Member Biography

William Bigler 


Portrait: Brady-Handy Collection, Library of Congress

Sessions Office Position District Party
1842       23 Democrat
1843       23 Democrat
1844     Speaker 20 Democrat
1845     Speaker 20 Democrat
1846       20 Democrat
1847       20 Democrat


01/01/1814 - 08/09/1880

William Bigler (D23) Armstrong, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Indiana Counties 1842-1843 (D20) Armstrong, Cambria, Clearfield, Indiana Counties 1844-1847

Early Life:

William Bigler, born January 1, 1814, Gibson Mill, Sherman Valley, Cumberland County (now, Spring Township, Perry County), son of Jacob and Susan Dock Bigler; public school education; tutored by older brother John Bigler; engaged, printing apprentice, journalist, staff, Centre County Democrat; married, Maria J. Reed, 1836, five children; publisher, Democratic Clearfield Democrat; engaged, lumber; elected, Democrat, Pennsylvania State Senate, 1842-1847, Speaker, 1844-1845; Pennsylvania State Revenue Commissioner, 1849; Elected, Democrat, Pennsylvania Governor, 1852-1854; president, Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, 1854-1856; filled vacancy, Democrat, United States Senate, 1856-1861; delegate, Chicago National Democratic Convention, 1864; delegate, Philadelphia Union National Convention, 1866; delegate, New York Democratic National Convention, 1868; delegate, Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, 1872-1873; member, board of finance, Centennial Exposition Commission, 1876; died, August 9, 1880 (aged 66) Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania; interment, Hillcrest Cemetery,  Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.     

Early Career:

Co-partner, father-in-law, Alexander Reed, timber business, largest producer of building lumber, West Branch of the Susquehanna, earning the nickname, “The Clearfield Raftsman”, 1845-1850.

Pennsylvania Politics:

Elected, Democrat, Pennsylvania State Senate, 23rd district, Armstrong, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Indiana Counties, 1842-1843.

Elected, Democrat, Pennsylvania State Senate, 20th district, Armstrong, Cambria, Clearfield, Indiana Counties, 1844-1847; Speaker, 1844-1845; Key role in the abolition of imprisonment for debt in Pennsylvania and the development of two insane asylums, Philadelphia, Harrisburg. Stressed railroad expansion in the western counties of Pennsylvania as he was a proponent of a central railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh as competition to the B&O Railroad. His efforts resulted in a cross-state line in 1847 which was eventually sold and became the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Pennsylvania State Revenue Commissioner, 1849.

Elected, Democrat, 12th Pennsylvania Governor, 1852-1855; became the youngest governor since 1790; championed public education, and banking reform. Fought wildcat bank charters, protecting depositors and bond investors from unscrupulous bankers and the potential to abuse charters of privileges; He lost popularity through his support of the Walker Tariff, the right of southern states to retain slavery, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act; unsuccessful reelection campaign, governor, 1854. As of 2022, he is the last Democratic incumbent to lose reelection as Governor of Pennsylvania. 

President, Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, 1854-1856.

Elected, Democrat, United States Senate, legislature having failed to elect anyone to fill vacancy, (1855), 1856-1861; Committee on Engrossed Bills (Thirty-sixth Congress), Committee on Patents and Patent Office (Thirty-sixth Congress), Committee on Commerce (Thirty-sixth Congress), unsuccessful candidate for reelection.

Delegate, Chicago National Democratic Convention, endorsed General George Brinton McClellan, president, 1864. 

Delegate, Philadelphia Union National Convention, 1866.

Delegate, New York Democratic National Convention, 1868. 

Delegate, Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, 1872-1873.

Member, board of finance, Centennial Exposition Commission, 1876; convinced Congress to fund the Centennial held in Philadelphia as an international exhibition rather than just a national event.


Elder brother, John Bigler owned, Centre County Democrat, later became third governor of California, 1852. Were the first brothers to serve as governors of two states simultaneously.

Named after him:

Biglerville, Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Bigler Hall, University Park campus of Penn State.  

Bigler Street, Philadelphia.

Bigler Township, Clearfield County.  

Bigler Avenues, Clearfield and Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania.


Cox, Harold. "Senate Members B"Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University.

"Governor William Bigler"

Governor William Bigler | PHMC > Pennsylvania Governors (

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, editors. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Volume 4. Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 volumes.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2. New York: James T. White and Company.

William Bigler (1814-1880) - Find a Grave Memorial



Congressional Biography

After 6 session(s) serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, William Bigler  went on to serve in congress