David Alfred Thomas was born in Ysgyborwen, near Aberdare, on 26th March, 1856. After being educated at Caius College, Cambridge, he returned to Wales and eventually became the senior partner in Thomas and Davey, a company based in Cardiff that owned several collieries in the Rhondda Valley. In 1888 Thomas was elected MP for Merthyr Tydfil and held the seat until the 1910 General Election.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Thomas was sent by David Lloyd George to the United States to arrange the supply of munitions for the British armed forces. In May 1915, Thomas and his daughter, Margaret Haig Thomas, were returning from the United States on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine. Although over a thousand passengers died, they were both fortunate enough to be rescued.
Awarded the title Lord Rhondda, David Alfred Thomas was appointed Minister of Food in June 1917. He held the post until his death on 3rd July, 1918. His peerage passed, by special remainder, to his daughter, Viscountess Rhondda.
I must have been about eleven or twelve when he first "talked business" to me: that is, poured out a stream of description of some deal he was engaged on at the time, without any explanations - he hated explaining anything; it bored him. He walked up and down the room as he talked, turning his coins over in his pocket, and I, seated in the big armchair, listened palpitating with pride at being treated in so grown-up a fashion, but terrified of saying the wrong thing, and so showing that I was only understanding about one quarter of what he was saying, which I well knew would have instantly stopped the flood. On that occasion my mother was up in town ill, and there was no one else at home for him to talk to. He always talked business at home a great deal; he would retail every evening all that had interested him in the day's events.
I felt, in consequence of the great importance of the American and Caadian markets and of the innumerable offers which I have received, directly and indirectly, to provide shell munitions of war from Canada and the United States of America, it was very desirable that I should have someone there who, without loss of time, which must necessarily take place when all your business is transacted by means of cable, should be able to represent the Munitions Department in the transaction of business there and find out exactly the position. I propose to send over, on behalf of the Munitions Department, a gentleman who was once a member of this House - a very able business man. He has business relations with America on a very considerable scale, and I propose to ask Mr. D. A. Thomas to go over to America for the purpose of assisting us in developing the American market. He will represent and exercise the functions of the Munitions Department, both in Canada and in the United States, and he will be given the fullest authority to discharge the responsible duties with which he is entrusted. Mr. Thomas will co-operate with the representatives of the Government, both in Canada and in the United States of America. While invested with full powers, he will, no doubt, act in consultation with the authorities at home, except in cases of special urgency.