Samuel Platt, distinguished lawyer and public servant in early twentieth-century Nevada, was born in Carson City in 1874 of Jewish Prussian-Polish parents. He attended the local public schools, winning honors in oratory and art. Platt taught school in Carson City and Gardnerville before matriculating to Stanford University in 1893 for two years. He passed the Nevada bar exam in 1896 and then proceeded to Columbian (later George Washington University) Law School in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor of letters degree.
Platt's ascent in Nevada Republican Party politics was swift. He established a law practice in Carson City in 1897. County voters elected him to the state assembly in 1901 and again in 1905, where he served as Speaker. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Nevada District in 1906, and he was reappointed by President William Howard Taft. As a law student, and during his early political campaigns, Platt was silent on the issue of women's suffrage, leading his protégé and legal assistant, Felice Cohn, to openly oppose him in his 1914 U.S. senatorial election campaign against incumbent Senator Francis G. Newlands. Platt lost by forty votes. He later supported the suffrage amendment, which had become law.
It was widely believed, at the time, that in order to win a senatorial election, one needed to own a newspaper. Platt and his law partner, George Sanford, became owners of the Reno Evening Gazette from 1915 to 1922, and Platt owned controlling interest in the Carson City News from 1922 to 1930. Nevertheless, he subsequently was unsuccessful in unseating Senator Key Pittman in 1916, 1928, and 1940. Platt's avocation was politics, but he was unable to be a team player and win support of the bipartisan power bloc controlled by George Wingfield. Platt depended on his powerful oratory and high ideals, which did not pay off politically.
Platt was, however, a very successful lawyer and representative for major corporations doing business in Nevada. He and his Reno law partner, John Sinai, included among their clients: Standard Oil Company of California, Bell Telephone, American Railway Express, and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Platt had a reputation for discretion and an ability to keep details out of the press. Consequently, he was asked to handle some of the highest profile divorce cases in the country, such as those of Cornelius Vanderbilt and two of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's children, Elliott and Anna.
Platt married twice to non-Jewish women and had one adopted daughter. Committed to civic causes, he was a cofounder and first president of the Reno Community Concert Association, active in the Reno Chamber of Commerce, president of the Reno Rotary Club, and member of several Masonic and fraternal lodges. Though not a regular religious observer, he took part in special Temple Emanu-El events and never relinquished his B'nai B'rith lodge membership. When called upon to serve as keynote speaker at religious and civic functions, he did not flaunt his Jewish ethnicity. However, during World War II, in widely publicized speeches, Platt vehemently denounced Nazi atrocities, characterizing their consequences as a holocaust. He directed his fiercest rhetoric against communism at home and abroad. He died at his Reno home in 1964 at the age of ninety.
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