When Sinclair Weeks stepped down as Secretary of Commerce, President Eisenhower swiftly acted to tap Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss for the job. Strauss was an important figure in the development of the H-bomb, an antagonist of Robert Oppenheimer, and one of the proponents of the “Atoms for Peace” strategy. But he ended up being an early victim of Senate confirmation limbo, hanging as acting secretary for months, and eventually forced to withdraw his nomination.
Into the breach stepped Frederick H Mueller of Michigan, a man so obscure he barely has a Wikipedia page. Further internet research reveals a somewhat strange life story. Way back in 1892, Mueller’s dad, J Frederick Mueller, founded a furniture company in Michigan with some other duded. The year after that, he had a son, Frederick. Frederick graduated from Michigan State University in 1914 and by 1915 he had a controlling interest in his dad’s furniture company. He then spent the next 40 years (PDF) being general partner in a furniture company he inherited almost immediately upon graduating from college. He had a lot of minor civic roles in Grand Rapids, was an active member of the Peninsular Club, and was basically a local bigshot in a not very glamorous city.
Then in his sixties, he suddenly changed direction and moved to Washington to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce. After a couple of years in that position he moved up to be Undersecretary of Commerce. When the Strauss nomination fell through, his rise from being a director of the Grand Rapids Furniture Manufacturers’ Association to the lofty status of full-fledged cabinet secretary was complete. Needless to say, having scaled the heights he didn’t manage to leave any mark on history.