From the Ohio Historical Society
Harold Hitz Burton was born on June 22, 1888, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. In 1909, he received his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College, where he had quarterbacked the football team. He then pursued a doctorate in law from Harvard University, graduating in 1912. He began to practice law in Cleveland, Ohio, that same year.
Burton remained in Cleveland for only a brief time, becoming an attorney for a power company in Utah in 1914 and then for another one in Idaho in 1916. With World War I’s outbreak, Burton enlisted in the military. Upon being discharged, he returned to Cleveland and resumed his legal career. He also taught classes at Western Reserve University from 1923 to 1925.
Following World War I, Burton embarked upon a career in politics, serving on the East Cleveland Board of Education in 1928 and 1929. In 1929, he became a member of the Ohio House of Representatives. He held this position for less than a year, because he became the law director of Cleveland in 1929. He remained in this position until 1932. After a brief respite from public life, Burton won election as Cleveland’s mayor, an office he held from 1935 to 1940. As mayor, Burton battled against organized crime and sought to improve employment opportunities for the city’s residents. Known for his piety and honesty, Burton became known as the “Boy Scout Mayor.” In 1940, Ohio voters elected Burton to the United States Senate. His greatest accomplishment as senator was his sponsorship of the “B2H2 Resolution,” which called for the United States to join an international peace organization following World War II. Burton served in the Senate from 1941 until 1945, when he resigned this office to become an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court. Although Burton was a member of the Republican Party, President Harry Truman, a member of the Democratic Party, still appointed him to the United States Supreme Court.
In comparison to some other justices, Burton’s career on the court was a short one. He became a justice on September 30, 1945, and remained on the Supreme Court until his retirement on October 13, 1958. During his tenure, Burton became well known for his support of desegregation and also for limiting government influence over businesses. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1957, Burton retired the next year.
Upon retiring from the Supreme Court, Burton returned to Cleveland. He accepted an appointment to the District of Columbia Circuit Court in 1960, a position he held until his death on October 28, 1964.