Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Arthur E. Summerfield (1953–1961): Postmaster General

Arthur Ellsworth Summerfield was postmaster general under President Eisenhower from January 21, 1953, to January 20, 1961. Summerfield left school at the age of thirteen to work in a factory. By 1918, he was chief inspector in the ammunition department of the Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan. The following year, he opened Summerfield Realty, became a distributor for Pure Oil Company in 1924, and emerged as the largest independent motor oil distributor in Michigan.

In 1929, he opened Summerfield Chevrolet, which, by 1953, developed into one of the largest car dealerships in Michigan. Summerfield's first foray into politics was as an organizer for Wendell Wilkie in the latter's unsuccessful 1940 presidential challenge.

While Summerfield failed in both attempts at gaining elected office -- Michigan secretary of state in 1942 and governor in 1946 -- he rose in the Republican Party and was elected to the Republican National Committee (1944-1952). Summerfield was named chairman of the RNC the day after Eisenhower's nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 1952 and supervised the election campaign.

He resigned his position on the RNC in January 1953 before becoming Eisenhower's postmaster general. Summerfield worked to improve efficiency in the postal service, experimenting with new delivery methods, standardizing machinery, and closing uneconomical offices and routes. However, he also helped to extend the rural free delivery system to more than three hundred thousand farms and to replace 4,500 offices -- saving $6 million and increasing workers' wages 10 percent in the process.

Summerfield was also known for trying to keep allegedly obscene materials out of the postal service, prohibiting, for instance, the distribution of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, though the courts would overturn his actions. Following the end of Eisenhower's second term in office, Summerfield returned to automobile sales.