Harold R. Gross

Harold R. Gross

Harold Royce (H.R.) Gross (June 30, 1899 - September 22, 1987) was a Republican United States Representative from Iowa's 3rd congressional district for thirteen terms. The role he played on the House floor—objecting to spending measures and projects that he considered wasteful—prompted a national weekly newsmagazine to label him "the useful pest."" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873599,00.html The Useful Pest] ," Time Magazine, 1962-06-15.]

Personal background

Gross was born on his parents' convert|240|acre|km2|sing=on farm near Arispe, in Union County, Iowa." [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE5DB123AF937A1575AC0A961948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print "H.R. Gross is Dead; Iowa Congressman] ", New York Times, 1987-09-24.] He was educated in the rural schools. In 1916, after completing his sophomore year in high school in Creston, Iowa, he concealed his youth in order to enlist in the military service, where he first served with the First Iowa Field Artillery in the Pancho Villa Expedition.Frank Nye Jr., "H.R. Gross Puts New Thoughts in Political Minds," Waterloo Daily Courier, 1940-05-28, at 20.] During the First World War he served in France with the United States Army from 1917-1919. After the war, he briefly attended Iowa State College in its electrical engineering program, before transferring to the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia.

He was a newspaper reporter and editor for various newspapers from 1921 to 1935. One such newspaper was the publication of the Iowa Farmer's Union, the Iowa Union Farmer, which he edited from 1929 to 1935. He began as a radio news commentator for WHO (AM) in Des Moines, Iowa in 1935.

He met Hazel Webster while he was a newspaper reporter covering the Iowa statehouse and she was the secretary to the Iowa Attorney General. They were married in 1929. H.R. and Hazel Gross raised two children, Phillip and Alan.

1940 run for Governor of Iowa

In 1940, Gross challenged Iowa's sitting Governor, George A. Wilson, in the Republican primary, running what newspapers called a "sight-unseen" campaign. Gross confined his campaign to radio addresses, declined all personal appearance invitations, and made no platform speeches. ["Talk of Demos' 'Fifth Column' is Not Heeded," Mason City Globe-Gazette, 1940-06-01, at 1.] He lost the primary by only 15,781 votes out of over 330,000 cast, in the closest primary race in Iowa in nearly thirteen years."Gross Back in Political Race," Iowa City Press-Citizen, 1948-04-02 at 4.] His campaign was haunted by a statement he had made seven years earlier, while writing and speaking for the Farmer's Holiday Association, that appeared to approve of an episode of mob violence against a judge to stop a foreclosure. ["Reflections on the Side by Ed," The Oxford Mirror, 1940-05-16, at 1; Editorial, "Iowa Still Republican," Oelwein Daily Register, 1940-06-05, at 2.]

Following his defeat, Gross joined an Ohio radio station and later moved to Indiana. After World War II, he returned to Iowa and became a radio newscaster at KXEL in Waterloo, Iowa.

Congressional elections and re-elections

In 1948, Gross ran against an incumbent House member of his own party, Republican John W. Gwynne. He wrested the nomination away from Gwynne in the Republican primary without the help of the party organization. In a 1948 general election in which Democratic President Harry S. Truman surprisingly carried Iowa and Iowa Democrat Guy Gillette ousted Republican George A. Wilson from the U.S. Senate, Gross won his first of many landslide victories. He was the only Republican member of Iowa's U.S. House delegation to survive the 1964 Democratic landslide. He was re-elected twelve times before choosing to retire rather than run in the 1974 election. He served continuously from January 3, 1949 to January 3, 1975.

Fiscal conservatism

In the words of his successor, Charles Grassley, Gross earned "a legendary reputation as watchdog of the Treasury." He rarely missed a roll call vote, and often remained in the House chamber between roll-call votes, listening carefully to speeches and scrutinizing the details of pending bills, especially spending bills. He denounced, among other things, the Marshall Plan,Bill Kauffman, " [http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/hrgross.htm The Eternal Flamethrower] ," The American Enterprise, 1999-11 (reprinted on the Arlington Cemetery website, accessed 2008-05-31).] the funeral of President John F. Kennedy (including the appropriation for fuel for the eternal flame), the size of the White House security detail, the Peace Corps, the U.S. Space Program, and foreign aid. [" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,841374,00.html Hatchet Job] ," Time Magazine, 1968-07-26.]

In the early 1960s he took an early stand against the practice of retired service personnel getting a military pension and another federal paycheck. He opposed restoring former President Dwight D. Eisenhower to his generalship unless Congress stipulated that he would only receive his Presidential pension and not a general's salary also. Gross admitted to having only one regret about his entire career — voting "present" rather than "nay" on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, explaining that the Vietnam War ended up costing too much.


Gross was also known for his independence, so much so that then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford remarked that "there are three parties in the House: Democrats, Republicans, and H.R. Gross." Shaking off the Eisenhower Administration's pressure to support a foreign-aid economic-development measure, Gross quipped, "I took my last marching orders in 1916-19." [" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,825160,00.html Foreign-Aid Pasting] ," Time Magazine, 1957-07-29.]

Gross's personal lifestyle reflected his fiscally conservative views. He lived frugally and rarely attended any parties or social functions common to the life of a congressman. Gross was remembered as an outsider who preferred to sit in his townhouse and watch professional wrestling on TV.

However, even his targets could speak warmly of Gross. Longtime House Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Vinson, whose defense spending bills often incurred Gross's criticisms, said of Gross that "there is really no good debate unless the gentle man from Iowa is in it."

H.R. 144

When Gross was in Congress, a special exception was made to the practice that bills offered in the House were numbered consecutively. The number H.R. 144 was reserved each session for one of Representative Gross's bills (because 144 equals one gross, making its title the arithmetical equivalent to his name). [" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945165,00.html Cramming for Capitol Hill] ," Time Magazine, 1972-12-18.]


He was a resident of Arlington, Virginia, until his death in a Washington, D.C. Veterans Hospital on September 22, 1987, due to complications from from Alzheimer's disease. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Hazel Gross, his wife of 58 years, died March 18, 1999, in Washington D.C. She was 97 years old..


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