C.S. “Chris” Wheeler, U.S. Steel’s last president, and one of the company’s founders, dies at 97

Mr. Wheeler was born in Superior, Wis., in 1871, a year after J.A. Wheeler founded U.S. Steel and succeeded in engineering the steel industry’s development, and was orphaned at a young age, when his…

C.S. “Chris” Wheeler, U.S. Steel’s last president, and one of the company’s founders, dies at 97

Mr. Wheeler was born in Superior, Wis., in 1871, a year after J.A. Wheeler founded U.S. Steel and succeeded in engineering the steel industry’s development, and was orphaned at a young age, when his parents divorced and his mother left him.

From a young age, Mr. Wheeler had a deep respect for his ancestral indigenous people, who he regarded as his ancestors, because of the common “custom of the forest,” he said in an interview in 1926. Indeed, much of the destruction that Mr. Wheeler experienced during his childhood could have been avoided had his mother not left him and his siblings, he said in a 1978 interview.

In addition to serving his mother, his family, and the host community of Superior, Mr. Wheeler was a member of the Yellowjackets and Sac and Fox, first of all, and in 1928, he helped lobby the United States government to ban the sale of whiskey in the U.S. In effect, Mr. Wheeler helped fashion a new approach for securing endangered resources.

Further, he is recognized by Native Americans as one of the 13 “Founding Fathers” of the U.S. It is because of his works, many in the 1950s and 1960s, that today it is almost impossible to find a bottle of bourbon or rye that does not feature U.S. Steel’s name — but no one would really identify this among the reasons he was considered so significant, even back then.

Following the Great War, Mr. Wheeler continued his advocacy for native Americans and the environment and, with his brother, John, founded the United States Steel Management Training School, (U.S. Steel Park), just outside the steel city of Pittsburgh, in 1936. It later became U.S. Steel College of Steel, until 1993, when it was renamed the Carnegie Mellon University Graduate School of Public and Environmental Affairs, or CMUSAP, in honor of the steel giant and his brother.

By 1972, Mr. Wheeler was recognized by then-President Richard Nixon as one of the 100 most distinguished Americans of the 20th century, and has appeared on several occasions on Franklin Roosevelt’s yearbook page. Mr. Wheeler himself was named for C.S. Lewis, who changed his name from Carl Charles Gray when he was 11, changing his entire perception of the world.

Mr. Wheeler served as president of the Petroleum Industry Research Council in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s, and in his early career he served as secretary of the eastern seaboard national forests and parks and as U.S. forest service director from 1930 to 1939. He continued his work through a writing career through 1980.

Mr. Wheeler is noted for his condemnation of racism, especially following the violence of the Tulsa race riots in 1921, and for his unwavering support of the Native American cause in his lifetime. For example, in the 1930s, when U.S. Steel moved a major slag coal mine in Wisconsin to northern Michigan, Mr. Wheeler wrote to U.S. Steel chairman Charlie Lamb: “I will travel to see this project and oppose it with everything I have.”

In addition to his presidency of the Petroleum Industry Research Council, Mr. Wheeler served as president of the Chemical Manufacturers Association and from 1951 to 1954 was president of the Great Lakes and Mississippi board of governors of the United States Forest Service.

He is survived by his third wife, the former I. Diane Keidrigs in Superior, Wisconsin; children, Charles; Ernest; and Patricia and Beverly Miekle Wheeler in Wyndhamville, Wis.; 13 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

“We come to this community of rivers and waters to save it,” Mr. Wheeler once said. “We come to the earth to clean it and to give back. We arrive at this location to save up and go there. And the point is, we are here because the Indians have saved us in so many ways and because we are the surviving successes of that preservation. We have come to the land to encourage [American Indians] to hold fast to the values which have sustained them through this time, and let us marry our task with theirs, at least with respect to what we are required to do under the terms of the treaty.”

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