CHARLES CARPENTIER

CHARLES CARPENTIER

CHARLES CARPENTIER

When elected Secretary of State, Republican Charles Carpentier (1953-1964) ended a long run of Democratic control of the office. Except for a sixmonth span late in 1944, Democrats had held the office for 20 years.

Carpentier was born in Moline, Illinois, on Sept. 19, 1896, and attended parochial schools before entering St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. After serving in World War I, Carpentier and his brother, Emil, operated movie theaters in the Quad Cities. His entrance into politics came as a result of a carnival that opened near one of his theaters in East Moline. The city regulated theaters but not carnivals, a point that agitated Carpentier. He subsequently ran for alderman and won, and one of his first official acts was sponsoring an ordinance for licensing and supervision of carnivals. 1

After three terms as alderman, Carpentier was elected to the first of five terms as mayor of East Moline in 1929. He ran for the Illinois Senate in 1938, winning the first of four terms, and there earned the nickname “The Battling Belgian” for his forcefulness. He left the Senate after narrowly defeating incumbent Edward Barrett in the race for Secretary of State in 1952. A popular Secretary, he was re-elected by a landslide in 1956. Four years later, he was the only Republican to be elected to a major state office, again by a large plurality. 2

As Secretary of State, he enforced traffic safety laws and obtained control of all driver testing – a point of contention for his predecessor, Barrett, who fought a losing battle for such control. Carpentier also instituted measures to keep dangerous drivers off the road, using a point system for offenses. He also built three new driver’s license facilities in Chicago in 1959. The workload of traffic safety became so great that Illinois was the first state to employ data processing for that task. 3

Carpentier also took great pains to maintain the Capitol Complex and its buildings in Springfield, making them more attractive both to employees and visitors. During his tenure, the Illinois State Museum and the Stratton Building were also erected. 4

An avid self-promoter, Carpentier reaffirmed his position as State Librarian by having more photos of himself published in Illinois Libraries than any Secretary before him. It was just one of the ways Carpentier continuously marketed himself to the public. When a reporter once asked him why he focused on public relations, Carpentier replied, “What’s the use of doing good work if nobody knows about it?” Sometimes, though, his good image took a backseat to decisive action. Described as “pugnacious, flamboyant, and excitable,” Carpentier once declared, “it is more important to be clearly understood than to be charming.” 5

Carpentier’s run for Governor in August 1963 was cut short after he suffered a coronary thrombosis the following January and subsequently withdrew from the race. After several weeks in the hospital, his recovery seemed to be progressing, but he suffered another attack and died shortly after midnight on April 3, 1964. 6

Carpentier was survived by his wife, daughter, and adopted son, Donald, who in 1962 was elected to represent his father’s district in the Illinois Senate. 7
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  1. Howlett 143-144; Moline Dispatch April 4, 1964.
  2. Howlett 144; Moline Dispatch April 4, 1964.
  3. Howlett 141-142.
  4. Howlett 143.
  5. Howlett 141, 143; Moline Dispatch April 4, 1964.
  6. Howlett 144; Moline Dispatch April 4, 1964.
  7. Ibid.