Known as a champion and a co-founder of the Federal Reserve, Carter Glass was a Virginia state senator (1899-1903), an eight-term US representative (1902-1918), the US Treasury secretary (1918-1920), and a four-term US senator (1920-1946). Under the provisions of the original Federal Reserve Act, the Treasury secretary was also ex-officio chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
Glass was born in 1858 in Lynchburg, Virginia, to a well-known newspaper family. He received limited schooling, and became an apprentice printer to his father at age thirteen. Much of Glass’ early career was spent in the newspaper industry, where he worked his way up from reporter to editor, to publisher and finally, owner of the Lynchburg Daily News and the Daily Republican. He continued to buy out his competitors and eventually became the only publisher in town. Mostly self-taught, Glass had an appetite for academic study and was well versed in classical literature and history.
In 1896, Glass attended the Democratic National Convention, where he heard William Jennings Bryan speak. The experience of the convention ignited Glass’ interest in politics. His public service began as the Lynchburg city clerk. He actively participated in local, state, and national politics, and used his position as an editor and publisher to endorse political candidates. His service and outspoken support of Democrats led to his selection as a state delegate to the party’s 1896 Democratic National Convention.
Elected to the US Congress in 1902, Glass focused his efforts on securing a position on the House Banking and Currency Committee, and within two years, he had achieved his goal. At five feet four inches tall, Glass made up for his lack of size with an incredible drive and an avid curiosity to learn everything about banking and finance.
Following the Banking Panic of 1907, Glass worked fervently on financial legislation to reform the banking system. In 1913 as chairman of the Banking and Currency Committee, he worked with Senator Robert Owen (D-OK) and President Woodrow Wilson to pass the Federal Reserve Act.
In 1918, President Wilson appointed Glass to lead the Treasury, succeeding William Gibbs McAdoo. Two years later, he was appointed to the US Senate to fill the vacancy created by the death of fellow Virginian Thomas Staples Martin.
Along with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, Glass’ most notable achievements include work toward the passage of the Banking Act of 1932, the Banking Act of 1933 (commonly called the Glass-Steagall Act), and the Banking Act of 1935. These acts established the Federal Reserve System, separated commercial and investment banking, created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, formed the Federal Open Market Committee (the Federal Reserve’s chief monetary policymaking body), and enhanced Federal Reserve independence through the removal of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Treasury Secretary from the Federal Reserve Board.
In 1933, Glass became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and from 1941 to 1945 he was president pro tempore of the Senate.
As a principal contributor to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, Glass advocated for a decentralized central banking system. His influence is reflected in the current structure of the Federal Reserve System, which consists of twelve regional Reserve Banks and the Board of Governors in Washington, DC.
Glass was married for fifty-four years to Aurelia Caldwell. They had four children. Widowed in 1937, Glass married his second wife, Mary Scott, in 1940. He died in 1946.
Written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. See disclaimer.