Ohio governor Charles Foster was born on April 12, 1828. His father, Charles W. Foster opened a store in 1832 in the small community of Rome in Seneca County, Ohio. Charles Foster only received a limited education. His father suffered from health problems and needed his son to help with the store. When Foster was only eighteen years old, he became a partner in his father's business. He soon had full responsibility for the store's operations. Foster married Ann M. Olmstead and the couple had two daughters. The Fosters' store was very successful, and when Rome combined with another small town in 1854, the new community was named Fostoria in the family's honor.
When the American Civil War began, Foster chose to continue working in his business rather than enlisting in the military. At the same time, he became well known for his support of the Union war effort. He contributed to efforts to recruit soldiers and did his best to help families of local soldiers by extending credit to them at his store. When Foster later ran for political office, some of his opponents criticized him for his lack of military service and called him "Calico Charlie." This strategy did not work. Foster had a good reputation for his compassion towards soldiers' families during the war.
Charles Foster first entered politics in 1870, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican. He was reelected to three additional consecutive terms. During his four terms as a congressman, Foster participated in treasury department reforms and opposed Radical Reconstruction. He supported fellow Ohioan Rutherford B. Hayes in his successful presidential campaign in 1876. In 1878, Foster was defeated in his own reelection bid and returned to Ohio.
Foster chose to run as the Republican candidate for Ohio governor in 1879. He campaigned on the issue of sound money, which would require the government to back paper money with gold. Foster won the election and focused his administration on reforming the state government so that it was more efficient. In addition, Foster supported the temperance movement by favoring higher liquor taxes. Ultimately, his support of this tax, known as the Pond Law, contributed to his defeat in the election of 1883.
Foster returned to politics in 1891, when President Benjamin Harrison named him Secretary of the Treasury. He held this position until the end of Harrison's term in 1893 when he returned to his business interests in Fostoria. Over the years, Foster had diversified his interests. He had invested in a number of important industries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including railroads, oil, mining, and rubber. Prior to becoming Secretary of the Treasury, Foster served as the president of the Northwestern Ohio Natural Gas Company, which was a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company.
Foster died in Springfield, Ohio, on January 9, 1904.
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- Jordan, Philip D. Ohio Comes of Age: 1874-1899. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1943.
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Weisenburger, Francis P. The Passing of the Frontier: 1825-1850. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1941.