Friday, May 8, 2015

World War One on Chicago's North Shore: An Evanston Illinois Hero, Charles Gates Dawes

When I was growing up in Evanston Illinois, there was a big mansion down by Lake Michigan known as the Dawes House.  There was an elementary school in town named after him as well.  I knew that Dawes was vice president of the US and had something to do with World War One.  To many of us, he was a just a person who once lived in Evanston. When I started to research this post, I really had no idea how accomplished a person he was.

Co-Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 1925
Brigadier General: World War One
Vice-President of the United States 1924-1929
Not only was he the 30th Vice-President of the United States, a co-winner of the Noble Peace Prize, a Brigadier General in the Army;  he was also an author, financier, diplomat, banker, musician and composer.  Quite impressive for a man from Marietta Ohio!

Dawes was born on August 27, 1865 in Marietta Ohio, son of a Civil War Brigadier General and a descendant of William Dawes, a patriot who rode with Paul Revere on April 8, 1775, warning the people of Lexington and Concord that the British were coming. He was educated at Marietta College and studied law in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Although he was a lawyer, he did not make his living practicing law.  As young man, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1887 to get in on a booming economy. He became friendly with General  George Pershing in Nebraska, and they remained life-long friends.

He left Nebraska and relocated to Chicago, Illinois.  In 1902, he founded the Central Trust Company of Illinois, which was known as the Dawes Bank. He realized that there was a future in utilities and eventually controlled 28 gas and electric companies. He continued to work in banking and finance until the United States got involved in World War One in 1917.

Service in World War One 

At the age of 52, he signed up for the army and was sent overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces. He worked for his old friend from Nebraska, General Pershing and was quickly promoted to the rank of brigadier general, working to procure supplies for the American Forces and eventually for all the allies. After the War, he supported the Treaty of Versailles, though most Republican were against it.
The Treaty of Versailles made the defeated Germans responsible for paying all the war damage in France.

The Dawes Plan and The Nobel Prize

Dawes was involved in Republican Party politics and when he returned form Europe, he was appointed Director of the Budget by President Warren J. Harding.  The League of Nations invited Dawes to be chair of a committee that was studying the problem of German Reparation payments.

The German economy was in ruins after the war,  suffering terrible inflation, which wiped out the savings of many German people.   The peace treaty forced Germany to take all the blame for causing the war, and all the responsibility to pay for the damages. Since the Germans defaulted on several payments, something had to be done.  In the Dawes Report 1924, Dawes recommended a plan to stabilize the German currency, balance Germany's budget, and reorganize the Reichsbank (the German national bank). The plan also ended Allied occupation of the Ruhr Valley, Germany's industrial area and  proposed a graduated plan for making reparations payments.   Banks in the United States would loan money to the German government.    In 1925, Dawes shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the plan to restore and stabilize the German economy.  The plan, however was not received well in the United States and was became unworkable, because the reparations were harder and harder to pay when the world economy began to fail in the late 1920's. It was replaced by the Young Plan in 1929.  Neither of these plans had any chance of fixing the German economy.  The reparations debt was so high, that if reparations payments had not been discontinued by Hitler, the German government might  still be paying them today . Read more about the German economy and reparations payments.
How Dawes and Young Plan to stabilize the German economy worked.

Vice President of the United States

President Calvin Coolidge and Vice President Dawes
President Coolidge chose Dawes to be his running mate in 1924.  The pair easily won the election, but Dawes was not a cooperative vice president.  President Coolidge, known as "Silent Cal," was the opposite of Dawes.  Dawes was a problem solver, Coolidge, a problem avoider. Dawes had a quick temper and often clashed with his boss. The four years in Washington DC were tumultuous for Dawes.
However, his public service was not over.

Ambassador to Great Britain

Herbert Hoover, elected in 1928, asked Dawes to serve as Ambassador to Great Britain, which he did from 1929-1932.  He was an effective ambassador and recounted his time in Great Britain  in a book, Journal As Ambassador to Great Britain, one of the nine book he wrote.

Composer and Musician

Charles Dawes was an amateur musician and  a talented composer.  He played the flute and piano and enjoyed entertaining guests in his home with musical performances.  He helped establish grand opera in Chicago, and was vice president of the Chicago Civic Opera. He wrote "Melody in A Major" for piano in 1912.  It was published in sheet music and recorded.  It quickly became very popular. The great violinist, Fritz Kreisler recorded it  often played it as an encore piece. It was arranged for many instruments including trumpet, piano, organ, and violin.  Dawes was uncomfortable with his fame as the composer of a popular tune. At first he was surprised to see the sheet music displayed in shop windows, but later he was annoyed with what seemed to be every band playing a version of his melody.

Recording of Melody in A Major by Fritz Kreisler
Sheet Music for Melody in A Major

In 1951, Carl Sigman wrote lyrics to Dawes' "Melody in A Major" and called the song "It's All in the Game." It was a hit and eventually a  popular classic.
It has been performed and recorded by Dinah Shore, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Nat King Cole, The Four Tops, Van Morrison, Louis Armstrong, Merle Haggard, Andy Williams, Barry Manilow, Tommy Edwards, Cliff Robertson, Englebert Humperdink, Tyrone Davis, Robert Goulet, Bobby Vinton and Bobby Vee and many others.

Life as a private person

Dawes retired from public life after his service as Ambassador to Great Britain.  He lived in Evanston, and continued to work in banking and finance, and served on the boards of civic organizations and charities.  He died in Evanston in 1951. 
The Dawes home is now a landmark.  Dawes donated it to Northwestern University, today it houses the Evanston History Center.