Andrew Gregg Curtin, the son of Roland and Jane Gregg Curtin, was born on April 22, 1817, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Of Scots-Irish descent, his father Roland was educated in Paris before emigrating to Pennsylvania, and making his home in Bellefonte. He was named Coroner of Centre County in 1803. First establishing himself in business as a store-owner, he later held major interests in iron foundries. Jane Curtin was the daughter of prominent Pennsylvania politician Andrew Gregg.
Andrew Curtin completed course work at the Academy of the Reverend David Kirkpatrick in Milton before returning home to study law with the Honorable W. W. Potter. Curtin finished his legal studies under Judge John Reed of the Law department at Dickinson College, was admitted to the state bar in 1837, and began practicing criminal law in Bellefonte.
In 1840 Curtin became actively involved in the political arena on state and national levels. He canvassed Pennsylvania for Henry Clay's campaign in 1844, and was on the state ticket for Presidential Elector in 1848, and again in 1852. Governor James Pollock commissioned him Secretary of the Commonwealth, and Superintendent of Public Schools in 1855. As Superintendent, one of Curtin's landmark innovations was the establishment of the state system of normal schools to train teachers. Originally allied with the Whigs, Curtin was attracted to the ideology of the newly formed Republican Party. He ran for governor on the Republican ticket in 1860, carried the election by over 30,000 votes, and was inaugurated on January 15, 1861.
When war broke out in April, Governor Curtin called for volunteers to help defend the Union after President Lincoln issued the appeal for 75,000 troops. So many men responded, Curtin was able to organize the Pennsylvania Reserves into the first fighting units sent to protect the Capitol. Before the volunteers left for Washington, the governor presented flags to each of the 215 Pennsylvania regiments. Seeing the need for ample space to train and outfit this large number of militia, Curtin constructed the first Union military camp. Situated on the grounds of the Dauphin County Agricultural Society at the north end of Harrisburg, the compound opened on April 18, 1861, and was named Camp Curtin. The facility became the largest of all federal camps, serving as a center for over 300,000 regular and volunteer troops from nearly every northern state.
To support the Lincoln administration, and coordinate Union war efforts, Curtin convened the Conference for Governors of the Loyal States held on September 24, 1862, in Altoona. Well-known throughout the war for his care of both soldiers in the field, and those who had been wounded, Curtin formed the Pennsylvania State Agency in Washington, and another branch in Nashville, Tennessee, to provide support for volunteer militia. He also founded the state-funded Orphan's School to aid and educate children of military men who had died for the Union cause.
In his first term, Governor Curtin suffered a severe breakdown from the stresses of war. Secretary of State Eli Slifer handled governmental affairs during the increasingly frequent periods when Curtin was incapacitated. President Lincoln offered the governor a diplomatic position abroad, but when he was again nominated and reelected by loyal Pennsylvanians in 1863, Curtin served his second term, ending his gubernatorial duties in 1867. Soon after, the first unanimous formal expression of approval of a governor's contributions was issued by both branches of the State Legislature.
Failing to be nominated when considered for the vice-presidency at Horace Greeley's Liberal Republican convention, and disenchanted with extremist liberal views, Andrew Curtin joined the Democratic party. He was appointed Minister to Russia by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, and remained there nearly three years. Upon his return, he was named a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention of 1872-1873.
Curtin concluded his successful political career as a Democratic Congressman, completing two terms, from 1881 to 1887, in the U. S. House of Representatives where he was Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. After retirement, he went back to his home in Bellefonte. Curtin died on October 7, 1894. Four identical statues of Andrew Gregg Curtin, one in Bellefonte, one on the Pennsylvania State Monument at Gettysburg, one in the rotunda of the State Capitol Building, and one at the site of Camp Curtin, honor his unwavering commitment to Pennsylvania and the nation.