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Joseph Finch "Joe" Guffey (December 29, 1870 – March 6, 1959) was an American business executive and Democratic Party politician from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Elected from Pennsylvania to the United States Senate, he served two terms, from 1935 until 1947.

Joe Guffey
Joseph Guffey.jpg
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
January 3, 1935 – January 3, 1947
Preceded byDavid Reed
Succeeded byEdward Martin
Member of the
Democratic National Committee
from Pennsylvania
In office
May 18, 1920[1] – May 20, 1928
Preceded byA. Mitchell Palmer
Succeeded bySedgwick Kistler
Personal details
Born(1870-12-29)December 29, 1870
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
DiedMarch 6, 1959(1959-03-06) (aged 88)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyDemocratic

Early lifeEdit

Joseph Finch Guffey was born December 29, 1870, at Guffey Station in Sewickley Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania to John and Barbaretta (Hough) Guffey. Guffey's Scots-Irish ancestors had owned land along the Youghiogheny River since the 1780s, and prospered when railroads were constructed there.[2] His mother was of English ancestry (Hough is a common surname in Lancashire.) Joseph Guffey was the last born of eight children: brothers James C. and Alexander S, and sisters Ida Virginia, Pauletta, Mary Emma, Jane Campbell, and Elizabet Irwin.

He attended but did not graduate from Princeton University. As a Princeton student, he became a disciple of Professor Woodrow Wilson. During Wilson's tenure as Princeton president, Guffey and other former students became supporters of Wilson's Quad Plan for developing the university. Later Guffey became active in the Democratic Party and worked to help Wilson secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912 and gain election.

World War IEdit

Guffey owned an oil company with two of his sisters. He was appointed as a member of the War Industries Board (Petroleum Service Division), as well as the Director of the Bureau of Sales in the Alien Property Custodian's office during World War I.

Guffey suffered financial setbacks in oil speculation during World War I. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for misuse of funds under his control as Sales Director. The charges were later dropped as part of a deal made during the Harding/Coolidge administrations' Teapot Dome Scandal. Guffey served as a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1920 through 1928.

United States SenateEdit

Guffey in 1937

Guffey and his lieutenant, David L. Lawrence led a resurgence of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Guffey was elected to the United States Senate in 1934, unseating Republican Senator David Reed. Guffey was the first Democrat to win election as Senator from Pennsylvania since William A. Wallace won election in 1874. In that same year, George H. Earle III became the first Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania since the 19th century.[3]

He was the chairperson of the Mines and Mining committee, and was a fervent supporter of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s. He supported the aggressive politics of Henry Wallace, who compared the Republicans with fascists.

Guffey spoke out against Harry Anslinger (who had been appointed to lead the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics by his father-in-law Andrew Mellon) for referring to "niggers" in official correspondence.[4] He caused a controversy in Pennsylvania when he backed Lieutenant Governor Thomas Kennedy, who was a close associate of mine workers union head John L. Lewis, over lawyer Charles Alvin Jones who was backed by Governor George Earle and other Democratic leaders. Jones later lost the general election to Republican Arthur H. James. Guffey was at the same time working with Lewis, demanding that Pleas E. Greenlee replace Charles F. Hosford Jr. who had been ineffective as chairman of the National Bituminous Coal Commission.

In April 1943, British scholar Isaiah Berlin wrote a confidential analysis of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the British Foreign Office, and characterized Guffey as:

a noisy Administration supporter who wraps himself in the Roosevelt flag and has been advocating for a fourth term for some time. A very typical Pennsylvania politician who has decided to throw his lot in with the President and has thus become an obedient party hack not of the purest integrity. Consistently votes in the opposite direction to his fellow Senator from Pennsylvania, James Davis.[5]

He was reelected in 1940, with Claude Pepper campaigning with him. Guffey was less influential after the Republicans took control of the Congress and reversed some of the laws helping labor unions, eventually passing the Taft-Hartley Act after Guffey was defeated by Governor Edward Martin by a wide margin in 1946.


After leaving the Senate, Guffey retired to Washington, DC, where he died in 1959. Upon his death, he was returned to West Newton, Pennsylvania for burial in the West Newton Cemetery.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Palmer's Foes Take Control In Georgia". The Baltimore Sun. May 19, 1920. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  2. ^ Bob Cupp, "Railroads: Lifeline to the region", Pittsburgh Tribune, 29 April 2012; accessed 19 February 2018
  3. ^ Morgan, Alfred L. (April 1978). "The Significance of "Pennsylvania s 1938 Qubernatorial £lection". 102 (2): 184–210. Retrieved 26 November 2014. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Hari, Johann (2015). Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Bloomsbury.
  5. ^ Hachey, Thomas E. (Winter 1973–1974). "American Profiles on Capitol Hill: A Confidential Study for the British Foreign Office in 1943" (PDF). Wisconsin Magazine of History. 57 (2): 141–153. JSTOR 4634869. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 21, 2013.
  • Joseph Guffey Papers: Seeley G. Mudd Library, Princeton University
  • National Archives: College Park, MD
  • United States Senate Archives
  • American National Biography; Dictionary of American Biography
  • Charles Halt, Seventy Years on the Red-Fire Wagon: From Tilden to Truman, Through New Freedom and New Deal.
  • Joseph F. Guffey, New Deal Politician From Pennsylvania. Ph.D. dissertation, Syracuse University, 1965.
  • Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University Library (text of campaign speech given March 11, 1940).
  • Time Magazine: February 28, 1938; March 28, 1938; June 3, 1946.

External linksEdit

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
David Reed
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: James Davis, Francis Myers
Succeeded by
Edward Martin
Party political offices
Preceded by
A. Mitchell Palmer
Member of the Democratic National Committee
from Pennsylvania

Succeeded by
Sedgwick Kistler
Preceded by
William McNair
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 1)

1934, 1940, 1946
Succeeded by
Guy Bard