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US DOT History

A guide to the history of the US Department of Transportation

Alan Stephenson Boyd

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Alan Boyd

  • b. July 20, 1922, d. October 18, 1920
  • Appointed to the Civil Aeronautics Board by President Johnson in 1959, later promoted to Chairman by President Kennedy 
  • Undersecretary of Commerce for Transportation, appointed by President Johnson in 1965
  • President of Amtrak, 1978-1982
  •  Received the Tony Jannus Award for his contributions to commercial Aviation (1994)
  • In 2009, he also received the Philip J. Klass Award for lifetime achievement from Aviation Week & Space Technology  

Photograph:Alan Stephenson Boyd, left, shakes hands with President Lyndon Johnson after taking the oath of office as the nation's first Secretary of Transportation in 1967.

Alan Stephenson Boyd, left, shakes hands with President Lyndon Johnson after taking the oath of office as the nation's first Secretary of Transportation in 1967.

John Anthony Volpe

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe

  • b. December 8, 1908, d. November 11, 1994
  • During World War II, he volunteered to serve stateside as a United States Navy Seabees training officer.
  • Served three terms as Governor of Massachusetts, 1961-1963 and 1965-1969
  • Served as the first Federal Highways Administrator
  • The John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge was named in his memory, as well as the Governor John A. Volpe Library at Wakefield High School in Wakefield.


John A. Volpe (left) is sworn in as the first Federal Highway Administrator on October 22, 1956. President Eisenhower holds the Bible while Frank K. Sanderson (right), White House administrative officer, administers the oath of office. 

Claude Stout Brinegar

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Claude Brinegar


  • b. December 16, 1926
  • Spent nearly 40 years in the oil industry, joining Union Oil Co. of California in 1953 and later serving as executive vice president and chief financial officer
  • Headed Ronald Reagan's transportation transition team from 1980 to 1981
  • Graduated Phi Beta Kappa with three degrees from Stanford University. After retiring in 1992, he returned to the University to serve as a visiting scholar for four years. 
  • Helped finance mass transit, restructure railroads in the Northeast and institute a national 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. Advised Americans frustrated by long lines at the gas pump to consider the ethic of energy conservation through the lower speed limits.
  • An avid collector of Mark Twain first editions and related memorabilia, he proved by statistical tests that Twain was not the author of a collection of letters attributed to him. Elmira College awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1997 for his public service and Twain-related work.

Secretary Brinegar and Gerald Ford, Photo Credit: Stanford Alumni Magazine: July/August 2009, Class Notes, Farewells.

William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr.

  • b. July 7, 1920
  • Served as advisor to 6 U.S. Presidents
  • First African American in Philadelphia history to join a white law firm, Dilworth, Paxon, Kalish, Levy and Green, in 1952.
  • First African American to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court and the second African-American to serve in a cabinet level position, 1975–1977
  • Involved in the start of the Washington, D.C. Subway System
  • Created the U.S. requirement for airbags in automobiles
  • Co-authored the historic legal brief presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
  • Served as co-counsel on the landmark case McLaughlin v. Florida (1964), which established the constitutionality of interracial marriages.
  • Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton, September 1995

William T. Coleman, Thurgood Marshall, and Wiley A. Branton. Credit: Cover of the Journal of Supreme Court History 1999, Vol 24, No. 2, a publication of the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Brock Adams

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Brockman "Brock" Adams

  • b. January 13, 1927
  • Known for the Pipeline Safety Act of 1992
  • Established the Research and Special Programs Administration
  • Vocal advocate of civil rights, The Equal Rights Amendment, and the 18-year-old vote
  • First student at the University of Washington to be both the president of the student government and the recipient of the President’s Medal of Excellence
  • Served for six terms in the House of Representatives from Washington State

Brock Adams

Neil Edward Goldschmidt

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Edward Goldschmidt

  •  b. June 16, 1940
  • As mayor of Portland, Oregon (1973-1979) he was the youngest mayor of a major city in American history
  • Spearheaded efforts to deregulate airline, trucking, and railroad industries and revive the automobile industry
  • Served as DOT Secretary until the end of Carter's presidency in 1981 and then served as a senior executive with Nike for several years
  • Remembered for redeveloping downtown Portland, Oregon with the establishment of the MAX Light Rail
  • In 1991, he helped create the Oregon Children's Foundation, as well as the Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) literacy program, which puts 10,000 volunteers into Oregon schools to read to children

Neil Goldschmidt (right) with Fujitsu President Mr. T. Yamamoto, August 1987

Neil Goldschmidt (right) with Fujitsu President Mr. T. Yamamoto, August 1987, announcing the company's plans to build a semiconductor wafer fabrication plant in Gresham, Credit: photograph by Max Gutierrez

Andrew Lindsay Lewis Jr.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Andrew Lindsay Lewis, Jr.

  • b. November 3, 1931
  • Headed Lewis and Associates, a business consulting firm, from 1974-1981
  • Served as Director of the Campbell Soup Co.; Equitable Life Insurance Co.; and Chairman of MTV Networks Inc
  • Transferred the Maritime Administration from Commerce Department to DOT


Drew Lewis, as Secretary of Transportation, discussing the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981.Credit: Ron Edmonds/Associated Press


Elizabeth Hanford Dole

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Hanford Dole

  • b. July 29, 1936
  • First female U.S. Secretary of Transportation
  • First woman to serve as a departmental head of a branch of the U.S. Military, the U.S. Coast Guard
  • Worked with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to pass laws withholding federal highway funding from any state that had a drinking age below twenty-one.
  • Remembered for increasing highway safety though implementation of seatbelt and airbag regulations; mandating the installation of a center high-mounted stop lamp on new cars – nicknamed “Liddy-Lights”


First Lady Nancy Reagan, hosting a lunch for spouses of Senators, is greeted by Elizabeth Dole in the Blue Room, June 15, 1988

James Horace Burnley IV

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation James Horace Burnley IV

  • b. July 30, 1948
  • Served for five years as Vice Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Virginia Port Authority
  • Chairman of the Port Study Panel of the National Chamber of commerce Foundation
  • Member of the Business Advisory Committee of the Transportation Center at Northwestern University
  • Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Elizabeth Dole’s presidential campaign
  • Senior Advisor to Bob Dole during the 1996 Presidential race, and served on the transportation transition team for the Bush administration

President Ronald Reagan announced his nominee to head the Department of Transportation, James Burnley IV, October 8, 1987, credit: screenshot from C-SPAN

Samuel Knox Skinner

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Samuel Knox Skinner

  • b. June 10, 1938
  • Helped implement the National Transportation Policy and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
  • Developed the “Open Skies” policy which helped international flight relations with the U.S.
  • Remembered for being a leader for the country during the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, namely by being President Bush’s right-hand man during the crisis.
  • A lifelong Boy Scout supporter, he was awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo Award as an adult.
  • Received the highest ranking twice by The Washingtonian for his exceptional performance as Secretary of Transportation.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Federal Minister of the Interior (Germany), and Samuel Skinner shaking hands in Bonn,  April 1989. Credit:  Arne Schambeck

Andrew Hill Card, Jr.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of State Andrew Hill Card, Jr.


  • b. May 10, 1947
  • As Secretary, Card revitalized the merchant marine, assisted negotiations to end a major rail strike, and headed the Presidential Task Force that responded to Hurricane Andrew.
  • Served as President of American Automobile Manufacturers Association and Vice President of Government Relations for General Motors.
  • Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.
  • Ranked a “Life Scout” in the Boy Scouts of America.
  • Broke the news about 9/11 to George Bush while serving as White House Chief of Staff.


Chief of Staff Andrew Card stands by as President George W. Bush talks with World Leaders and members of Congress after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Oval Office, December 14, 2003. Credit: Eric Draper

Frederico Fabian Peña

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Fabian Peña


  • b. March 15, 1947
  • First Hispanic Mayor of Denver.
  • As Mayor, modernized and revitalized Denver and built the Denver International Airport.
  • Has a Denver freeway named after him, the Peña Boulevard.
  • Aided in the rebuilding of L.A. freeways after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, leading to the Santa Monica Freeway being rebuilt in just three months.
  • Named Father of the Year by the National Father’s Day Committee in 1995.
  • Served as Secretary of Energy from 1997-1998.
  • Was President Obama’s National Campaign Co-Chair in the 2008 election.


Federico Peña being sworn in as Mayor of Denver, Credit: Colorado Virtual Library

Rodney Earl Slater

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Earl Slater

  • b. February 23, 1955
  • First African-American administrator of the Federal Highways Administration
  • Started a “Safer Skies” initiative as Secretary of Transportation.
  • A baseball enthusiast, since 2006 Secretary Slater has been a part owner of the Washington Nationals.
  • Named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony in 1998.

From left to right: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton, U.S. Army; President Bill Clinton; Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio); Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater applauding a fly-by of aircraft from each of the five armed services during the opening ceremonies of the annual joint services open house and air show at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland., May 19, 2000. 

Norman Mineta

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Yoshio Mineta

  • b. November 12, 1931
  • As of 2023, is the longest-serving Secretary of Transportation
  • First Asian-American cabinet member, and as Mayor of San Jose was the first Asian-American mayor of a major U.S. city.
  • Served almost six consecutive years in the presidential cabinet, first as Secretary of Commerce for President Clinton and then as Secretary of Transportation for President Bush.
  • Co-founded and chaired the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
  • Helped pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which attempted to make amends for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II (Mineta’s family had been among those forced into internment).
  • Granted the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Medal from George Washington University and named Grand Cordon, Order of the Rising Sun by Japan.


 Andy Card and Norman Mineta, September 11, 2001 

Mary E. Peters

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters


  • b. December 4, 1948
  • Prior to becoming Secretary, Peters had a long service in the DOT: she worked at the Arizona DOT before serving in Washington as administrator for the FHWA.
  • A motorcyclist herself, at the DOT she made pushes for motorcycle safety and helmet laws.
  • Won the "National Woman of the Year Award" from the Women’s Transportation Seminar in 2004.

(from left) Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Herschal Crow, U.S. Senator James Inhofe, Oklahoma Director of Transportation Gary Ridley, and FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters updated the media on the progress of the cleanup on June 10. From “Making it Happen the Fast Way”, Public Roads: vol. 66, no.3: Nov/Dec 2002.

Ray H. LaHood

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of State Ray H. LaHood


  • b. December 6, 1945
  • Worked as a middle school teacher before entering politics and said that "teaching kids...about the constitution and government" contributed to his interest in politics.
  • Served in the Illinois House of Representations (1982-1983) and the United States House of Representatives (1995-2009).
  • Frequently served as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, presiding over more debates than any other member. Notably, he presided over the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
  • Avid supporter of biking

President Barack Obama fixes the tie of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as they prepare for an announcement at the Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Anthony Foxx

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.


  • b. April 30, 1971
  • First African American student body president of Davidson College.
  • At the age of 38, he was elected the Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, making him the youngest mayor of that city.
  • Upon taking office as Secretary, he became the youngest Cabinet secretary serving at the time.
  • After his term, he joined rideshare company Lyft as chief policy officer in 2018,



Vice President Biden swearing-in Secretary Anthony Foxx with his wife Samara and two children, Hillary and Zachary, standing alongside.

Elaine Chao

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao

  • b. March 26, 1953
  • Served as United States Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009
  • First Asian Pacific American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet or as U.S. Secretary of Transportation
  • As Secretary of Transportation, led the presidential delegation to the enthronement ceremony for Japanese Emperor Naruhito 
  • Led the delegation to the inauguration of Indonesia's Vice President Joko Widodo 
  • On January 7, 2021, Chao submitted her resignation the day after the United States Capitol attack. She was then the highest-ranking member of the administration and first cabinet officer to resign due to the riots.

Elain Chao at her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Transportation

Elaine Chao at her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Transportation

Pete Buttigieg

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg



  • b. January 19, 1982
  • Served as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana from 2012 to 2020. 
  • First openly-gay person to hold a cabinet post and the youngest person to serve as Secretary.


Vice President Kamala Harris swears in Buttigieg as Transportation secretary on February 3, 2021

Vice President Kamala Harris swears in Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation on February 3, 2021.