-funded science foundation. Senator Warren Magnuson of Washington introduced a proposal based on Bush's report, Science, the Endless Frontier, in July 1945. The report contradicted much of Kilgore's vision of a science-funding organization accountable to the government.[2]:29–31 Kilgore felt betrayed by Bush's failure to mention this alternate bill, and remained on hostile terms with Bush for years afterwards.

After many months of negotiations with interest groups of scientists and manufacturers, Kilgore and Magnuson introduced a modified bill to fund the National Science Foundation in 1946, which did not pass. At the same time, Republican Senator Alexander Smith of New Jersey introduced a bill for an agency more similar to Bush's vision. The Smith bill passed both houses of United States Congress. Kilgore encouraged his former colleague, now President Harry S. Truman to veto the Smith bill, in large part because of the potential it made for the military to dominate scientific research. Truman followed Kilgore's advice and let the bill expire through a pocket veto. Kilgore also encouraged Truman to establish a Presidential Research Board to be led by John Steelman, former Director of the War Mobilization and Reconversion, which Truman then did in October 1946.[2]:35

By 1948, other agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Defense had been established to fund specific domains of scientific research. The National Science Foundation would now solely fund basic science. In early 1948, Truman, Steelman, and Senator Smith reached a compromise in administration of the foundation. Later that year, Kilgore and Smith cosponsored the bill that President Truman would finally sign on May 10, 1950 to establish the National Science Foundation.[2]:38


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Maddox, Robert. "Harley Kilgore". West Virginia Humanities Council. Retrieved 24 October 2016. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Maddox, Robert F., "The Politics of World War II Science: Senator Harley M. Kilgore and the Legislative Origins of the National Science Foundation", West Virginia History, Volume 41 (1979), p 22.
  3. Maddox, Robert F., "Senator Harley M Kilgore and Japan's World War II Business Practices", West Virginia History, Volume 55 (1996), pp 127-142, on-line at, paragraphs 2 & 6, retrieved 05 Nov 2011


United States Senate
Preceded by
Rush D. Holt Sr.
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from West Virginia
1941 – 1956
Served alongside: Matthew M. Neely, Joseph Rosier, Hugh Ike Shott,
W. Chapman Revercomb, Matthew M. Neely
Succeeded by
William R. Laird III
Political offices
Preceded by
William "Wild Bill" Langer
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
1955 – 1956
Succeeded by
James O. Eastland

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