Vail Montgomery Pittman Papers

Identifier: NC392

Scope and Contents

The Vail Montgomery Pittman Papers contain personal and political papers of Vail Pittman. Series 1: Personal Materials, are mainly letters which date from 1896-1963, some of the oldest materials in the collection. Among the correspondence are letters that help to document Pittman’s early Nevada years, mostly from Pittman’s friends and relations including letters addressed to Ida Pittman, Vail's wife. However, there are letters from contemporary politicians such as Nevada's Alan Bible and Grant Sawyer, as well as a few letters from U.S. Senators John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson, among others.

Series 2: Political, includes materials created and gathered during his time in his various political positions, as well as conferences in which he participated. His papers contain campaign materials, inauguration material, correspondence, speeches and news clippings for his time in office, and two scrapbooks related to his time in office. Of interest in this group are a number of speeches given by Pittman during his years in office. A large portion of the group is comprised of newspaper clippings. The clippings help to document Pittman’s political career, interests, as well as campaigns and other issues that arose during Pittman’s career.

Series 3: General Correspondence, is mainly comprised of correspondence received after the main part of the collection. It consists of personal, business, and political letters and should be consulted in conjunction with the other series of correspondence in the collection.


  • 1896-1964
  • Majority of material found within 1940-1964


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

Vail Montgomery Pittman was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, September 17, 1883 to William Buckner Pittman and Katherine Key Pittman who was a direct descendant of Francis Scott Key. He was the youngest of four brothers: Key (United States Senator from Nevada, 1913-1940), Frank, and William. His parents died when Vail was an infant. Vail was raised by his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Vail Montgomery in Lake Providence, Louisiana. His early education was a mix of private tutoring and public school until he went off to the Sewanee Military Academy which was affiliated with the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. From there he went to Huntington, Tennessee, where he attended the Normal School, and then began studying at Brown’s Business School in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1903 while at Brown's, Mr. Vail Montgomery died and Pittman was asked to return to Louisiana to manage the family cotton plantation.

Vail's older brothers Key and William had migrated West during the mining booms, settling in Tonopah, Nevada in 1903. William traveled back to the southeast to promote Tonopah mining stocks and persuaded Vail to visit Tonopah that year. Vail made the trip to Tonopah sometime in late 1903 where he was impressed by the activity. He returned to the South and after settling his affairs there, he went back to Tonopah in late 1904. His brother Key found a job for him at the Tonopah-Goldfield Lumber and Coal Company and soon after Vail bought the fuel division. Vail's life in Tonopah was varied. He sold his business in 1907 and served as undersheriff for the county for about four years before being appointed as sergeant-at-arms for the state senate during the 1911 session. He left that position to briefly engage in the mining industry in Round Mountain and Manhattan, Nevada.

Pittman married Ida Brewington on May 20, 1919 in Reno. The couple had met in Tonopah, where she was teaching music in the public schools. Pittman's journalism career began in Tonopah when he managed the Tonopah Miner, a nationally known newspaper, from 1912-1919. Pittman was eager to own a publishing enterprise, so in 1919 he purchased the printing plant of the Ely Expositor Printing and Publishing Company in Ely, Nevada, reorganized it and published the Ely Daily Times in 1920. He went on to purchase the Ely Record in 1946. The Pittmans established themselves in Ely and Vail became involved in various civic and political organizations, including vice president of the Lincoln Highway Bureau representing Nevada (1927-1932), president of the Allied Counties Highway Association and the Lincoln Highway Development Association (early thirties), and he was president of the White Pine Chamber of Commerce and Mines (1927-1938).

A life-long Democrat, Pittman was elected to the state senate and served from 1925-1929. He remained active in Ely and White Pine County civic activities where he worked to promote the economic status of the county. When Vail’s brother Key died soon after being re-elected to the United States Senate in 1940, he applied to the Governor’s office for appointment to the senate seat. He did not succeed, but he was elected as Lieutenant Governor in 1943. In 1944, Pittman ran in the Democratic primary against Patrick McCarran for U. S. Senate and lost. He became Acting Governor on July 24, 1945 after Governor Carville resigned to accept the appointment to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat held by James Scrugham who had died. Pittman was elected governor in 1946 and served one term. He ran for a second term in 1950, but was defeated by Republican Charles Russell. Pittman ran for Governor again in 1954 against incumbent Russell, but lost after a contentious race.

Pittman had sold off his publishing interests in Ely in 1951 and he and his wife moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. He was active in civic and business affairs serving as an officer for the Nevada Savings and Loan Association and the Nevada State Bank. He was involved in the Rotary Club and was a delegate to its international conferences in Switzerland and Tokyo. In 1959, he became a member of the board of directors of the Nevada Historical Society. He continued to be active in the Democratic Party, serving as delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1956 and in 1960 and campaigning for Grant Sawyer who was elected Nevada governor in 1958. Vail Pittman died in San Francisco on January 29, 1964 at the age of 80 while being treated for throat cancer. His wife Ida Pittman died October 11, 1984.

Biography compiled from the following sources: Moody, Eric. Southern Gentleman of Nevada Politics: Vail M. Pittman. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 1974.

Nevada State Library, Readers’ Services Division. Brief Biographical Information on Nevada Governors. Carson City, Nevada: Nevada State Library, 1959.


12.6 Linear Feet (13 boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Vail Montgomery Pittman was a Nevada newspaperman, State Senator (1925-1929), Lieutenant Governor (1943-1945), Governor (1945-1950), and Democratic National Committeeman from Nevada (1955-1961). Married to Ida Brewington, 1919; brother of Nevada U.S. Senator Key Pittman. Papers, primarily correspondence, are to Pittman from personal, business, and political associates. Major correspondents include Alan Bible, Berkeley Bunker, Pat McCarran, Lester Moody, Drew Pearson, Key Pittman, Mimosa (Mrs. Key) Pittman, and Grant Sawyer.


Arranged in the following series: 1) Personal Materials; 2) Political ; 3) General Correspondence

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Ida Louise Brewington Pittman in 1965.

Separated Materials

Photographs transferred to the Special Collections Photo Archive as collection number UNRS-P1989-49.

  • Newspapers clippings
A Guide to the Papers of Vail Montgomery Pittman
December 1988
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)