Charles W. Sawyer

Last updated
Charles Sawyer
12th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
May 6, 1948 January 20, 1953
Education Oberlin College (BA)
University of Cincinnati (LLB)

Charles W. Sawyer (February 10, 1887 April 7, 1979) was an American lawyer and diplomat who served as the United States Secretary of Commerce from May 6, 1948 to January 20, 1953 in the administration of Harry Truman.


Early life

Sawyer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 10, 1887. He was a son of Caroline (née Butler) Sawyer and Edward Milton Sawyer, a Maine Republican who moved to Ohio become a principal. [1]

He attended Oberlin College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1908, followed by the University of Cincinnati, where he received his law degree in 1911. [1]


Sawyer (in the foreground) as Secretary of Commerce at a meeting of Truman's cabinet (February 1949) Photograph of President Truman with his Cabinet and other top advisors, in the Cabinet Room at the White House... - NARA - 200084.jpg
Sawyer (in the foreground) as Secretary of Commerce at a meeting of Truman's cabinet (February 1949)

He served as a member of Cincinnati City Council from 1912 until 1916 when he ran for Mayor of Cincinnati losing to George Puchta. Prior to his political career, he worked at the Cincinnati law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl. During World War I, he served as an infantryman in France, where he attained the rank of Major. Sawyer was also involved in several business ventures, including the American Rolling Mill Company and a share of the Cincinnati Reds, the Cincinnati Gardens, and a chain of newspapers and radio stations (through Great Trails Broadcasting Corporation). [2] [1]

Between the Wars, he was a prominent Ohio Democratic politician. In the 1930s, a faction led by Sawyer vied with a faction led by Martin L. Davey for control of the state Democratic party. [3] He was the 44th lieutenant governor of Ohio from 1933 to 1935. Sawyer authored the Twenty-first Amendment which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which established the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. [4] In 1938, Sawyer was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Ohio. [1]

Federal service

Secretary of State James F. Byrnes (center), President Truman (left) and Ambassador Sawyer, on the president's arrival in Antwerp en route to Germany to attend the Potsdam Conference. L to R, President Harry S. Truman, Secretary of State James Byrnes, and Ambassador to Belgium Charles Sawyer seated... - NARA - 198780.jpg
Secretary of State James F. Byrnes (center), President Truman (left) and Ambassador Sawyer, on the president's arrival in Antwerp en route to Germany to attend the Potsdam Conference.

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Sawyer as the United States Ambassador to Belgium and served as was Minister to Luxembourg during the difficult period from 1944 to 1946, at the beginning of the Belgian Royal Question concerning King Leopold III of Belgium. [5] Two years later, President Harry Truman appointed Sawyer to the U.S. Civil Service Commission's Review Board. Sawyer had first met Truman upon the latter's arrival in Antwerp en route to Germany to attend the Potsdam Conference. [6]

In 1948, Sawyer was chosen to succeed W. Averell Harriman as the United States Secretary of Commerce. [7] [8] While Secretary of Commerce, Sawyer was ordered by Truman to seize and operate the steel mills in 1952. [9] This seizure was executed to prevent a labor strike which Truman believed would hamper the ability of the United States to proceed in the war in Korea.

While Secretary of Commerce, Secretary Sawyer declared the first National Secretaries Week from June 1 to 7, 1952. He designated Wednesday, June 4, as National Secretaries Day for this formerly male-dominated field of work turned female-dominated by sociocultural anamorphisms. Upon the end of Truman's term as office, Sawyer's term as Commerce Secretary also ended and he was succeeded by the Republican Sinclair Weeks who served during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. [10]

Later career

When Sawyer returned to Cincinnati after serving President Truman, he joined the law firm of Taft, Stettinius, and Hollister, which had been founded by another prominent Cincinnati politician, Robert A. Taft (the elder son of President William Howard Taft), and became its managing partner. Following Taft's death, Sawyer succeeded to his seat on the board of the Central Trust Company, a Cincinnati bank. [11]

In 1968, he authored Concerns of a Conservative Democrat which was published by the Southern Illinois University Press. Sawyer served on the Hoover Commission on Overseas Task Force, the Commission on Money and Credit, and the World's Fair Site Committee.

Sawyer gave $1 million to purchase 123 acres of riverfront property in Cincinnati for what became Sawyer Point Park. [12]

Personal life

Ambassador Sawyer, Mrs. Sawyer, and Harold Stark walking to the meeting with President Harry S. Truman in July 1945. Adm. Harold Stark, and Ambassador to Belgium Charles Sawyer and Mrs. Sawyer, walk to the docks in Antwerp, Belgium to... - NARA - 198786.jpg
Ambassador Sawyer, Mrs. Sawyer, and Harold Stark walking to the meeting with President Harry S. Truman in July 1945.
Mrs. Elizabeth Sawyer leaving the Augusta after paying respects to President Truman in 1945. Mrs. Charles Sawyer, wife of the U. S. Ambassador to Belgium, leaves the U. S. S. Augusta after paying her respects... - NARA - 198790.jpg
Mrs. Elizabeth Sawyer leaving the Augusta after paying respects to President Truman in 1945.

On July 15, 1918 Sawyer married his first wife, Margaret Sterrett Johnston, a niece of Col. William Cooper Procter of Procter & Gamble. Together, they had five children, two daughters and three sons, including: [12] Anne Johnston Sawyer (who married John Pattison Williams. She later married John Bradley Greene); [12] Charles W. Sawyer II; Jean Johnston Sawyer (who married the Very Rev. John J. Weaver, Dean of Detroit Cathedral, in 1948); [13] John William Sawyer; and Edward Milton Sawyer. [12]

After Margaret's death in 1937, Sawyer married his second wife, Countess Elizabeth (née Lippelman) de Veyrac (1907-1999), on June 10, 1942. [14] Elizabeth, who was living in Glendale, Ohio, was previously married to Louis Renner of Cincinnati and then Count Robert de Veyrac. [15] They had no children. [1]

He died in April 1979, at age 92, at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery near his birthplace in Cincinnati, Ohio. [12]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "A Tour of the Country Has Made Friends for the Mon Called "the Best Secretary of Commerce Since Herbert Hoover," Time Magazine Reports—His Finger in Many Pies -- Building Fortune in Cincinnati". The Daily Standard. 15 March 1950. p. 6. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  2. "RADIO STOCKHOLDERS SUE SAWYER AND WIFE". The New York Times . 30 January 1952. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  3. "Ohio Historical Society | Ohio Governors". Archived from the original on 2007-09-02. Retrieved 2007-02-19.
  4. Sawyer, Concerns of a Conservative Democrat, Southern Illinois University Press, pp. 48-51.
  5. Charles W. Sawyer at Ohio History Central
  6. Leviero, Anthony (23 April 1948). "SAWYER NOMINATED TO COMMERCE POST; Truman at Same Time Asks Confirmation of Harriman as ERP Ambassador". The New York Times . Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  7. Belair Jr., Felix (22 April 1948). "HARRIMAN NAMED AID CHIEF ABROAD; Truman Picks Him as Envoy in Europe -- Offers His Cabinet Post to Charles Sawyer". The New York Times . Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  8. TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (13 June 1950). "REMINGTON ACTION ON JOB ACCEPTED; Sawyer Agrees to Resignation --Lee, Refusing to Leave, Formally Denies Charges WASHINGTON, June 12--Charles Sawyer, Secretary of Commerce, accepted today the resignation of William W. Remington, an economist in the Office of International Trade. Mr. Remington resigned last Friday, saying he wished to devote all his time to proving his innocence of a grand jury charge of perjury". The New York Times . Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  9. Loftus, Joseph A. (18 April 1952). "SAWYER SUMMONS STEEL EXECUTIVES; PAY RISE PREDICTED; Secretary Is Expected to Act After Today's Talks if Leaders Balk at W. S. B. Program TRUMAN TO HAVE LAST SAY He Asserts He'll Decide What if Any Increase Is Granted -- Murray Assails Industry Sawyer Summons Steel Leaders; Some Sources Predict a Pay Rise". The New York Times . Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  10. "SAWYER WILL INVITE WEEKS FOR A TALK". The New York Times . 9 December 1952. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  11. TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (14 January 1954). "Sawyer to Fill Taft Post In Bank in Cincinnati". The New York Times . Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Cook, Joan (9 April 1979). "CHARLES SAWYER, 92, A TRUMAN AIDE, DIES". The New York Times . Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  13. "MISS JEAN SAWYER IS MARRIED IH OHIO; Daughter of Ex-Envoy Bride of Very Rev. John J. Weaver, Detroit Cathedral Dean". The New York Times . 29 April 1948. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  14. "MRS. DE VEYRAC MARRIED; She Is Bride of Charles Sawyer of Ohio in Ceremony Here". The New York Times . 11 June 1942. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  15. "Charles Sawver Weds Countess". Dayton Daily News . 10 June 1942. p. 7. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Ohio
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of Commerce
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Ohio
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Luxembourg
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Belgium