Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

James P. Mitchell (1953–1961): Secretary of Labor

James Paul Mitchell was secretary of labor under President Eisenhower from October 8, 1953, to January 20, 1961. Though his father died when he was twelve, James Mitchell managed to complete high school before he became manager of a local grocery store. He went on to open two unsuccessful grocery stores of his own that failed in 1923 and eventually found work as an expediter with Western Electric Company in Kearny, New Jersey, where he was soon transferred to the personnel department.

In 1932, Mitchell was Union County supervisor for the New Jersey Relief Administration. He became head of labor relations in the New York City division of the Works Progress Administration in 1938, though when program head Brehon B. Somervell went to Washington to become head of the Army construction program, he took Mitchell to head up its labor relations division.

In 1942, Mitchell became director of industrial personnel for the War Department, in charge of over one million men. In 1945, he returned to the private sector as director of personnel and industrial relations for R. H. Macy and Co. (1945) and later became vice president in charge of labor relations and operations at Bloomingdale Brothers (1947).

In 1948, he was hired by the Army for personnel work in Germany, performed a similar task in Korea, and served on the personnel advisory board of the Hoover Commission on the organization of the executive branch of the government.

Mitchell became assistant secretary of the Army in charge of manpower and reserve forces affairs (1953) before replacing Martin Durkin as secretary of labor. He streamlined and reorganized the department and is credited with its revitalization and improvements in morale. He created a number of new positions and offices and was the first secretary to determine prevailing minimum wages for the soft coal industry; he did the same for other industries in accord with the Walsh-Healy Act.

Mitchell oversaw a prosperous economy, marked by improvements in labor relations, and he helped to resolve a number of strikes in his time. After leaving the Eisenhower administration, he was the Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey but lost the election to the Democratic incumbent. He returned to the private sector with paper manufacturer Crown-Zellerbach, becoming senior vice-president in 1962. He died in 1964.