Paul Morton was born on 22 May 1857 in Detroit, Michigan. Raised in Nebraska, his father was Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, and his younger brother, Joy, was the founder of Morton Salt. After he turned 18, Morton moved to Chicago, Illinois, and worked for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, before rising to the position of vice president of Santa Fe Railroad. Although he knew next to nothing about naval affairs, Morton was appointed Secretary of the Navy on 1 July 1904 for President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.
A scandal ensued in February 1905 when the Interstate Commerce Commission asked the Justice Department to investigate charges that Morton acted illegally while working for the railroads. The charges never resulted in prosecution, but Morton was forced to resign quietly on 1 July 1905. He later saved face by becoming vice chairman of the Moody Commission (reorganization of the Navy) in 1909. Morton died unexpectedly in New York City on 19 January 1911 at the age of 53.