Hugh McCulloch was born in 1808 in Kennebunk, Maine. He attended Bowdoin College, taught in Boston, studied law, and was admitted to the Massachusetts state bar in 1833. He then moved to Indiana and established a law practice.
By 1835, McCulloch had left the law to become a cashier and manager of the Fort Wayne branch of the state bank of Indiana. From 1836 to 1856, McCulloch served as director of that bank (1836-1856), becoming manager of the state branch in 1863. Later that year, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase asked McCulloch to oversee a new system of banking. McCulloch thus began serving as comptroller of the currency, a position he held until 1865, when he became Lincoln’s third secretary of the treasury.
McCulloch’s tenure at Treasury lasted from 1865 until the end of the Johnson administration in 1869. During that time, he strove unsuccessfully to return the country to the gold standard and to retire the public debt, a process begun just prior to his leaving office.
In 1870, McCulloch became a partner in the New York banking firm of Jay Cooke, McCulloch & Company, as well as head of the firm’s London office. Three years later, and under McCulloch’s supervision, the firm survived a financial panic and the dissolution of an affiliated enterprise; by 1875, it had been reconfigured as McCulloch & Company.
In December 1884, President Chester Arthur tapped McCulloch to serve as secretary of the treasury for the last four months of his administration. McCulloch agreed and became the first of only three men to hold the position in three different presidential administrations. After leaving office in 1885, McCulloch retired and wrote his memoirs. Hugh McCulloch died in 1895.