Sunday, June 25, 2006

Milton Jerrold Shapp

Milton Jerrold Shapp, Governor of Pennsylvania, was born on this day in 1912 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Shapp founded Jerrold Electronics Corporation in 1948 and was one of the pioneers of cable television, coming up with a way to consolidate the bouquet of TV antennas on top of urban buildings through the use of coaxial cable and signal boosters capable of accommodating multiple signals at once. As a promoter of this new technology, he provided equipment, financing and encouragement to such early cable system owners (including folks like Bill Daniels and the Rigas family, among others), enabling them to provide better reception to TV viewers in rural areas where broadcast signals were weak. He also had a progressive record as an employer; the Philadelphia Bulletin referred to Jerrold Electronics as "a little United Nations," because of its record for hiring and promoting African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and other minorities, and Shapp was one of the first in the business to promote women to top management positions.

By the 1960s, Shapp was a restless millionaire in search of a new calling, so he studied the problems of state government in Pennsylvania and surprised Democratic party leaders by securing the nomination for governor in 1966, becoming one of the first of many post-World War II millionaire-politicians to enter politics by spending huge amounts of money on a media campaign. Though he lost the general election in 1966, he was elected the first Jewish governor of Pennsylvania in 1970. In eight years as governor he gained a reputation for efficiency and proactivity, making national news in 1974 for settling a truckers' strike as the federal government stood by helplessly.

In 1975 he announced his intention to run for president, but caused barely a ripple; columnist Jack Germond, for one, noted that the dour, nebbishy Shapp was "about as charismatic as a head cold," and instead of being asked whether his candidacy was really an attempt to secure the vice-presidential nomination, some insisted on asking Shapp if he were "really running for Secretary of Transportation." Shapp withdrew from the race after just a few primaries in March 1976, having been the first Jew to undertake a serious campaign for president. He died in 1988.

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