Justice Harrington Putnam was born in 1851 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He graduated from Colby College in 1870, studied at Heidelberg University in Germany in 1873 and earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1876. He later studied at Colby and Middlebury Colleges, earning an LL.D. degree. Putnam was admitted to the bar in 1876. He practiced law at the firm of Wing, Shoudy & Putnam from 1885 until 1909. He also served as a Civil Service Commission examiner for New York State (1884-1889) and Brooklyn (1890-1894).
Putnam was appointed by Governor Hughes as a Justice of the Supreme Court in 1909, wining election to the position in the following year. In 1913, he was designated as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. Justice Putnam retired in 1921, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He then served as an official referee and practiced admiralty law.
He was extremely active in clubs and organizations, including serving as president of the Brooklyn Democratic Club (1898, 1895), a trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library, president of the New England Society of Brooklyn (1926) and president of the American British International Law Association of London (1924). An authority on admiralty law, Justice Putnam lectured at Columbia University, served as an associate editor for admiralty law publications and was a member of the Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations. Putnam was also an accomplished walker and mountain climber, participating in numerous clubs, serving as president of the American Alpine Club (1911-1914), climbing Mount McKinley and, in January 1912, walking 74 miles from Brooklyn to Riverhead, Long Island over a period of 3 days in order to preside at court.
He was married to Mildred Smythe and had a son. He died on April 7, 1937 at his home in Brooklyn at the age of 85.
"Ex-Justice Putnam Dies in Brooklyn." New York Times (1923-Current file): 23. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Apr 08 1937. Web. 12 June 2012.
"Justice Thomas Promoted." New York Times (1857-1922): 8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Nov 09 1909. Web. 12 June 2012.