Curtis Dwight Wilbur

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Curtis Dwight Wilbur (10 May, 1867 – 8 September, 1954) served as the forty-third Secretary of the Navy from 1924 through 1929.

Life & Career

Curtis Wilbur was born in Boone County, Iowa on May 10, 1867. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in the class of 1884. However, Wilbur resigned his commission owing to a lack of prospects for employment, a common fate for graduating midshipmen in twenty years following the Civil War. A fellow Academy classmate, Edward L. Beach, recalled of his graduation:

And who could forget the beautiful graduating ball! Though number three of my class, Naval Cadet Curtis D. Wilbur had resigned voluntarily. Yet there he was splendidly there, standing six feet three in an officer's full dress uniform. But Naval Cadet Charles Frederic Hughes, also six foot three, was missing. As Hughes never went to balls, he had insisted upon Wilbur's wearing his uniform. Although this was doubtless strictly against naval regulations, and noted by many present, there is nowhere any indication that anyone objected. Certainly, Wilbur was not "spotted," or "put on the pap."[1]

After his resignation he moved to California, where he studied law in the evenings after work, eventually being admitted to the California bar in 1890 and taking a position as Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney.

Wilbur subsequently was appointed to the Superior Court in 1903 and became a member of the California Supreme Court in 1919, serving as Chief Justice from 1923 to 1924. During Wilbur's time as Chief Justice, the sequel to Beach's graduation story took place:

[T]he greatest fleet of warships ever gathered under the Stars and Stripes dropped anchor in San Francisco Bay. Soon a launch from shore sped to the flagship; and, as it came alongside, a gentleman six feet three inches stepped lightly from the cockpit. Awaiting him, at the head of the ladder, was a naval officer, also six feet three inches tall.

"Hello, Magic!" said Hughes, the commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet, as he welcomed the chief justice of the supreme court of California.
"Hello, Freddie!" Wilbur replied.
While they were talking of old days in the admiral's cabin, Hughes jumped up, ran to his sleeping room, and returned with a faded pair of white kid gloves.

"By the way, Magic," he said, "these are your gloves. You left them in the pocket of my uniform."[2]

In the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Wilbur as Secretary of the Navy in 1924. According to one source, "Coolidge was to later admit that he had never heard of Curtis Wilbur prior to March 1924."[3] Regardless of his previous obscurity, 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.

Wilbur served as Secretary until Coolidge left office in 1929, and Coolidge's successor, Herbert Hoover, appointed him to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he served from 1929 to 1945. He died in San Francisco on September 8, 1954.

See Also


  • Beach, Edward L. Sr. with Beach, Edward L. Jr. (2003). From Annapolis to Scapa Flow: The Autobiography of Edward L. Beach, Sr. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.
  • Hyde, Harlow A. (1988). Scraps of Paper: The Disarmament Treaties Between the World Wars. Lincoln, NE: Media Publishing.


Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Edwin Denby
Secretary of the Navy
19 Mar, 1924 – 4 Mar, 1929
Succeeded by
Charles F. Adams III


  1. Beach. From Annapolis. pp. 27-28.
  2. Beach. From Annapolis. p. 28.
  3. Hyde. Scraps of Paper. p. 128.