Charles G. Dawes (1865–1951) financier and politician
Born in Ohio, Dawes’s family traced its origins to the Mayflower. After graduating from Marietta College and studying law, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he engaged in several successful businesses, including real estate, meat packing, and banking. It was only after he and his brothers acquired extensive holdings in two utility companies that he began to amass a sizable fortune. The brothers would eventually control 28 companies in 10 states. Then in 1902, Charles turned his attention to banking, founding the Central Trust Co. of Illinois.
He entered politics about the same time. After working for William McKinley’s presidential campaign, he was named comptroller of the currency in 1898. He enlisted in the army as a major in 1917 and rose to brigadier general within two years. He served on General John Pershing’s staff and was in charge of supply procurement and disbursement for the American Expeditionary Force. Dawes also became one of the few Republicans to support the League of Nations. The nickname “Hell and Maria” for Dawes began to be used after he appeared at a congressional hearing investigating budgetary waste during the war. When asked whether he paid excessive prices for mules, he replied, “Hell, Maria, I would have paid horse prices for sheep if the sheep could have pulled artillery to the front.”
He was appointed the first director of the budget in 1920 and proceeded to introduce efficiency measures into government accounting, many for the first time. The League of Nations invited him to write a report on German war reparations in 1923; the Dawes Report was published in 1924, suggesting reparations be made on a sliding scale. The report was so popular and powerful in political and diplomatic circles that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Austen Chamberlain of Britain for his efforts in 1925. He then became Calvin Coolidge’s vice president in 1925, ambassador to Great Britain in 1929, and American delegate to the Disarmament Conference in 1932 but resigned to become chairman of the RECONSTRUCTION FINANCE CORP. (RFC) in the same year. The government agency was developed to make loans to distressed companies during the early days of the Great Depression. Controversy erupted when the RFC’s first loan was made to Dawes’s bank in Chicago.
During his life, he also found time to write nine books and become an accomplished musician, playing both flute and piano. He died in Evanston, Illinois, in 1951.
- Dawes, Charles G. The First Year of the Budget of the United States. New York: Harper & Row, 1923.
- Timmons, Bascom N. Portrait of an American: Charles G. Dawes. New York: Henry Holt, 1953.