Wendell Willkie was born in Elwood, Indiana, in 1892. After graduating from Indiana University in 1913 he practised law in Ohio (1914-23) and New York City (1923-33).
In 1933 Willkie became president of the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation, a huge utilities holding company. Willkie was originally a member of the Democratic Party but was a strong opponent of some aspects of the New Deal. He was especially hostile to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), that once established, would be a major competitor to companies such as Commonwealth and Southern Corporation. When the TVA scheme went ahead Willkie joined the Republican Party.
At Philadelphia in 1940 the Republican Party chose Willkie rather than Thomas Dewey as their presidential candidate. During the campaign Willkie attacked the New Deal as being inefficient and wasteful. Although he did better than expected, Franklin D. Roosevelt beat Willkie by 27,244,160 votes to 22,305,198.
Willkie was an idealistic internationalist and was a strong opponent of American isolationism. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a great deal of respect for Willkie and in 1941 appointed him as his special representative. During the Second World War he visited England and the Far East.
Willkie played an active role in the American Committee for Russian War Relief. Along with Fiorello La Guardia, Charlie Chaplin, Vito Marcantonio, Orson Welles, Rockwell Kent and Pearl Buck, Willkie also campaigned during the summer of 1942 for the opening of a second-front in Europe.
In 1943 Willkie published his book One World where he called for a post-war world which was a union of free nations. The book, which was a best seller, laid the groundwork for the United Nations. He followed this with An American Program (1944). Wendell Willkie died of a coronary thrombosis, on 8th October, 1944.