Zachariah T. Chandler was born in Bedford, New Hampshire, on December 10, 1813. Following his formal education Chandler went west. He settled in Detroit, opened a successful general store, and soon became quite wealthy. In 1851 he was elected the Whig Mayor of Detroit, but he was defeated in his election bid for governor in 1852.
Chandler was one of the founders of the Republican Party at the mass convention "under the oaks" at Jackson in the summer of 1854. He eventually became the undisputed leader of the Republican Party in Michigan. In 1856 Michigan suffered from a lack of sound currency, but Chandler supplied his customers with all the goods they required. This action averted countless bankruptcies and certainly aided Chandler's successful bid for the United States Senate in 1857. Chandler was outspoken in his support of the anti-slavery movement. He was also capable of taking a broad view of situations. Chandler served as the chairman of the Committee on Commerce from 1861 to 1875, and he was responsible for the funneling of large amounts of federal funding into the developing Midwest.
Defeated in the Senate election in 1875, Chandler was appointed secretary of the interior by President Grant, but be was removed from office by the succeeding president, Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1876. Chandler, a popular figure, was reelected to the United States Senate in 1879, but he died soon thereafter on November 1, 1879.