Charles E. Wilson

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For "Engine Charlie", see Charles Erwin Wilson.
Charles E. Wilson (on left) sworn in as Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization

Charles Edward Wilson (November 18, 1886 in New York City – January 3, 1972 in Bronxville, New York) was a CEO of General Electric.

Background[edit]

Wilson left school at the age of 12 to work as a stock boy at the Sprague Electrical Works, which was acquired by the General Electric Company. He took night classes to graduate from high school, and he worked his way up to the position of president of the corporation in 1939. During World War II, Wilson served on the War Production Board as its executive vice-chairman in September 1942, supervising the huge American war production effort.[1] He resigned in August 1944 after a bitter dispute over jurisdiction with the Department of War and the Department of the Navy.

Wilson returned to General Electric in 1945 and began an antiunion campaign, and he also served President Harry S. Truman as the chairman of the blue-ribbon President's Committee on Civil Rights during 1946 - 47. This committee recommended new Civil Rights legislation to protect "all parts of our population".

General Electric[edit]

After returning to General Electric again, he left to become head of the new Office of Defense Mobilization in December, 1950, which took control of the U.S. economy, rationing raw materials to the civilian economy, a position so powerful that the press began calling him the "co-president". After being accused of backing big business, he resigned in March, 1952 after a bitter dispute with his own Wage Stabilization Board after it recommended wage increases for unionized steel workers without his knowledge, and he intervened to back the steel companies' demand for price increases to offset them, only to see Truman back the board. Wilson next returned to General Electric briefly, before becoming chairman of the board of W.R. Grace & Co. until his retirement in 1956, when he became the president of the "People-to-People Foundation", a nonpartisan program promoting international friendship and understanding.

The mausoleum of Charles E. Wilson

He was nicknamed "Electric Charlie" so as not to be confused with Charles Erwin Wilson, the U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Dwight Eisenhower and earlier the Chairman of the General Motors Corporation, who was nicknamed "Engine Charlie". (This nicknaming meme included at least one other contemporary American industrialist, Charles E. Sorensen, who was "Cast-Iron Charlie".)

John G. Forrest, writing in The New York Times, said "Charles Wilson is a big man by any standard, physical, moral, or mental."

Electric Charlie and his wife adopted their daughter Margaret Wilson from an orphanage when she was 18 years old. Margaret later married Hugh Pierce and they had one son, named for his grandfather and father: Charles Edward Wilson Pierce.

Charles Wilson died in Westchester County, New York, in 1972 and his remains are interred in a private mausoleum in the Kensico Cemetery.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 194, 199, 241, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
Preceded by
Gerard Swope
President of the General Electric Company
1940 — 1942
Succeeded by
Gerard Swope
Preceded by
Gerard Swope
President of the General Electric Company
1945 — 1950
Succeeded by
Ralph J. Cordiner
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Claire Lee Chennault
Cover of Time Magazine
13 December 1943
Succeeded by
Greer Garson