He opposed federal minimum wage and child-labor laws, and his objections to the World War I bonus bill cost him support among veterans.
U.S. senator. Dial was born near Laurens on April 24, 1862, to Albert Dial, a prominent local farmer, and Martha Rebecca Barksdale. He attended Laurens County schools, the University of Richmond, and Vanderbilt University. After a year of law school at the University of Virginia, Dial returned to South Carolina in 1883 and established a law practice in Laurens. That same year he married Ruth Mitchell of Batesburg. The couple eventually had six children. After the death of his first wife in 1900, Dial married Josephine Minter of Laurens. They had two children.
Influenced by the New South movement, Dial became an advocate for improving the region’s economy by building financial institutions, developing energy sources, and industrialization. Between 1887 and 1897 Dial served three terms as mayor of Laurens and was instrumental in getting streets paved, having bridges and public buildings built, and obtaining electric, water, and telephone services. As an entrepreneur, he helped establish the Enterprise National Bank and the Home Trust Company in Laurens and was involved with the Laurens Cotton Mill and the Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company. To support these operations, Dial secured financing, started a company to manufacture brick needed for construction, and formed the Reedy River Power Company to ensure an adequate electricity supply. In 1910 Dial helped create the Laurens Glass Company after silica deposits were found nearby. During his lifetime Dial was credited with doing more to create industrial development in his corner of the state than any other individual.
In 1912 Dial entered his first statewide political race and challenged Benjamin Ryan Tillman for the U.S. Senate. As Tillman had a strong political base, the relatively unknown Dial was soundly defeated. He was not a good public speaker and scorned the fact that people wanted to be entertained at political rallies. In 1918 Dial again challenged Tillman and former governor Coleman L. Blease for a Senate seat. Tillman suffered a fatal stroke before the campaign began, and Dial effectively attacked Blease for his refusal to support President Woodrow Wilson and U.S. involvement in World War I. Dial’s strategy worked, and he defeated Blease in the August Democratic primary.
After he claimed his Senate seat on May 19, 1919, Dial’s conservatism prevented him from supporting measures that would have helped relieve the distress of South Carolina farmers. He opposed federal minimum wage and child-labor laws, and his objections to the World War I bonus bill cost him support among veterans. In 1924 Blease, whose popularity had risen, unseated Dial. Two years later Dial again ran for the Senate, challenging the popular incumbent Ellison D. Smith. Despite campaign literature that touted his successful opposition to a “Yankee pension bill” and claims that he saved taxpayers “more than any man in Congress,” Dial finished third in the three-way contest.
After the 1926 loss, Dial remained in Washington and practiced law despite setbacks suffered by his South Carolina business interests, especially during the Depression. After years of poor health, Dial died on December 11, 1940, in Washington. He was buried in Laurens.
Slaunwhite, Jerry L. “The Public Career of Nathaniel Barksdale Dial.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1978.