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Milton Shapp

In office
January 20, 1971 – January 16, 1979
Lieutenant Ernest P. Kline
Preceded by Raymond P. Shafer
Succeeded by Dick Thornburgh

Born June 25, 1912(1912-06-25)
Cleveland, Ohio
Died November 24, 1994 (aged 82)
Merion, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Case Western Reserve University
Profession Businessman, Politician
Religion Judaism

Milton Jerrold Shapp (June 25, 1912 - November 24, 1994) was the 40th Governor of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania from 1971 to 1979 and was the first Jewish governor of Pennsylvania.


Early life

Shapp was born Milton Jerrold Shapiro in Cleveland, Ohio to Aaron Shapiro, a Jewish businessman and staunch Republican and Eva Smelsey Shapiro, a Democrat and outspoken suffragette. He attended Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve University) graduating in 1933 with a degree in electrical engineering. The effects of the Great Depression ravaged America and Shapp was unable to find work in the engineering field. Instead he worked as a coal truck driver. In 1936, he took a job selling electronic parts and moved to Pennsylvania. It was during this time that he changed his name from Shapiro to Shapp to avoid antisemitic prejudice though he continued to openly identify as a Jew.

During World War II, Shapp served as an officer in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in North Africa and Europe. After World War II, he moved to Philadelphia and founded Jerrold Electronics Corporation, a pioneer in the cable television industry, using a $500 loan subsidized by the G.I. Bill. Jerrold became one of America’s first providers of coaxial cable TV systems in 1948. Jerrold Electronics became a major player in the television industry and Shapp became a multi-millionaire. Shapp sold his interest in Jerrold Electronics in 1967 to the General Instrument Company to concentrate on politics.

Enters politics

Shapp first entered the political scene in 1960 by campaigning for John F. Kennedy. After Kennedy became President in 1961, Shapp served on advisory boards for the Department of Commerce and the Peace Corps.

In 1966, he sought the Democratic nomination for Governor of Pennsylvania. The party in Pennsylvania was deeply divided that year and the party officially endorsed Robert P. Casey for the office. Shapp’s large personal fortune allowed him to run an independent campaign, and he capitalized on an anti-establishment mood among Democrats and won the Democratic primary by about 50,000 votes with a slogan portraying him as "The Man Against The Machine."

During the time, Shapp was heavily involved in trying to stop the merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad with the New York Central. He invested millions of dollars of his own money into the effort, travelling throughout Pennsylvania to convince local officials to oppose the merger. He pushed the issue into the federal courts and testified against the proposed merger in front of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The issue was prominent during his first run for governor in 1966. In the process, he made several enemies. Stuart T. Saunders, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, opposed Shapp at every turn. Friendly with the Lyndon Johnson administration, Saunders influenced Washington Democrats to sabotage the Shapp campaign. Additionally, Walter Annenberg, owner and publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer and major shareholder of the Pennsylvania Railroad, used the pages of The Inquirer to cast doubt on Shapp's candidacy. The opposition from Annenberg-owned media and the Democratic political establishment helped contribute to Shapp's narrow loss that year to Republican Raymond P. Shafer.

Governor of Pennsylvania

As the 1970 state elections approached, Shafer was term limited under existing Pennsylvania law and could not run for reelection. Furthermore, a fiscal crisis during his term caused his popularity to be at a low point hurting Republican chances of retaining the office. Shapp again sought the Democratic nomination and again defeated Robert P. Casey to win the Democratic nomination. This time he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania over Republican Raymond J. Broderick, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor and later a well respected federal judge, by over 500,000 votes.

During Shapp’s time in office, he solved a financial crisis by instituting Pennsylvania's flat, no-deductions income tax. He also signed into law the bill creating the Pennsylvania State Lottery and instituted major reforms for the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Governor oversaw new consumer rights legislation, welfare reform, and insurance reform including the controversial decision to enact no-fault insurance legislation in the state. In the wake of the Watergate crisis, he established a sweeping Sunshine Law for the state, the most comprehensive of any state at the time.

He also faced a massive recovery effort after Hurricane Agnes caused widespread flooding in the state causing the death of 48 Pennsylvanians. The flooding was so bad and so rapid that Governor Shapp and his wife had to be rescued from the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg by boat as flood waters from the Susquehanna River inundated the building. He was carried from the executive mansion to the boat on the back of a State Trooper. WHP-TV covered this evacuation.

No longer limited to one term, Shapp was reelected governor by a large majority in 1974. He set his sights on the White House and ran unsuccessfully for the 1976 Democratic nomination for President, but failed to win even his home state of Pennsylvania in the primary elections and dropped out after an 89-day campaign.[1] After that defeat, he settled into a lame-duck term as governor, enacting no further significant reforms.

His administration was plagued with numerous scandals during his tenure in the governor's mansion. Although generally regarded as personally honest and never personally implicated in any of the scandals, he was heavily criticized for not doing enough to prevent corruption among his subordinates in the state executive branch.

Governor Shapp opposed capital punishment and vetoed an attempt to restore it in Pennsylvania in 1974. The legislature, however, overrode the veto and reinstated the death penalty[2].

Later years and death

Shapp died on November 24, 1994, aged 82. After his death, Motorola corporation established the Milton Jerrold Shapp Memorial Scholarship Fund, an engineering scholarship in Shapp's honor. Motorola was the successor corporation to General Instrument, the company that had acquired Shapp’s firm in 1967.


  1. ^ Milton J. Shapp Is Dead at 82: Ex-Governor of Pennsylvania - New York Times
  2. ^ Death Penalty in Pennsylvania - Statistics & History of Capital Punishment in PA
Political offices
Preceded by
Raymond P. Shafer
Governor of Pennsylvania
1971 – 1979
Succeeded by
Richard L. Thornburgh
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richardson Dilworth
Democratic nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania
1966 (lost), 1970 (won), 1974 (won)
Succeeded by
Peter F. Flaherty


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