Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Orville L. Freeman (1963–1969): Secretary of Agriculture

Orville Lothrop Freeman was born on March 9, 1918, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Freeman attended public school in Minneapolis and then received his B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1940. During World War II, he served in the Marine Corps, following which he received his A.B. and LL.B. from the University of Minnesota.

Freeman practiced law in Minneapolis, becoming a close political associate of Herbert Humphrey, who was then serving as mayor of Minneapolis and who also had a great deal of influence in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL). With Humphrey's aid, Freeman helped make the DFL a powerful political organization that in 1954 would help to overthrow Republican dominance in the state.

In 1954, Freeman became governor of Minnesota, where he earned a reputation as a progressive; he was re-elected to that post in 1956 and 1958. After Humphrey withdrew from the 1960 presidential race, Freeman gave his support to Kennedy-a favor Kennedy returned following his victory in the 1960 presidential election.

Freeman himself had failed win re-election in 1960, allowing Kennedy to appoint him as secretary of agriculture. When Freeman took the post, America was suffering from chronic overproduction that was exacerbated by technological innovations. The Kennedy administration believed it important to have the power to set acreage limitations and to control the amount of a crop actually brought to market. It therefore became Freeman's goal to cut production, increase farm incomes, and distribute, on a large scale, surpluses to the hungry.

Freeman hoped that the department could reduce its budget and focus on other issues, such as rural development, land conversion, and research. Freeman was able to establish a feed-grain reduction program, cut the amount of wheat grown, expand the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, forge a wheat deal with the Russians in 1963, and complete research on foodstuffs for survival after a nuclear attack. The Food for Peace program became crucial to distributing U.S. farm surpluses overseas and reducing the amount of dollars spent abroad. After serving as secretary of agriculture until January 1969, Freeman became president of the Business International Corporation in 1970.