Aaron B. Hess
Born: May 31, 1871, Safe Harbor, Lancaster County, PA. Died: August 4, 1933, Lancaster, Lancaster County, PA. Member of the House: Lancaster County, 1st District, 1911-1922 and 1925-1930. Affiliation: Republican.
Aaron B. Hess was educated in the Pequea Township public schools in Lancaster County. Hess began teaching in the Pequea Township public schools in 1888 at the age of 17 and remained there until 1897. He received his teaching certificate from Millersville State Teacher’s College in 1892 while he was employed as a teacher. Hess married Fannie H. Hess and they had 3 children: H. Lloyd, Aaron Elwood, and Kathryn M. (Hess) Moore. Hess was elected general manager of the Lancaster Chemical Company in 1898. In 1899 he began his career in the leaf tobacco business by starting the A. B. Hess Cigar Company, Inc. From 1911-1913, Hess was elected the president of the National Cigar Leaf Tobacco Association. Hess moved to the city of Lancaster in 1908, and in November 1910 he was elected to the Pennsylvania House to represent Lancaster County for the 1911-1912 session. He was re-elected to 8 other terms from 1913-1922 and 1925-1930.
Hess was the prime sponsor of legislation to create the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which became Act 47 of 1921. Hess was the Republican Leader for the passage of what would become Act 368 of 1921, the first State tax on gasoline. Hess did not seek re-election to the House in 1923, but he returned for the session of 1925-1926. One of the major developments occurring throughout the state and the country at the time was the construction of public highways due to the increased use of automobiles. In 1925 Hess was the leading supporter of legislation, which became Act 22 of 1925, to compel county commissioners to apply for funding in order to construct highways. In 1927 Hess was the prime sponsor of Act 192, which authorized the Secretary of Highways to name, number, or combine state highways to best accommodate the public. Also in 1927, he authored legislation that became Act 415, which regulated professional engineering for the first time.
Hess was selected as chairman of the Manufacturing Committee from 1919-1922. Hess was the Republican Leader from 1921-1922 and 1927-1928. From 1925-1928, Hess was selected as the chairman of the Public Roads Committee. On January 1, 1929, Hess was elected as the 115th Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 1929-1930 session.
As Speaker, Hess was the prime sponsor of legislation that became Act 569 of 1929, to provide compensation to teachers willing to leave retirement to fill a teaching demand. Hess also oversaw legislation that would change the names of State Normal Schools to State Teachers’ Colleges, or Act 309 of 1929. Hess was Speaker during the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States. This would signal the beginning of the Great Depression.
Following his departure from the House in 1930, Hess continued to manage his cigar company. He would also go on to oversee a chemical firm and a waterworks company. Aaron B. Hess passed away on August 4, 1933, following complications from an appendectomy. He is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in the city of Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
To view this Speaker's House Historical Biography, click here.