Robert S. Kerr attended Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and later East Central State College in Ada before briefly studying law at the University of Oklahoma. When the United States entered World War I, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. At war’s end, he returned to Oklahoma and the study of law, passing the bar exam in 1922. After marrying into a wealthy family, he started the Anderson-Kerr Drilling Company. By 1929, the venture was so successful that he shifted his focus entirely to the oil company. After his brother-in-law retired, he persuaded geologist Dean A. McGee to join the company and changed the name to Kerr-McGee Oil Industries.
In 1942, Kerr entered the political arena, becoming the first governor elected who was born in Indian Territory. While Oklahoma had previously adopted an isolationist attitude toward the federal government, Kerr embraced it, luring wartime industries and military training sites to the state. In 1948, he became the first Oklahoma governor elected to the United States Senate. As a Senator, he made development of the Arkansas River his primary goal. Though he died in 1963, before the completion of the series of 17 locks and dams that make the river navigable from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to the Gulf of Mexico, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System is one of his most long-lasting contributions to the state.