Vance McCormick’s Life After Carlisle

Vance McCormick wasn’t a slacker child who lived with his wealthy parents and coached the Carlisle Indian School football team to give himself something to do, he worked in the family businesses.  After he returned home from Yale in 1893, he helped his father operate his many businesses that included Central iron and Steel, Dauphin Deposit Bank, and Harrisburg Bridge Company.  After his father died in 1897, Vance was in charge of the entire enterprise.  The McCormicks were hard working Scots-Irish Presbyterians who attended Pine Street Presbyterian Church.  At Yale, Vance split with his father on politics and became a Democrat.

In 1900 at age 27, Vance began his career in politics by running for and winning a seat on Harrisburg’s common council from the 4th ward.  About the time he turned 30, he began a term as mayor of Harrisburg.  McCormick’s legacy to Harrisburg is still seen today in the city’s park system.  Less visible, but more impactful, are the water filtration plant that supplied clean drinking water to the residents of Harrisburg at a time when neither Philadelphia nor Boston had such a facility.  He also had 45 miles of city streets paved.  A reformer, Horace McFarland credited him with cleaning up Harrisburg morally as well as physically as fast as he could in his one term as mayor.  And he wasn’t a full-time mayor!  In 1902, he also became publisher of the Patriot-News, which he had ferreting out Republican corruption.  He ran unsuccessfully for Governor in 1914 as organized labor and liquor interests opposed him.  Today, he is perhaps remembered most for what he did on the national level.

McCormick’s restructuring of the moribund state Democratic party was a turning point in his political career.  He was instrumental in shifting the Democrats to progressivism.  Vance became a major player on the national stage.  He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee (1916-19) and served as Woodrow Wilson’s campaign manager.  He chaired the War Trade Board (1916-19) and served on the Commission to Negotiate Peace at Versailles in 1919.

After the war, McCormick returned to Harrisburg where he published both the Patriot-News and the Evening News.  At age 52, he married for the first time to the widow of eight-term Republican congressman Marlin Olmsted.  He died in 1946 at his country home, Cedar Cliff Farms, across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg.

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2 Responses to “Vance McCormick’s Life After Carlisle”

  1. Kathy Young Says:

    I love the history:) I will offer a correction on the spelling of Olmstead. I am pretty sure it is spelled Olmsted. The country home is still located on Olmsted Way, Camp Hill. Just thought this could be helpful.

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