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Hickenlooper, Bourke

Published onAug 18, 2021
Hickenlooper, Bourke

(July 21, 1896 – September 4, 1972)

Quick Facts

Alumnus Bourke Hickenlooper had a long political career serving as governor, state representative and U.S. senator.


Bourke Hickenlooper was born in Blockton, Iowa, the son of Nathan and Margaret Hickenlooper. He attended Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) until 1917, when he enlisted in the officers' training camp at Fort Snelling. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the 339th Field Artillery and served in France until March 1919, when he returned home to complete his education at Iowa State, graduating in 1919 with a degree in industrial science. He continued his education at the University of Iowa's College of Law, receiving his law degree in 1922. That same year he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in Cedar Rapids. He married Verna Bensch, and they had two children.

In 1934 he was elected as a state representative and held that post until 1937. His special interests included education, public health, highway development, child welfare, and government reorganization. He was lieutenant governor from 1939 to 1942, when he ran for governor and defeated former Democratic Governor Nelson G. Kraschel.

Hickenlooper served Iowa as governor until 1944, when he was elected by a very narrow margin as a Republican to the U.S. Senate. He eventually defeated three other Democratic contenders, in 1950, 1956, and 1962.

Hickenlooper's role in the Senate was described as "quiet." Thus his name rarely appeared in the media. He was considered a conservative, was a staunch supporter of the United Nations, voted for aid to Greece and Turkey in 1947, was in favor of the Marshall Plan, and promoted the organization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). By 1949 he and others began to worry over the Atomic Energy Commission's lack of security, and he supported an investigation of the organization. Hickenlooper endorsed General Dwight D. Eisenhower for president in 1952. In 1954 he cosponsored the Cole-Hickenlooper Atomic Energy Act, which allowed private utilities to develop nuclear power.

Hickenlooper, a tenacious anti-Communist crusader, was often called a "Cold War warrior." He served on the infamous Tydings Subcommittee, which was assigned to conduct a complete investigation as to whether employees who were disloyal to the United States had been or were employed by the State Department. The committee's report eventually cleared the State Department, though Hickenlooper joined the only other Republican on the committee, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, in refusing to sign the report because he considered the investigation incomplete and a whitewash of the State Department.

Serving as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he consulted with many presidents, traveled often to foreign countries, dealt with many heads of state, and served as U.S. delegate to the United Nations in 1959. After the election of President John F. Kennedy, Hickenlooper became extremely skeptical of the development of the so-called welfare state and often opposed initiatives that contributed to it. In 1963 he voted for the Test Ban Treaty, reversing his earlier stance on the subject. He also cosponsored the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which allowed President Lyndon Johnson to increase the forces in Vietnam. In regard to U.S.-Soviet relations, he assisted in getting Senate approval of the 1967 consular treaty, the first treaty between the two nations.

Hickenlooper was well liked and respected for his honesty. He was also considered very knowledgeable. Conservative when it came to financial decisions, he questioned everything and became known as the "consummate skeptic."

Chairing the Republican Policy Committee and serving on Senate committees for agriculture, aeronautical and space science, banking, and foreign relations as well as the Joint Congressional Atomic Energy Committee completed his active political career.

When he was over 70 years old and his wife was very ill, he chose not to run for reelection. His wife died in 1970, and Bourke Hickenlooper died at Shelter Island, New York, in 1972 of a heart attack.

Hickenlooper received honorary degrees from Parsons College, Loras College, Elmira College, and Upper Iowa University. He was also a member of various fraternal and professional organizations, such as the Linn County Bar Association, the Iowa Bar Association, the American Legion, Phi Delta Phi, Sigma Phi Epsilon, the Masons, the Elks, and the Moose.

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

Hickenlooper's papers are located at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.

Edward L. Schapsmeier and Frederick H. Schapsmeier, "A Strong Voice for Keeping America Strong: A Profile of Senator Bourke Hickenlooper," Annals of Iowa 47 (1984), 362–76.

Obituary in the New York Times, 9/5/1971.

Kilburg, Diann M. "Hickenlooper, Bourke Blakemore" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web.

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