Hats Off to Horner!
Henry Horner’s top hat connects us to a most interesting man from Chicago. Horner is best known as Illinois’s first Jewish governor (1932–40) but he had many other accomplishments as well. Born in Chicago, Horner was a descendant of Henry and Hannah (Dernberg) Horner, German Jewish settlers who arrived in the area in the 1840s. He trained as a lawyer and served as a Cook County probate judge for eighteen years, leaving a distinguished record of service. Horner also participated in numerous civic and community activities, serving on the board of directors for Michael Reese Hospital, the Jewish Aid Society, and the Chicago Council of Boy Scouts, among others.
Top hat worn by Governor Henry Horner of Illinois, 1933
Silk beaver with felt band
Gift of Mr. Barnet Hodes, ICHi-67247
As governor, Horner led with integrity during the difficult years of the Great Depression, instituting the state sales tax to match federal funds for various relief efforts. Among his other interests, he developed a lifelong devotion to Abraham Lincoln and amassed one of the world’s most extensive collections related to the sixteenth president. Horner donated his collection to the Illinois State Historical Society shortly before his death. It contains approximately 6,000 items, mostly manuscripts, pamphlets, and books, some of which are now on view at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
Henry Horner, c. 1932
Governor Horner won a second term in 1936 but died while in office on October 6, 1940. A large granite monument to him stands in Horner Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The now-demolished Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex on the near West Side, was also named in his honor.
Henry Horner’s top hat is on display in the Unexpected Chicago case in the Museum’s lobby this May and June.