Charles Nagel, attorney, was born in Bernardo, Texas, on August 9, 1849, the son of Hermann and Friederike (Litzmann) Nagel, both natives of Prussia. His father was a graduate in medicine of the University of Berlin. His parents came to America in 1847 and settled in Colorado County, then moved to Millheim in Austin County in 1855. Opposed to both slavery and secession, Dr. Nagel took young Charles to Mexico in 1863. They later traveled by ship to New York, thence to St. Louis in 1865 where his mother joined them. Charles attended country schools in Texas, completed high school in St. Louis in 1868, and graduated from St. Louis Law School in 1872. This was followed by a year of study at the University of Berlin. He was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree by Brown University, Villanova University, and Washington University in 1911 and a doctor of political science degree by the University of Berlin in 1928.
Nagel began a career as an attorney in St. Louis in 1873. Active in public affairs and politics, he was elected a member of the Missouri House of Representatives (1881–83), president of the St. Louis city council (1893–97), and member of the Republican National Committee (1908–12). In March 1909 President William Howard Taft appointed him Secretary of Commerce and Labor, the first native-born Texan to become a member of a president's cabinet. He was also a founder of the United States Chamber of Commerce. Following four years' service in Washington, Nagel returned to his law practice in St. Louis. In his later years he wrote A Boy's Civil War Story (1934), an account of his boyhood in Texas.
On August 4, 1876, in Louisville, Kentucky, Nagel married Fannie Brandeis, sister of United States Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. After her death in 1889 he married Anne Shepley in 1895. He was the father of six children, including Charles Nagel, who was the first director of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution. Charles Sr. died in St. Louis on January 5, 1940.