Victor Howard Metcalf was born on 10 October 1853 in Utica, New York. After attending public schools in Utica, Metcalf entered Yale College in 1872. In his junior year, he left the school to attend Yale Law School, where he graduated in 1876. That same year, he was admitted to the Connecticut bar. The following year, Metcalf continued his legal education at Hamilton College and was admitted to the New York bar. He practiced law in Utica until he moved to Oakland, California, in 1879. While on the U.S. West Coast, he practiced law in property and commercial cases. In 1881, he married Emily Nicholson, and they had two sons. One of the son’s received his education at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and the other became a prominent businessman in California.
From 1899 until 1904, Metcalf served as a representative from California in the House of Representatives. During his time in Congress, he served on the Naval Affairs and Means Committees, which put him in contact with President Theodore Roosevelt. On 1 July 1904, Roosevelt named him Secretary of Commerce and Labor. As secretary, he was sent to San Francisco as an intermediator for the San Francisco school board and 91 Japanese students who were refused entry into public schools. A compromise was eventually reached in regards to the students. In 1906, Metcalf returned to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake to survey the damage. On 12 December 1906, he was named Secretary of the Navy for the Roosevelt administration. During his tenure, he oversaw the world cruise of the Great White Fleet. He resigned as Secretary of the Navy on 13 November 1908 due to pressures of the office taking a toll on his health. After leaving Roosevelt’s cabinet, he returned to Oakland where he resumed his law practice. Metcalf passed away in Oakland on 20 February 1936, a little more than a month after his wife Emily passed away.