The office of the Illinois State Treasurer predates Illinois Statehood, tracing its roots to the early days of the Republic.
With the defeat of the British by American revolutionaries in 1783, and subsequent Peace of Paris that same year, large swaths of territory in the interior, from the Mississippi River in the West to the frontiers of the original thirteen colonies along the Appalachian Mountain range, were opened to westward expansion by the nascent democracy.
The Northwest Territory was incorporated in 1787 and included all of present day Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and the Northeastern section of Minnesota. After Ohio was admitted into the Union in 1800, the remainder of the area fell under the Indiana Territory, which was further subdivided into the Michigan Territory (1805) and the Illinois Territory (1809). Throughout this period the treasurer oversaw the assets of the territory. This office continued under the Illinois Territory, and was enumerated in the original state constitution in 1818.
Since gaining statehood, 74 people have served as the Illinois State Treasurer. Only one woman has served as State Treasurer, Judy Baar Topinka, who served the longest term in the office's history for twelve years, from 1995-2007. Seventy State Treasurers have been elected either by the legislature or the public, four were appointed by the Governor.
Until 1848, Treasurers were appointed to a two year term by a vote of the General Assembly. The 1848 Illinois constitution changed that, and gave the citizens of Illinois the right to elect the Treasurer. In 1954, the length of the term served by the Treasurer was lengthened from two years to four years. In 1970, the election year in which the Treasurer was chosen was moved to line up with the other Illinois Constitutional officers.
The role of the State Treasurer has evolved over the years as the U.S. and Illinois modernized from a largely agrarian economy in the early 1800s, through the era of industrialization and urbanization, into the modern world of the globalized and interconnected capital economy of today.
In the early days of the office, the State Treasurer's primary responsibility was to be custodian of a strongbox where the states' funds were kept. State funds could be loaned out by the Treasurer, who was allowed to keep the interest as personal income. In the early 20th Century, state law changed to require that State Funds be deposited into banks. As our system of Government and Finance evolved, more checks and balances were put into place to ensure better record keeping, accountability, and transparency.
Since 1970, the Treasurer's office has engaged the public on issues of financial literacy, and has helped spur investment and growth in Illinois communities through targeted loan programs. The Treasurer's office oversees the State's 529 College Savings programs, and most recently, the Treasurer's office administers the Illinois Technology Development Account, a venture capital fund aimed at developing technology firms in the State. The Treasurer's office also manages the State's unclaimed property.
Today, the office of the State Treasurer serves as custodians of the public funds, the chief investment officer of the state, and the state's top banker.
Those who served as Illinois' Treasurer reflect the long and storied history of our great State. Treasurer John Smith was a Brigadier General in the Civil War, serving as Treasurer before becoming Illinois' 24th Lt. Governor. William Stratton served as Treasurer before becoming the youngest Governor in the country at the time. Adlai Stevenson III was Treasurer before he went on to serve in the U.S. Senate, as did Alan Dixon. Judy Baar Topinka was the first woman elected to Treasurer, and the first woman to be elected to two separate constitutional offices.