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Chester Bowles

advertising executive, Governor, diplomat, Congressman

Chester Bowles

Chester Bliss Bowles was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1901. He graduated from The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1919, and from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University in 1924.

After working as a reporter with the Springfield Republican, a newspaper founded by his grandfather, Bowles took a $25-a-week job as copywriter with what became the advertising firm of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn. In 1930, he and William Benton founded the firm of Benton & Bowles, with Benton as the salesman and Bowles as the idea man. The firm specialized in consumer market research and pioneered singing commercials for radio, and its accounts included General Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Bristol Myers. Bowles became chairman of the board in 1936, and by the time he sold his interest in the company, in 1941, he was earning about $250,000 a year.

Bowles began his political career as a delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention. At that time he was also a director of America First, a citizens organization opposed to United States involvement in what became World War II. After the U. S. entered the war, he was appointed rationing administrator of the state of Connecticut by Governor Robert A. Hurley, and then state director of the Office of Price Administration (OPA). In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him national director of the OPA, and he served in that position until 1946. He concurrently served as a member of the War Production Board and of the Petroleum Council for War. He subsequently served as director of the Office of Economic Stabilization under President Harry Truman, from February to July 1946.

An unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Connecticut in 1946, Bowles was successful in 1948. During his tenure he scored successes in tax reform, housing, welfare, and child care. He also integrated the state National Guard and oversaw expansion of the powers of the state Interracial Commission to include investigation of housing discrimination complaints. He was defeated for re-election by Republican John Davis Lodge in 1950.

Bowles began his diplomatic career in 1946, as a delegate to the first UNESCO conference. He served as special assistant to UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie from 1947 to 1948, and as international chairman of the United Nations Children's Appeal from 1948 to 1951. From 1951 to 1953 he served as U. S. Ambassdor to India and Nepal.

Elected to the U. S. House of Representatives by Connecticut's second district, Bowles served in that body from January 3, 1959 to January 3, 1961; he was not a candidate for re-election.

Bowles served as chairman of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, and then as foreign policy adviser to John F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign. After Kennedy became President, Bowles was named Undersecretary of State, in which capacity he publicly opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion and the American military presence in Vietnam. On December 4, 1961, Bowles was named President Kennedy's Special Representative and Adviser on African, Asian, and Latin American Affairs, a position he held until June 9, 1963. In this position, he proposed that U. S. foreign aid should be based on a country's economic potential, liabilities, and willingness to reform rather than on the exigencies of the cold war.

On May 3, 1963, Bowles was again named Ambassador to India, and he served as such until April 21, 1969. During this tenure he helped engineer the shipment of some 26 million tons of American grain following a crop shortage. He was able to convince the United States to stay neutral during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir, and to combat anti-Americanism fueled by U. S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. In 1967, he managed to spirit Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, out of the U. S. Embassy in New Delhi, where she had sought asylum.

In addition to his advertising, political, and diplomatic careers, Bowles was also the author of several books, including:
Tomorrow Without Fear (1946)
Ambassador's Report (1954)
The New Dimensions of Peace (1955)
Africa's Challenge to America (1956)
American Politics in a Revolutionary War (1956)
Ideas, People, and Peace (1958)
The Coming Political Breakthrough (1959)

Bowles was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease during his second tenure as Ambassador to India, and succumbed to that disease in Sussex, Connecticut, on May 25, 1986.

Washington Post

World War II
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Harry Truman
John F. Kennedy
Svetlana Alliluyeva

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The Robinson Library >> United States >> 1901-1960 >> Individual Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on June 14, 2018.