By Gregg Mangan
John H. Trumbull was born March 4, 1873 in Ashford, Connecticut. Despite his famous name, he was no relation to the long line of Trumbulls who served in Connecticut politics as far back as the colonial era. John’s parents, Hugh and Mary Ann Trumbull, came to the US from Ireland and settled in Ashford in the early 1870s. They later relocated to Plainville where John grew up. After finishing school, John joined the First Connecticut Infantry where he rose to the rank of colonel in the State Guard.
In 1899 John, his brother Henry, and a business associate named Frank T. Wheeler founded an electric business in Plainville. They produced switches, appliances, and supplies under the name Trumbull Electric Company, before changing it in 1903 to the Trumbull Electric Manufacturing Company. John served as the company’s president from 1911 until 1944.
Trumbull’s official foray into state politics began with his election to the General Assembly in 1921. Four years later, after serving two terms in the state senate, Trumbull won election to the office of Lieutenant Governor under newly elected governor Hiram Bingham. Bingham occupied the office for only one day before accepting a position in the United States Senate vacated by the death of Frank Brandegee. When Bingham left office on January 8, 1925, John Trumbull became governor of Connecticut.
A Politician Takes Flight
In 1926, at the age of 53, Trumbull received his pilot’s license. An aviation enthusiast, Trumbull was a member of the State Aeronautics Commission, helped promote the growth of Bradley Field, and founded an airfield in Groton that still bears his name. Over the course of his piloting career, Trumbull experienced four significant crashes, including a mid-air collision, but managed to survive them all with little injury. As governor, he piloted his own plane to gubernatorial appointments, earning him the nickname, the “Flying Governor.”
Trumbull retired from office in 1931 and resumed oversight of his various business ventures before running for election again in 1932 and losing to incumbent Wilbur Cross. He remained active in politics, however, serving as Republican State Central Committeeman for the Fifth Senatorial District and chairman of the New England chapter of the Republican National Program Committee. He died in Hartford on May 21, 1961.
Gregg Mangan is an author and historian who holds a PhD in public history from Arizona State University.