Republican Congressman Howard H. Baker Sr. was born in Somerset, Kentucky, in 1902, the son of James F. and Helen K. Baker. The Baker family had been prominent in Appalachian history for generations. Baker's grandfather, George Washington Baker, was an important Unionist during the Civil War, and his father, James Francis Baker, was a late nineteenth-century attorney and newspaper publisher in Huntsville, Tennessee. James F. Baker's many business concerns extended into Kentucky, and it was there that he met and married Helen Keen and saw the birth of their son, Howard. The Bakers returned to Huntsville in 1909.
In 1918 the Bakers moved to Knoxville, where Howard began classes at the University of Tennessee at the age of sixteen. An outstanding student, Baker served as debate team captain and was elected class president in 1922. After graduation Baker entered the university's law school, where he served as editor of the University of Tennessee Law Review while completing the three-year course of study in two years. After law school, Baker married Dora Ladd and returned to Huntsville to become a partner in his father's practice. Their son, Howard Baker Jr., was born in Huntsville in 1925.
In 1928 Baker won a two-year term in the Tennessee General Assembly as a Republican. Four years later he became chairman of the Scott County GOP, a position he held for the next sixteen years. In 1934 voters elected him Attorney General of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit in East Tennessee. During these very active years, Baker experienced personal adversity in the death of his wife Dora from complications of gall bladder surgery.
In 1938 Baker won the GOP nomination for governor but lost in the general election to Democrat Prentice Cooper. Two years later Baker lost to Kenneth McKellar in a race for the U.S. Senate. Baker's willingness to carry the Republican standard demonstrated his party loyalty since it was almost impossible in these years for any Republican to successfully challenge any Democrat in a statewide race. In 1948 Baker chaired the Tennessee delegation to the national GOP convention.
Two years later Baker ran a successful campaign for Congress from the heavily Republican Second Congressional District, emphasizing the themes of anticommunism and pro-atomic energy research, a popular issue among second district residents associated with the laboratories at Oak Ridge. While Baker held basic conservative principles throughout his congressional service, he also maintained strong ties with African Americans such as George W. Lee of Memphis throughout the state. In 1956 Baker refused to sign the “Southern Manifesto,” which called for resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
Baker represented the second district in Congress from his election in 1950 until his unexpected death by heart attack on January 8, 1964. His second wife, Irene, succeeded him in Congress.