Herman Mahon, United States congressman, one of eight children of John Kirkpatrick and Lola Willis (Brown) Mahon, was born on September 22, 1900, near Haynesville, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana. His father, a farmer, was plagued by bad health and in 1908 moved his family to a farm near Loraine, Mitchell County, Texas. He attended a rural school and graduated from Loraine High School in 1918. He married Helen Stephenson on December 21, 1923; they had one daughter. In the fall Mahon entered Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University), where he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1924. He then attended the University of Texas law school and received his LL.B. degree in 1925. That summer he did postgraduate work at the University of Minnesota. He was admitted to the bar the same year and began practicing law at Colorado City, Texas. In 1926 he was elected county attorney for Mitchell County; in 1927 Governor Dan Moody appointed him district attorney of the Thirty-second Judicial District. He was elected to successive two-year terms as district attorney from 1928 to 1932. In 1933 he announced for the new congressional seat of the Nineteenth Congressional District, established by the reapportionment of the Texas legislature after the presidential election of 1932. He won the seat in the congressional election of 1934 after a runoff with district judge Clark M. Mullican of Lubbock. Mahon retained his seat from then until his retirement in 1978, by which time his forty-four years of continuous service had made him the longest sitting member of Congress.
He was sworn into office on January 3, 1935, during the height of the New Deal, and participated in the most momentous events of the century. He steadily gained in influence until he was elected chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations on May 18, 1964. He held this position, which made him one of the most powerful men in Washington, until his retirement in 1978 at the end of the Ninety-fifth Congress. His first appointments were to the House committees on census, civil service, elections, and insular affairs. In 1939 the Texas delegation supported him for the appropriations committee, to which he was elected on January 18, 1939. A year later he began his service on the subcommittee on War Department appropriations (later the subcommittee on defense appropriations). He maintained this membership throughout the rest of his career, using it as a base of power within the full committee on appropriations. He served as chairman of the subcommittee from 1949 to 1952 and from 1955 to 1978. Some considered Mahon the best-informed person in Washington on matters of national defense; he was one of the half-dozen men in Congress trusted with knowledge of the wartime Manhattan project for the development of the atomic bomb.
He never forgot that he was a farm boy from West Texas and that he must represent the interests of his district. He worked throughout his career to limit government spending. He was little known to the general public but a representative upon whom the essential work of Congress depended. He was never an ardent New Dealer, although he supported many New Deal ideas. He said that he remained a Democrat because as such he could support or abstain from policies as he saw fit, whereas if he was in the opposition party he would lose whatever power and influence he had. He opposed early federal civil-rights legislation and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society programs. In addition to his service on the appropriations committee Mahon was chairman of the joint Senate-House Committee on Reduction of Federal Expenditures and served on the joint Senate-House Study Committee on Budget Control and the President's Commission on Budget Concepts. He served also as a member of the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution. His long series of honors and awards included the Distinguished Service Award of the American Political Science Association, the George Washington Award of the Good Government Society, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Distinguished Public Service Award for Outstanding Service to the Nation, the Man of the Year Award of the Reserve Officers Association, the Guardian of Small Business Award of the National Federation of Independent Business, the Distinguished Public Service Award of the American Legion, and the Forrestal Memorial Award of the National Security Industrial Association. He was awarded honorary degrees by Waynesburg College (1951), Wayland Baptist College (1960), Texas Technological College (1962), Hardin-Simmons University (1964), and Pepperdine College (1965). In Lubbock the George Mahon Elementary School is named for him, and the George and Helen Mahon Library there is named for him and Mrs. Mahon. In 1981 Charles Bates Thornton established the Mahon Professorship in Law in Mahon's honor at the Texas Tech University School of Law.
Mahon was responsible for carrying through the House of Representatives its annual appropriations bills. He was instrumental in the founding of Webb Air Force Base at Big Spring and Reese Air Force Base at Lubbock. The opening of Interstate Highway 27 from Lubbock to Amarillo was also due in large part to his sponsorship. He was always conscious of the agricultural base of his district and played an important role in the development of farm programs and energy measures during his years in Congress. Mahon had a wide circle of friends in both parties in Congress and throughout the nation, especially in West Texas. He often played golf with presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford at Burning Tree Country Club outside Washington, as well as with Gen. Omar Bradley and other distinguished men. Mrs. Mahon worked in his office without pay and escorted visitors around Washington. The couple were well known among their constituents for their hospitality to visitors to Washington, and Mahon was celebrated for his ability to remember names and faces. He was a Methodist and a Mason. For many years he taught a Sunday school class at Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church in Washington, but he always maintained his membership in the Methodist church at Colorado City. The Mahons bought a home in Colorado City in 1926 and maintained it for the rest of their lives, although he also claimed Lubbock as his hometown.
After retiring from Congress Mahon remained in Washington. He maintained his association with the Smithsonian as its first regent emeritus, served on a study committee to fight inflation, and worked with the American Institute for Public Policy Research. In 1984 the Mahons returned to their home in Colorado City. Mahon died on November 19, 1985, at a hospital in San Angelo, following complications after knee surgery. A large delegation from Washington attended his funeral services at First United Methodist Church in Lubbock. He was interred at Loraine Cemetery. Mrs. Mahon died on December 10, 1987, and was buried beside her husband.
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Current Biography Yearbook, 1986. George Mahon Papers, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University. United States Congress, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989 (Washington: GPO, 1989). U.S. Congress, Official Congressional Directory, 1974. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in America, 1946–47.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Lawrence L. Graves,
“Mahon, George Herman,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
April 1, 1995