In 1940, because of his earlier business-government liaison work on New Deal industrial recovery programs, Stettinius received the government position of chairman of the War Resources Board, which had been established to survey potential American war needs. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed Stettinius on the National Defense Advisory Commission. At that point, Stettinius resigned from U.S. Steel to devote full time to government service. As director of priorities in the Office of Production Management, he encouraged the development of synthetic rubber. Then, in 1942, Roosevelt appointed Stettinius to head administration of the Lend-Lease program, which he streamlined and made more effective while successfully winning congressional support for its sometimes-controversial programs of aid to the European Allies.
In September 1943, Stettinius became undersecretary of state, working under Secretary of State Cordell Hull with a commission to improve and coordinate the State Department's notoriously inefficient organizational structure and improve its lackluster public image. Stettinius's other major responsibility was the creation of an international security organization, the United Nations (UN). After laying the groundwork for this organization in discussions with British Foreign Office counterparts in the spring of 1944, Stettinius attended the August 1944 Dumbarton Oaks conference, where he played a major role in drafting the UN Charter.
When poor health caused Hull's resignation in November 1944, Stettinius succeeded him. The new secretary of state instituted public relations policies that greatly enhanced his department's popularity. He attended the controversial February 1945 Yalta Conference of Allied leaders, helping to draft American proposals for a Declaration on Liberated Europe and to further clarify the UN Charter. Stettinius's greatest diplomatic contributions occurred between April and June 1945 at the San Francisco Conference, which drafted the final UN Charter. His diplomatic skills were instrumental in persuading the numerous delegates to reach consensus on a charter all could support.
Many officials considered Stettinius a lightweight, and during the San Francisco conference, Harry S Truman, who had succeeded Roosevelt as president in April 1945, decided to replace him with the South Carolina Democrat James F. Byrnes. On 27 June 1945, one day after the conference ended, Stettinius resigned to become first U.S. representative to the new United Nations. Disillusioned with the Truman administration's failure to use UN mechanisms to resolve the developing Cold War, in June 1946 Stettinius resigned to become rector of the University of Virginia. In 1949, he published a carefully documented account of the Yalta Conference, defending Roosevelt's decisions there. Stettinius died in Greenwich, Connecticut, on 31 October 1949.
Campbell, Thomas M., and George C. Herring, eds. The Diaries of Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., 1943–1946. New York: New Viewpoints, 1975.; Schlesinger, Stephen C. Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations: A Story of Superpowers, Secret Agents, Wartime Allies and Enemies, and Their Quest for a Peaceful World. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003.; Stettinius, Edward R. Lend-lease, Weapon for Victory. New York: Macmillan, 1944.; Stettinius, Edward R. Roosevelt and the Russians: The Yalta Conference. Walter Johnson, ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1949.; Walker, Richard, and George Curry. The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy. Vol. 14, E. R. Stettinius, Jr., and James F. Byrnes. New York: Cooper Square, 1965.