Charles W. Sawyer

Last updated
Charles Sawyer
12th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
May 6, 1948 January 20, 1953
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by W. Averell Harriman
Succeeded by Sinclair Weeks
United States Ambassador to Belgium
In office
November 8, 1944 November 20, 1945
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Ernest de Wael Mayer (Acting)
Succeeded by Alan G. Kirk
United States Ambassador to Luxembourg
In office
November 1, 1944 November 20, 1945
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Winthrop Greene (Acting)
Succeeded by Alan G. Kirk
44th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio
In office
January 9, 1933 January 14, 1935
Governor George White
Preceded by William G. Pickrel
Succeeded by Harold G. Mosier
Personal details
Born(1887-02-10)February 10, 1887
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
DiedApril 7, 1979(1979-04-07) (aged 92)
Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.
Resting place Spring Grove Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Margaret Sterrett
(m. 1918;her death 1937)

Elizabeth Lippelman de Veyrac
(m. 1942;his death 1979)
Education Oberlin College (BA)
University of Cincinnati (LLB)

Charles Sawyer (February 10, 1887 April 7, 1979) was United States Secretary of Commerce from May 6, 1948 to January 20, 1953 in the administration of Harry Truman.

United States Secretary of Commerce Government position

The United States Secretary of Commerce (SecCom) is the head of the United States Department of Commerce. The Secretary is appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate and serves in the President's Cabinet. The Secretary is concerned with promoting American businesses and industries; the Department states its mission to be "to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce".



Sawyer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 10, 1887, to Caroline (née Butler) and Edward Milton Sawyer. He served as a member of Cincinnati City Council from 1912 until 1916. Prior to his political career, he worked at the Cincinnati law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl. [1] Between World War I and World War II, 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. [2] He was the 44th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio from 1933–1935. In 1938, Sawyer was an unsuccessful candidate for governor.

Dinsmore is a large U.S. law firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is an AmLaw 200 and National Law Journal 250 firm, and has been named to the U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers Best Law Firm lists. The firm consists of more than 650 attorneys practicing in 24 cities throughout Ohio, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington D.C.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Sawyer authored the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. [3]

He was also appointed as United States Ambassador to Belgium by Franklin D. Roosevelt and 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. [4]

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd president of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A Democrat, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in American history, as well as among the most influential figures of the 20th century. Though he has also been subject to much criticism, he is generally rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Leopold III of Belgium King of Belgians

Leopold III reigned as the King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951, when he abdicated in favour of the heir apparent, his son Baudouin. From 1944 until 1950, Leopold's brother, Charles, served as prince regent while Leopold was declared unable to reign. Leopold's controversial actions during the Second World War resulted in a political crisis known as the Royal Question. In 1950, the debate about whether Leopold could resume his royal functions escalated. Following a referendum, Leopold was allowed to return from exile to Belgium, but the continuing political instability pressured him to abdicate in 1951.

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)

While Secretary of Commerce, Sawyer was ordered by Truman to seize and operate the steel mills in 1952. 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.

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), also commonly referred to as the Steel Seizure Case or the Youngstown Steel case, was a United States Supreme Court decision that limited the power of the President of the United States to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two of the United States Constitution or statutory authority conferred on him by Congress. It was a "stinging rebuff" to President Harry Truman.

1952 steel strike

The 1952 steel strike was a strike by the United Steelworkers of America against U.S. Steel and nine other steelmakers. The strike was scheduled to begin on April 9, 1952, but President Harry S Truman nationalized the American steel industry hours before the workers walked out. The steel companies sued to regain control of their facilities. On June 2, 1952, in a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), that the president lacked the authority to seize the steel mills. The Steelworkers struck to win a wage increase. The strike lasted 53 days, and ended on July 24, 1952, on essentially the same terms the union had proposed four months earlier.

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, and became its managing partner.

In 1968, he authored Concerns of a Conservative Democrat (Southern Illinois University Press). Charles Sawyer served on the following commissions, Hoover Commission on Overseas Task Force, the Commission on Money and Credit, and the World's Fair Site Committee.

While Secretary of Commerce, Secretary Sawyer declared the first National Secretaries Week June 1-7, 1952. He designated Wednesday, June 4, as National Secretaries Day for this formerly male-dominated field of work turned female-dominated by sociocultural anamorphisms.

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


Sawyer married his first wife, Margaret Sterrett Johnston, on July 15, 1918. He had five children (two daughters and three sons), Anne Johnston, Charles II, Jean Johnston, John William and Edward Milton Sawyer. Margaret S. Sawyer died in 1937.

Sawyer married his second wife, the former Elizabeth De Weyrac on June 10, 1942; they had no children.

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  1. Disnmore & Shohl firm history Archived September 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine .
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-02. Retrieved 2007-02-19.
  3. Sawyer, Concerns of a Conservative Democrat, Southern Illinois University Press, pp. 48-51.
  4. Charles W. Sawyer at Ohio History Central