Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Charles Sawyer (1948–1953): Secretary of Commerce

Charles Sawyer was born in 1887 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Oberlin College with a bachelor's degree in 1908 and earned a law degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1911, the same year he was admitted to the Ohio bar and elected to a seat on the Cincinnati City Council, where he served until 1915.

In 1917, Sawyer volunteered for service in the First World War. He fought with the American Expeditionary Force, spent eight months in Europe, and then left in 1919 with the rank of major of infantry. After he returned to the United States, Sawyer began practicing law, first on his own and then as a senior partner with a Cincinnati law firm.

In 1932, Sawyer turned his attention to politics, running in and winning Ohio's gubernatorial election as a Democrat. He served as governor until 1934 when he left his post to join the Democratic National Committee, an affiliation that would last until 1944 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt named as ambassador to Belgium and minister to Luxembourg, countries that had recently been liberated from Nazi control. Sawyer resigned this position in 1945 but continued to advise President Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, on issues important in the postwar era.

Sawyer assumed a more formal position in the Truman administration when the President named him secretary of commerce in 1948. When he left office at the end of Truman's term in 1953, Sawyer spent his time practicing law and pursuing various civic, philanthropic, and sporting interests. Charles Sawyer died in 1979.