Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

James J. Davis (1929–1930): Secretary of Labor

Born October 27, 1873, in Wales, James J. Davis came to the United States with his family and settled in Pennsylvania, where he began work as a "puddler" in the steel mills at the age of eleven. He attended Sharon Business College in Pennsylvania.

Davis moved with his family to Indiana, where he became a union representative in several steel industries. He served as city clerk of Elwood, Indiana (1898-1902), and recorder of Madison County, Indiana (1903-1907).

President Warren G. Harding appointed Davis secretary of labor, and, following Harding's death, President Calvin Coolidge reappointed him to that post. Davis remained labor secretary until 1930. In that capacity, he established border controls (at that time, immigration came under the jurisdiction of the Labor Department). He also supported ending the twelve-hour workday.

Davis resigned in 1930, having been elected as a Republican senator from Pennsylvania to fill the vacancy created by the denial of a seat to William Vare. While in Congress, Davis introduced and engineered passage of the Davis-Bacon labor relations act. Reelected in 1932 and again in 1938, Davis was unsuccessful in his 1944 campaign. He remained an active member of the Loyal Order of the Moose fraternal organization. James Davis died on November 22, 1947.