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Meet Governor McKeldin


Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, a prominent American politician who served as the 53rd Governor of Maryland, left an indelible mark on the state with his visionary leadership, progressive policies, and efforts to bridge racial and social divides. Born on November 20, 1900, in Baltimore, Maryland, McKeldin grew up in humble beginnings and, through determination and hard work, rose to become a transformative figure in the state\’s political landscape. This essay will delve into the life and accomplishments of Governor McKeldin, exploring his early years, political career, and notable achievements.

Early Years and Education

Theodore McKeldin was born into a working-class family, the son of John W. McKeldin, a machinist, and Elizabeth Gettier McKeldin, a homemaker. Growing up in a modest household instilled in him the values of hard work, perseverance, and an appreciation for the challenges faced by the working class. McKeldin attended Baltimore City College High School, where he excelled academically and developed a passion for public speaking.

After graduating high school, McKeldin continued his education at the University of Maryland School of Law, where he earned his law degree in 1925. He then began practicing law in his hometown of Baltimore, focusing primarily on civil litigation. It was during this time that McKeldin\’s interest in politics began to blossom, as he became increasingly involved in local and state-level political activities.

Political Career

Governor McKeldin\’s political career began in the early 1930s, when he was appointed as the assistant city solicitor of Baltimore. As a member of the Republican Party, McKeldin\’s first significant political position came in 1938, when he was elected as a delegate to the Maryland House of Delegates. During his tenure, McKeldin became known for his dedication to public service, commitment to social justice, and talent for public speaking.

In 1942, McKeldin launched his first campaign for the governorship of Maryland but was defeated by incumbent Governor Herbert O\’Conor. Undeterred by this loss, McKeldin continued to work for the betterment of Maryland and its citizens. His determination paid off in 1950 when he successfully ran for governor, defeating Democrat Lane Berkley by a sizable margin.

Governorship (1951-1959)

As Governor of Maryland, McKeldin was an influential figure who implemented numerous progressive policies aimed at improving the lives of the state\’s citizens. His tenure was marked by several key accomplishments that shaped the future of Maryland and set the stage for the state\’s continued growth and success.

Baltimore and Washington Beltways

Understanding the importance of transportation infrastructure for Maryland\’s economic growth and regional connectivity, Governor McKeldin initiated the construction of two major beltways surrounding Baltimore and Washington, D.C. These projects aimed to alleviate traffic congestion, improve access to major highways, and facilitate the movement of goods and people throughout the state.

The Baltimore Beltway, also known as Interstate 695 (I-695), was conceived under McKeldin\’s administration as a means to connect the city\’s suburbs and improve the flow of traffic in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The construction of the Baltimore Beltway began in 1953 and, though it was not completed until 1962, McKeldin\’s vision and determination laid the groundwork for this important infrastructure project.

Similarly, the Washington Beltway, now known as the Capital Beltway or Interstate 495 (I-495), was another of McKeldin\’s ambitious transportation projects. Designed to encircle Washington, D.C., and connect the surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, the Washington Beltway greatly improved regional connectivity and facilitated economic growth in the region. Construction of the Capital Beltway began in 1955, and like the Baltimore Beltway, the project was completed after McKeldin\’s tenure as governor. Nonetheless, his leadership was instrumental in initiating this vital infrastructure project.

Friendship Airport

Governor McKeldin also played a significant role in the development of what was originally known as Friendship Airport, now the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Recognizing the importance of air travel for the state\’s economic development and global connectivity, McKeldin championed the establishment of a new airport to serve the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.

Located south of Baltimore and just a short drive from Washington, D.C., Friendship Airport was constructed on 3,200 acres of land, with its groundbreaking taking place in 1947. Under McKeldin\’s guidance, the airport opened for commercial operations in 1950, quickly becoming a major transportation hub in the region.

Over the years, Friendship Airport underwent numerous expansions and renovations to accommodate the growing demand for air travel in the region. In 1973, the airport was renamed Baltimore/Washington International Airport, and in 2005, it was further renamed to honor civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Economic Growth and Workforce Development

One of the primary reasons behind McKeldin\’s push for the expansion of the University of Maryland, College Park, was his recognition of the connection between education and economic development. As the state\’s flagship public university, College Park had the potential to become a major driver of Maryland\’s economic growth by producing skilled graduates who could contribute to the state\’s workforce and innovation ecosystem.

By investing in new facilities and resources at College Park, McKeldin aimed to strengthen the university\’s capacity to offer high-quality education and training in fields crucial to the state\’s economy. He envisioned the university as a hub for research and innovation, attracting top faculty and students from around the nation and the world, and fostering partnerships with industry and government to drive economic growth in Maryland.

Promoting Social Mobility and Equal Opportunity

Another key factor in McKeldin\’s decision to expand the University of Maryland, College Park, was his commitment to promoting social mobility and equal opportunity for all Marylanders. McKeldin believed that access to higher education was essential for individuals to improve their socio-economic status and contribute to the betterment of society.

By expanding the University of Maryland, College Park, McKeldin sought to create more opportunities for the state\’s residents to obtain an affordable, high-quality education. This was especially important for individuals from underprivileged backgrounds and minority communities who might not have had access to higher education otherwise.

Addressing the Growing Demand for Higher Education

During McKeldin\’s tenure as governor, the demand for higher education in Maryland and across the United States was on the rise, fueled by population growth and an increasing awareness of the importance of a college degree for personal and professional success. This growing demand put pressure on the existing facilities and resources at the University of Maryland, College Park, necessitating expansion to accommodate the needs of the state\’s residents.

McKeldin recognized the importance of investing in the university\’s infrastructure to ensure that it could meet the increasing demand for higher education and maintain its reputation for academic excellence. By expanding the University of Maryland, College Park, McKeldin aimed to create a more inclusive and accessible institution that could serve the diverse needs of Maryland\’s citizens.

Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin played a crucial role in securing the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center\’s location in Greenbelt, Maryland. His tireless efforts, strategic vision, and persuasive abilities were essential in convincing NASA and the federal government to choose Maryland as the site for this prestigious research facility.

Background and Importance of the Goddard Space Flight Center

Established in 1959, the Goddard Space Flight Center is named in honor of Dr. Robert H. Goddard, an American physicist and pioneer in rocketry. As one of NASA\’s primary research centers, Goddard plays a vital role in advancing our understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe. It has been involved in numerous groundbreaking scientific missions and is responsible for the development, testing, and operation of spacecraft, as well as the analysis of scientific data collected from these missions.

Lobbying Efforts and Strategic Planning

In the late 1950s, as NASA was considering various locations for its new space flight center, Governor McKeldin seized the opportunity to bring this prestigious facility to Maryland. Recognizing the potential economic and scientific benefits of hosting the Goddard Space Flight Center, McKeldin engaged in a concerted lobbying effort to persuade NASA and the federal government of Maryland\’s suitability for the project.

McKeldin and his administration worked closely with federal and local officials to showcase the advantages of the Greenbelt site, emphasizing its strategic location near Washington, D.C., its access to the University of Maryland, College Park, and its proximity to other research institutions and military installations. McKeldin also highlighted the state\’s commitment to supporting the facility\’s development, ensuring that adequate resources and infrastructure would be in place to meet NASA\’s needs.

Additionally, Governor McKeldin leveraged his political connections and skillful negotiation abilities to garner support for Maryland\’s bid to host the space flight center. He engaged with key stakeholders, including members of Congress, NASA officials, and the Eisenhower administration, to make a case for Greenbelt as the ideal location for the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Success and Impact

Governor McKeldin\’s efforts ultimately proved successful, as NASA announced in 1959 that the Goddard Space Flight Center would be built in Greenbelt, Maryland. This decision marked a significant achievement for McKeldin and the state of Maryland, as the center would bring substantial economic and scientific benefits to the region.

The Goddard Space Flight Center has since become a major driver of economic growth and innovation in Maryland, creating thousands of jobs and fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and government. Furthermore, the center has solidified Maryland\’s reputation as a hub for research and technological advancement, attracting additional scientific facilities and investment to the state.

After serving two terms as the Governor of Maryland from 1951 to 1959, Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin continued to contribute to public service and remained an influential figure in the state\’s political landscape. His post-gubernatorial career saw him return to his hometown of Baltimore, where he continued to advocate for the causes he was passionate about and take on leadership roles that allowed him to further serve the people of Maryland.

Mayor of Baltimore (1963-1967)

In 1963, McKeldin successfully ran for the office of Mayor of Baltimore, a position he held until 1967. As mayor, he continued to champion policies aimed at improving the lives of Baltimore\’s residents and addressing the city\’s various social and economic challenges. His tenure as mayor was marked by a commitment to urban renewal, public housing, and the expansion of the city\’s public transportation infrastructure.

During his time as mayor, McKeldin oversaw the construction of the Charles Center, a downtown redevelopment project that aimed to revitalize Baltimore\’s urban core. This initiative was instrumental in attracting new businesses and residents to the city, contributing to its overall economic growth.

In addition to his work on urban renewal, McKeldin remained dedicated to promoting civil rights and racial equality in Baltimore. He continued to advocate for the desegregation of public facilities, including schools and worked to ensure that African Americans were fairly represented in city government.

Civic and Community Involvement

Beyond his roles in elected office, Governor McKeldin remained active in various civic and community organizations. He served as a member of several boards and commissions, including the Maryland State Planning Commission and the Baltimore City Planning Commission. His involvement in these organizations allowed him to continue shaping the development and growth of the state and his hometown.

McKeldin also remained committed to education and the promotion of equal opportunity for all Marylanders. He served on the Board of Regents for the University of Maryland System and continued to support the expansion and modernization of the state\’s educational institutions.

Throughout his post-gubernatorial career, Governor McKeldin continued to give speeches and engage with the public on matters of local and national importance. He remained a respected and influential figure in Maryland politics, serving as a mentor and advisor to future generations of political leaders in the state.


Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin\’s career after leaving the office of Governor of Maryland was marked by an unwavering commitment to public service and the betterment of his community. As Mayor of Baltimore, he worked tirelessly to revitalize the city and address pressing social and economic issues. In addition, his involvement in civic organizations, boards, and commissions allowed him to continue shaping the future of Maryland and advocating for the causes he held dear. McKeldin\’s post-gubernatorial career serves as a testament to his dedication to the people of Maryland and his enduring legacy as a transformative leader.

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