Often, military collectors specialize in very specific areas such as helmets, rifles, medals, insignia, or even military vehicles. They frequently find fascinating stories in a small segment of their collection. Using the badges of John K. Tener, this story will discuss the Pennsylvania National Guard’s very well developed system of marksmanship awards during the period of Tener’s governorship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania National Guard provided an amazing array of awards between 1878-1921 as illustrated in the definitive work Marksmanship Awards of the National Guard of Pennsylvania 1871-1921 by Peter J. Eisert & Charles B. Oellig, (“Eisert, Oellig;” 2008). In addition to medal collectors, Tener’s story, may also appeal to collectors of baseball cards and/or political ephemera.
A TRUE RENAISSANCE MAN
Many people achieve success in their field, but few match the versatility of John K. Tener. In his lifetime, he achieved success as a major league pitcher, business man, Congressman, Governor of Pennsylvania, and President of the National League.
Born in County Tyrone, Ireland, on July 25, 1863, Tener was the first of 10 children. The Tener family left Ireland in 1873 to join other relatives already settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
While attending public schools in Pittsburgh, Tener developed an interest in baseball. In 1885, at six feet, four inches and an athletic 180 pounds, Tener began playing minor league baseball as an outfielder in Haverill, Massachusetts. He made a brief major league debut in one 1885 game with the Baltimore Orioles before retuning to the corporate world as an officer with the Chartiers Valley gas company.
By 1888, he was enjoying moderate success as a major league pitcher with the National League Chicago White Stockings (today, called the Chicago Cubs). That year, he had a 7-5 record with a 2.74 earned run average (ERA). He accompanied the team in a world tour of Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, France, Italy, and England. He was even chosen to explain the game of baseball to the Prince of Wales (who would later become King Edward VII). Tener was also featured on a baseball card by the Old Judge Cigarette Factory making him the only governor to have his own baseball card.
After retiring from baseball in 1891, he entered the banking business in Charleroi, Pennsylvania By 1897, he was the president of the bank.
Tener knew how to network. He became a Mason and a member of Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Club. He was most active in the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks in which he was elected National Treasurer in 1904. In 1907, he was made the Grand & Exalted Ruler of the Elks.
In 1908, Pennsylvania’s 24th Congressional District elected Tener to serve in the 61st United States Congress. In this role, even organized the first Congressional baseball game between Republicans and Democrats — now an annual tradition.
While planning to run for reelection in 1910, Pennsylvania’s Republican Party nominated Tener as their candidate for Governor. Due to a divided electorate from an ongoing scandal associated with building the state capital, Tener easily won. He was the first governor to be born outside the United States since the American Revolution
PENNSYLVANIA NATIONAL GUARD MEDALS
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania National Guard had been using a standard Rifle Qualification Badge since 1878. The obverse depicted the State Seal imposed on a Keystone. The reverse carried the monogram “NGP.”
In 1907 —just prior to Tener’s term as Governor — the Commonwealth redesigned the Marksman badge with an obverse scene from the rifle range and the reverse depicting then Governor Edwin S. Stuart. In the Eisert, Oellig this was considered a Type 2 badge.
The practice of using an image of the governor would continue through 1923. Stuart served from 1907-1911 (Type 2) and Tener from 1911-1915 (Type 3).
In the middle of his Tener’s term, a new badge was introduced in 1914 to save money that eliminated the dated qualification bars This second version of the Tener badge also used a rifle range image on the reverse (Type 4). Most Tener badges were numbered on the rim and dated.
Following Tener with their own badges were Governor Brumbaugh from 1915-1919 (Type 5) and Governor Sproul from 1919-1923 (Type 6).
The Pennsylvania National Guard also issued two different revolver badges in the shape of a cross. The first (Type 1) was a bronze Greek cross with a revolver on the obverse. It was issued from 1897 until 1900. The Type 2 revolver badge was issued from 1901-1913 and incorporated a more ornate cross with a redesigned suspension.
By 1913, the Pennsylvania National Guard introduced the Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol and necessitated a new oval shape Pistol Qualification Badge. This had the likeness of Governor Tener on the obverse and a scene of a soldier firing the .45 caliber pistol on the reverse. (Type 3). Like the new Rifle Qualification badges, no year was on the qualification bars indicating the grade nor the number of years qualified.
In 1914 the Pennsylvania National Guard made some sweeping changes in their marksmanship badges. Governor Tener was seen on a new badge used only for 1914-15. It had a white ribbon suspending a silver planchet with the bust of Governor John K. Tener on the obverse and the reverse showing a shooting range scene. Again, Tener is unique in that he is the only governor seen on this short lived Twenty Year Award. Based on the different Pennsylvania National Guard Marksman badges with a Tener image, he must set some sort of record!
A FINGER IN BASEBALL
Tener always maintained his interest in baseball, even as governor. In 1912, he spoke out against gambling in baseball and suggested that existing law could be used against illegal wagering. In 1913, the Philadelphia Phillies owner suggested offering the position of National League President to Tener. Tener accepted and was not paid until his term as governor expired. Tener continued as National League President until August 1918 when a dispute between the National and American Leagues cost him the support of the team owners.
John K. Tener’s many accomplishments as governor included reforming the state public school system with mandating all children between eight and sixteen attend school and setting minimum standards and minimum salaries for teachers. He even signed a bill designating fees from automobile registrations and drivers licenses be used for road funding.
His love for baseball continued in later life when even in the 1930s was elected as a director with the Philadelphia Phillies. Though the John K. Tener Library in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, keeps the memory of this inspiring political figure alive, his influence is seen in the many Pennsylvania National Guard Marksmanship awards bearing his likeness.