Businessman, U.S. senator. Daniel was born in Elberton, Georgia, on November 11, 1895, the eldest son of James Fleming Daniel, a millwright, and Leila Mildred Adams. Daniel was to become twentieth-century South Carolina’s most successful businessman and one of its most influential political figures.
Daniel moved with his family to Anderson, South Carolina, in 1900. He learned the construction trade while working in his father’s millwright operation. In Anderson, Daniel attended school and worked a summer job at Townsend Lumber Company. He earned a scholarship to the Citadel, where he spent two years before the onset of World War I. In 1917 Daniel volunteered for service and went to France as an infantry officer. In 1919 Daniel returned to Anderson and began building mill village houses. He earned a reputation for quality production and gradually worked his way into more complex projects. On November 25, 1924, he married Homozel “Mickey” Mickel.
Daniel pushed ahead even during the Great Depression. Ironically, given his later reputation as a staunch conservative, earnings from New Deal construction projects enabled him to establish his own firm, Daniel Construction Company, in 1934. During World War II, Daniel obtained numerous defense contracts for construction of aluminum plants, shipyards, and air bases throughout the South. Daniel moved to Greenville in 1942 when his firm constructed Donaldson Air Base south of the city. In 1942 Daniel and Roger Milliken built the DeFore Plant in Clemson to produce military tire cord. This single-story, windowless, air-conditioned mill revolutionized textile plant design.
After the war Daniel defined the art of industrial recruiting. Daniel Construction built plants for such firms as Celanese, DuPont, Milliken, Monsanto, J. P. Stevens, and Textron. During his lifetime Daniel’s company built 250 manufacturing plants in South Carolina alone. Daniel also moved into paper mill and power plant construction and expanded operations into the Gulf Coast, the Midwest, the Caribbean, and Europe. To further attract industry, Daniel helped establish the State Development Board in 1945. Believing that South Carolina’s key industrial advantage was a union-free workforce, Daniel backed the state’s 1954 right-to-work law.
In politics, Daniel grew increasingly disillusioned with the national Democratic Party, especially its support for organized labor. A Dixiecrat in 1948, Daniel campaigned openly for Republican presidential candidates from 1952 until his death. In 1954, on the death of U.S. Senator Burnet R. Maybank, Governor James F. Byrnes appointed Daniel to complete Maybank’s term. Daniel took office on November 8, 1954, but resigned his seat on December 24 in favor of senator-elect Strom Thurmond, the winner of a celebrated write-in campaign.
Daniel realized early on that South Carolina’s racially segregated society was an impediment to progress. He addressed the issue in his “Watermelon Speech” in Hampton on July 1, 1961. Here Daniel suggested that South Carolinians “forsake some of their old ways” to improve opportunities for both blacks and whites.
On June 29, 1964, state and local officials broke ground for the Daniel Building, a twenty-five-story office building in downtown Greenville. Charles Daniel, however, did not live to see its completion.
He died of lung cancer in Greenville on September 13, 1964.
Canup, Claude R., and William D. Workman, Jr. Charles E. Daniel: His Philosophy and Legacy. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1981.
Dunlap, James A., III. “Changing Symbols of Success: Economic Development in Twentieth Century Greenville, South Carolina.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1994.
Lunan, Bert, and Robert A. Pierce. Legacy of Leadership. Columbia: South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, 1999.