Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Luther Hodges (1961–1963): Secretary of Commerce

Luther Hartwell Hodges was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, on March 9, 1898. After attending public schools in North Carolina, Hodges went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While at North Carolina, he participated in athletics and a wide array of extracurricular activities. Hodges was immensely popular and was voted by his classmates as "best all around man."

After getting his B.A. in 1919, Hodges entered the U.S. Army. He then got a job as the secretary to the general manager of Marshall Field and Company textile mills. Hodges quickly worked his way through the company and became general manager of all the mills in 1939; by 1943, he became the company's vice president.

Hodges retired from business in 1950, turning his energies toward politics. He began his political career during the Second World War when he was appointed to the Office of Price Administration in 1944. In 1952, he was elected lieutenant governor of North Carolina. After Governor William B. Umstead died in 1954, Hodges rose to take over the state's top slot. He would serve as governor for six years and earn a reputation for attracting industry to North Carolina.

President John Kennedy appointed Hodges secretary of commerce, hoping to calm the fears of many in the business community. As secretary, Hodges had less influence than other members of the cabinet, serving more as a supporter and defender than as an architect of administration policies.

He encouraged domestic industrial expansion and passage of the Area Redevelopment Act, which authorized his department to spend $400 million in loans and grants in regions beset by chronic unemployment. Hodges also reorganized the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads and accelerated the program of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Regarding international matters, Hodges was also an advocate of increasing trade of nonstrategic goods with the Soviet Union.

Hodges retired from his commerce post in 1964 and became chairman of a mutual fund. He died of a heart attack on October 6, 1974.