Harry L. Davis
Photograph of Harry L. Davis of Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1924. He served as governor of Ohio from 1921 to 1923.
Harry Lyman Davis was born on January 25, 1878, in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was an iron and steelworker and served several terms in the Ohio legislature, where he was a strong supporter of labor issues. Harry Davis attended public schools and, upon graduation, held numerous jobs. At eighteen years of age, he became a steel worker. He also served as a page in the Ohio legislature. Davis eventually settled upon two careers -- politics and insurance.
In 1909, Davis, a virtual unknown candidate, won election as Cleveland's treasurer. He held this office for two years. In 1915, he successfully won Cleveland's mayoral seat, running for the Republican Party. Davis held this office until 1920, when he resigned to run for governor. In the gubernatorial election of 1920, Davis faced opposition from A. Victor Donahey, the Democratic Party candidate, and Frank B. Hamilton, the Socialist candidate. Davis defeated Donahey by 121,000 votes, while Hamilton placed a distant third with just forty-three thousand votes. This was an important victory for the Republican Party, as Democrat James M. Cox had held the governor's seat the last two terms.
As governor, Davis's main contribution to Ohio was the Administrative Reorganization Code of 1921. Following World War I, many Americans, including numerous Ohioans, sought a more efficient and smaller government at the state and federal levels. The Administrative Reorganization Code addressed these concerns, by reordering the state government. This legislation dramatically increased the governor's power, giving this official the power to appoint the directors of eight separate administrative departments. The governor was to consult with the Ohio Senate before making appointments, but the governor did not have to follow the senators' advice. The eight departments were finance, commerce, highways and public works, agriculture, health, industrial relations, education, and public welfare. Each director would have complete control over his or her respective department, but the directors served at the will of the governor. This new administrative system streamlined the Ohio state government dramatically by cutting thirty-seven agencies, boards, commissions, and offices.
In 1922, Davis decided not to seek reelection and returned to Cleveland, where he formed the Harry L. Davis Insurance Company. He received the Republican Party's nomination for governor in 1924, but he lost the race to A. Victor Donahey. After this setback, Davis avoided the political limelight until 1933, when he, once again, became Cleveland's mayor. He held this office until 1935. Davis died on May 21, 1950.
- Cayton, Andrew. Ohio: The History of a People. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2002.
- The Governors of Ohio. Columbus: The Ohio History Connection, 1954