Key Pittman
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
March 4, 1933 – November 10, 1940
Preceded byGeorge H. Moses
Succeeded byWilliam H. King
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
In office
March 4, 1933 – November 10, 1940
Preceded byWilliam Borah
Succeeded byWalter F. George
Secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus
In office
December 14, 1916 – March 3, 1917
LeaderJohn W. Kern
Preceded byWillard Saulsbury Jr.
Succeeded byWilliam H. King
United States Senator
from Nevada
In office
January 29, 1913 – November 10, 1940
Preceded byWilliam A. Massey
Succeeded byBerkeley L. Bunker
Personal details
Key Denson Pittman

(1872-09-12)September 12, 1872
Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedNovember 10, 1940(1940-11-10) (aged 68)
Reno, Nevada, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseMimosa Gates
EducationSouthwestern Presbyterian University

Key Denson Pittman (September 19, 1872 – November 10, 1940) was a United States senator from Nevada and a member of the Democratic Party, serving eventually as president pro tempore as well as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.


Early years

Pittman was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on September 12, 1872, a son of William Buckner Pittman and Katherine Key Pittman. His siblings included a younger brother Vail, who served as Governor of Nevada.[1]

Pittman was educated by private tutors and at the Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee. He studied law, then later became a lawyer. In 1897, Pittman joined in the Klondike Gold Rush and worked as a miner until 1901.

Pittman moved to Tonopah, Nevada, in 1902 and continued the practice of law. He represented Nevada at the St. Louis Exposition, the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, and the National Irrigation Congress.[citation needed]

Political career

Pittman in 1918.

In 1910, he made an unsuccessful run for the Senate. Later, he was elected as a Democrat to the Senate in 1913 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of George S. Nixon, and served until his own death in 1940.

Between 1933 and 1940, during the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pittman was the chairman of the powerful Committee on Foreign Relations and a member of the Committee on Territories and the Committee on Industrial Expositions. In addition, during those years Pittman was also President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

Among his legislation is the Pittman–Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, which set up a formula for federal sharing of ammunition tax revenue for establishing state wildlife areas. The program is still in effect.[citation needed] The Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area near Hiko, Nevada, which encompasses the Frenchy and Nesbitt Lakes, is named in his honor.

Death and legacy

It was falsely rumored for years that Pittman died before his final election in 1940, and that Democratic party leaders kept the body at Tonopah's Mizpah Hotel in a bathtub full of ice until after he was reelected so Governor Edward Carville, a fellow Democrat, could appoint a replacement. The truth was, former Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha wrote, "just as disreputable." Pittman suffered a severe heart attack just before the election on November 5, and two doctors told his aides before the election that death was imminent. To avoid affecting the election, the party told the press that the senator was hospitalized for exhaustion and that his condition was not serious.[2] Pittman died on November 10 at the Washoe General Hospital in Reno, Nevada.[3]

Several pieces of legislation bore his name, including the Pittman Act of 1918 and the Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.

The Pittman section of the Alaska Railroad, more commonly known today as the community of Meadow Lakes west of Wasilla, was also named for him.[4] Pittman Road runs north from its intersection with the George Parks Highway at "downtown" Meadow Lakes.

In 1941, his wife donated Pittman's papers to the Library of Congress. She temporarily withdrew them in 1942. They were returned to the Library by the Gates family in 1954.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "Nevada Governor Vail Montgomery Pittman". National Governors Association. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  2. ^ Nevada Yesterdays. "The Truth Of The Legend Of Key Pittman". KNPR. Las Vegas, NV. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  3. ^ Rocha, Guy; Myers, Dennis (May 2003). "Myth #88 - Key Pittman on Ice". Sierra Sage. State Library and Archives, Department of Administration, State of Nevada. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  4. ^ Williams, Anita L.; Ewers, Linda D. (2003). Ride Guide to the Historic Alaska Railroad. Anchorage: TurnAgain Products. p. 30. ISBN 0939301016.
  5. ^ Brand, Katherine (2011), Key Pittman Papers: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Further reading

Party political offices New office Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Nevada(Class 1) 1911, 1913, 1916, 1922, 1928, 1934, 1940 Succeeded byJames G. Scrugham Preceded byWillard Saulsbury Jr. Secretary of the Senate Democratic CaucusActing 1916–1917 Succeeded byWilliam H. King U.S. Senate Preceded byWilliam A. Massey U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Nevada 1913–1940 Served alongside: Francis G. Newlands, Charles Henderson, Tasker Oddie, Pat McCarran Succeeded byBerkeley L. Bunker Preceded byWilliam Alden Smith Chair of the Senate Territories Committee 1913–1917 Succeeded byHarry Stewart New Preceded byThomas W. Hardwick Chair of the Senate Industrial Expositions Committee 1919–1921 Position abolished Preceded byWilliam Borah Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 1933–1940 Succeeded byWalter F. George Political offices Preceded byGeorge H. Moses President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate 1933–1940 Succeeded byWilliam H. King