Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Curtis D. Wilbur (1924–1929): Secretary of the Navy

Born in Boone County, Iowa, on May 10, 1867, Curtis Wilbur attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1884. He resigned his commission, a common practice for graduates due to the lack of naval officer employment, and moved to California, where he worked and studied law in the evenings. Admitted to the California bar in 1890, Wilbur took a position as Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney.

He later moved to the Superior Court (1903-18) and became a member of the California Supreme Court (1919-1924), serving as chief justice (1923-1924). President Coolidge appointed him secretary of the Navy, taking over after the Teapot Dome scandal. Wilbur is credited with creating a strong navy, advocating for naval education, modernization of the carrier fleet, and advocating for temporizing the power of Japan. He served as naval secretary from March 19, 1924 to March 4, 1929. President Hoover appointed him to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he served from 1929 to 1945. Wilbur died in San Francisco on September 8, 1954.