Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Thomas S. Kleppe (1975–1977): Secretary of the Interior

Born the son of homesteaders on July 1, 1919, in Kintyre, North Dakota, Thomas Savig Kleppe became secretary of the Interior Department on October 17, 1975. He served in that capacity until the end of the Gerald Ford administration on January 20, 1977.

Kleppe attended Valley City Teacher College in 1941 and served as a warrant officer in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946. Shortly before his discharge, the St. Louis Cardinals offered him a baseball contract, which he turned down to return to his native North Dakota. In 1950, North Dakota voters elected him as the youngest mayor of Bismarck, and he served as mayor from 1950 to 1954.

Kleppe then joined the Gold Seal Company, in Bismarck, North Dakota, becoming treasurer and president of the firm (1958-1964). He ran for a U.S. Senate seat from North Dakota in 1964 but lost the election. In 1966, he became president of J. M. Dain & Company, an investment banking firm headquartered in Minneapolis, serving until 1966.

Twice elected congressman from North Dakota's Second Congressional District (1966 and 1968), Kleppe served as a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Republican Policy Committee. In 1970, he ran again unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from North Dakota. The following January, President Nixon appointed him administrator of the Small Business Administration (1971-1975). After serving as secretary of the Interior for Gerald Ford, Kleppe returned to North Dakota to work in private business.

Thomas S. Kleppe died on March 2, 2007 in Bethesda, Maryland.