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Wilbert Lee O'Daniel

In office
1941 – 1949
Preceded by Morris Shepard
Succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson

In office
1939 – 1941
Lieutenant Coke R. Stevenson
Preceded by James Allred
Succeeded by Coke R. Stevenson

Born March 11, 1890
Malta, Ohio
Died May 11, 1969
Dallas, Texas
Political party Democratic

Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel (March 11, 1890 – May 11, 1969) was a Democratic Party politician from Texas, who came to prominence by hosting a popular radio program. Known for his populist appeal, Pappy O'Daniel was the governor of Texas and later its junior U.S. Senator. He is also the only person ever to have defeated Lyndon B. Johnson in an election. The 2001 film O Brother Where Art Thou featured a character loosely based on him.


Early life

O'Daniel was born in Malta, Ohio and as a young child moved to Reno County, Kansas. He worked in the flour milling business and moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1925 to work for Burrus Mills.

Radio fame

In the late 1920s, O'Daniel assumed responsibility for the company's radio advertising. To that end, he wrote songs and hired a group of musicians to form an old timey band. Originally called the Light Crust Doughboys, notable musicians such as Bob Wills got their start with O'Daniel. After the Doughboys split up, O'Daniel formed the Western Swing band Pappy O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys. The new group was named after O'Daniel's Hillbilly Flour Company. The show extolled the values of Hillbilly Brand flour, the Ten Commandments and the Bible.[1][2][3]

O'Daniel's noontime radio show not only gave him his nickname "pass the biscuits," after a catchphrase he used frequently on air, it also propelled him into the public spotlight. By the mid 1930-s, Pappy "pass the Biscuits" O'Daniel was a household name in Texas. As a national magazine reporter wrote at the time: "At twelve-thirty sharp each day, a fifteen-minute silence reigned in the state of Texas, broken only by mountain music, and the dulcet voice of W. Lee O'Daniel."[4]

Political career



In 1938, he ran for governor of Texas as a Democrat. O'Daniel's campaign hailed his flour and the need for pensions and tax cuts. He promised to block a sales tax and raise pensions. O'Daniel won the Democratic party primary election easily with 51% of the vote over 12 opponents. In office, he proposed a new sales tax, which was voted down by the Texas Legislature. He handily won re-election in 1940. In both elections, his main competition came from Texas Railroad Commissioner Ernest O. Thompson, the former mayor of Amarillo.


In 1941, O'Daniel ran for the United States Senate in a special election. He defeated Lyndon Johnson by 1,306 votes in one of the more controversial elections in state history. His victory made him the only person to ever defeat Johnson for elected office. As a senator, O'Daniel was ineffective, and most of his legislation was defeated. He endorsed the anti-Roosevelt Texas Regulars in the 1944 presidential election. O'Daniel refused to run for another term in 1948, but ran for governor of Texas in 1956 and 1958 and claimed that the Brown v. Board of Education decision was part of a communist conspiracy. He finished third in the Democratic primaries both times. His grandchildren Molly and Lee have created successful careers in real estate development. His great grandchildren Hilary and Richard Danielson attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Wilbert O'Daniel is buried in Dallas, Texas leaving his families legacy to his grandchildren Lee and Molly.


  1. ^ "W.L. O'Daniel, Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. ,".'4.html.   (accessed October 18, 2008)
  2. ^ Malone, Bill C.. "The Cowboy Image and the Growth of Western Music". Country Music, U.S.A.: Second Revised Edition. University of Texas Press. p. 151. ISBN 0292752628.  
  3. ^ Crawford, Bill. Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy: Pictures of Governor W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. John Anderson. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292705751.  
  4. ^ Woods, Randall Bennett. "Pappy". LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Harvard University Press. p. 148. ISBN 0674026993.  

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
James V. Allred
Governor of Texas
Succeeded by
Coke R. Stevenson
United States Senate
Preceded by
Andrew J. Houston
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Texas
Succeeded by
Lyndon B. Johnson


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