On this date, John David Dingell, Sr., died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., at the age of 61. Born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 2, 1894, Dingell dropped out of public school to start work at the age of 16. His eclectic early career included stints as a newspaperman, construction laborer, and college trustee. In 1932, Michigan created the 15th Congressional District out of four wards in the city of Detroit as a result of congressional apportionment. Dingell ran in the general election for the open seat against four opponents and was elected to the 73rd Congress (1933–1935) with 48 percent of the vote. He earned between 52 and 73 percent of the popular vote in his eleven re-election campaigns. A strong proponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, Dingell supported legislation such as the National Labor Relations Act, Social Security, and financial reforms. He served on three House Committees during his first term, but gave up those assignments when he joined the Ways and Means Committee. Dingell rose to become the second highest-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Ways and Means at the time of his death.
Dingell’s best-known legislative legacy was his unwavering advocacy of a national health insurance plan. During the 78th Congress (1943–1945), Dingell, along with Senators Robert Wagner of New York and James Murray of Montana, introduced the Wagner–Murray–Dingell bills (H.R. 2861 and S. 1161) in June 1943. These bills offered an extension of the Social Security system to the entire U.S. working population while introducing expansive health care benefits. Although the bills died in committee, Dingell, Wagner, and Murray submitted revised bills in subsequent Congresses. Eventually, some of the proposed benefits appeared in legislation proposed by President Harry S. Truman in his 1949 State of the Union Address. During his congressional tenure, the Detroit Free Press credited Dingell with shepherding more than 100 amendments to the tax and social security laws of the nation. Dingell’s son and successor, John Dingell, Jr., told House colleagues, “My father loved and respected the House and all its Members. If I can be half the man my father was I shall feel I was a great success.”