Portrait: Senate of Pennsylvania
Masterful floor leader Weldon Brinton Heyburn was born in Carbondale, Delaware County on March 8, 1903, the son of Quaker Harry Hannum and Margaret (Darlington) Heyburn, and the cousin of U.S. Senator Weldon Brinton Heyburn. Weldon attended public schools, private Friends institutions, and the Maplewood Academy until age fifteen, when he opted for further studies at home. After graduating from high school, Weldon joined his father’s business, H.H. Heyburn and Sons, and “worked the family farm” at his parent’s Concordville home. A lifelong interest in agriculture, he served as vice president of the Allied Dairy farmer’s Association, president of the Delaware County Milk Producers and Consumers Association, and the National Advisory Committee on Rural Electrification. Heyburn settled at Brandywine Summit, near Concordville, and married Dorothy Schmidt of Upper Darby Township in Harrisburg, July 18, 1936. At the outset of Pennsylvania’s Little New Deal, Heyburn received statewide prominence as “the man who beat McClure” during the 1936 Delaware County state senatorial race. John McClure, the county’s powerful and often controversial Republican boss, defeated Heyburn by 6,000 votes during the GOP gubernatorial primary. In a bold move, Weldon declared as an Independent and shocked many political observers by winning the county’s subsequent general election against McClure. In the process, a unified block of anti-Roosevelt Democrats and reform-Republicans carried Heyburn to victory on the Democratic ticket. While he voted the Democratic party line on procedural matters and unit-rule bills during his first two years, he defied the caucus in 1938, realigning with the Republican Senate and becoming the spearhead of the state GOP’s legislative assault against proposed Little New Deal tax bills, earning his caucus membership as one of the Senate’s “four horsemen.” He served as majority leader under presidents pro tempore Gelder, Ealy, and Harve Taylor. As a Democrat, the senator chaired Agriculture (1937-1938), joining GOP ranks as head of Labor and Industry (1939-1940), Finance, (1941-1942), and Rules, (1943-1944). From 1947 to 1949, the senator chaired the Joint State Government Commission and later served as state auditor general, 1949-1953. He lost a bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination to Gov. John Fine in 1950 but gained the state treasurer’s office, 1952 through 1957, a partial stroke spoiling almost certain election to a 1958 U.S. Senate post. From 1949 through May 1957, Senator Heyburn served as chair of the Delaware River Port Authority, president of the State Public School Building Authority, secretary of the State Highway and Bridge Authority, served as a member of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Commission, and became president of the American Association of Bridges, Tunnels, and Turnpikes. Heyburn acted as board director, vice president, and executive member of the Pennsylvania Motor Federation-AAA, and in 1949, became director and president of the Keystone Automobile Club of Philadelphia. He belonged to the Manufacturers and Bankers Club of Philadelphia and the Masons. Resigning from Heyburn and Sons in 1967, Weldon extended his public service career as the Delaware director and county representative to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), resigning the chair in 1973. He served as a member of the Board of Governor’s Traffic & Transportation Council of Greater Philadelphia and earned a position as executive assistant in the CPA and management firm of Ernst & Ernst. Heyburn chaired the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District and accepted a seat on the board of directors of the Suburban Loan Company. The senator directed the 1968 Constitutional Convention’s executive committee and received an appointment as the state Senate’s representative to the Conference of the Council of State Governments in Washington DC, 1939-1940. The Honorable Weldon Brinton Heyburn passed away in Delaware County on February 7, 1979.
Delaware County Daily Times, February 9, 1979; Delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 1968, PSL, 35; The Pennsylvania Manual., 1937, vol. 83, (Harrisburg: the Commonwealth of Pa., 1938), 781.