George Maxwell Robeson was born in Oxford Furnace, New Jersey, on 16 March 1829. His father was a judge and his mother the daughter of a U.S. congressman. Known for his scholarly aptitude, Robeson graduated from Princeton University at the young age of 18. He went on to study law and passed the New Jersey bar in 1850. In 1858, he was appointed a public prosecutor for Camden County, New Jersey. During the Civil War, he was appointed a brigadier general for the militia and worked to recruit enlistments for the Union. After the war, he was appointed New Jersey attorney general.
In 1869, Robeson was named Secretary of the Navy for President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration. During his tenure, Robeson supported and developed the early stages of submarine and torpedo technology. In addition, he secured $50,000 in congressional funding for the 1871 Polaris Arctic expedition led by Captain Charles F. Hall.
After serving as Secretary of the Navy, Robeson was elected a representative of New Jersey in the House of Representatives. He ran for the Senate in 1876, but was defeated. Robeson died on 27 September 1897.