Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Harry L. Hopkins (1938–1940): Secretary of Commerce

Harry Lloyd Hopkins was born August 17, 1890, in Sioux City, Iowa, and graduated cum laude from Grinnell College in 1912. He began his career in social work and in 1914 was named executive secretary of the Board of Child Welfare. During World War I, Hopkins served as head of the Gulf Division of the American Red Cross and later of the Department of Civilian Relief's Red Cross mission to assist Mexico (1920).

He was also named chief of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor's division on health conditions (1922) and became executive director of the New York Tuberculosis Association (1924). During the Depression, Hopkins established a Red Cross relief program that was the model for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (1931).

In the Roosevelt administration, Hopkins was director of the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (1933-1938), while also serving on the President's Draught Committee, the National Resources Planning Board, the National Emergency Council, and while running the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation.

He was also a member of Roosevelt's cabinet, serving as secretary of commerce from 1938 to 1940. After resigning from the cabinet due to ill health, Hopkins continued to work for the President as a confidant and adviser. He served as Roosevelt's personal manager at the 1940 Democratic National Convention and, in 1941, was named head of the Lend-Lease Program.

He was also a member of the War Production Board and the Pacific War Council, as well as a delegate to the Cairo, Tehran, Casablanca, and Yalta wartime conferences. President Truman awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal in September 1945. Harry Hopkins died on January 29, 1946.