Andrew Mellon: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson goes over the life of Andrew Mellon. You'll learn how he made his money, the ways he served his country, and what famous museum he helped build and fill with treasures.

Who was Andrew Mellon?

If you ever walk into the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and appreciate the works contained therein, you should thank Andrew Mellon. Andrew Mellon was the Secretary of the Treasury under three U.S. Presidents! He was also a noted philanthropist who helped, in part, finance the construction of, and even stock, the National Gallery of Art.

Let's learn more about him.

Early Life & Career

Andrew William Mellon was born on March 24th, 1855 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He belonged to a family of Protestant immigrants who hailed from Northern Ireland.

Mellon attended what was then called Western University, now the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, Mellon found himself knee-deep in the financial industry. See, his family actually owned a bank called T. Mellon and Sons. T. Mellon stood for Thomas Mellon, Andrew's dad. At the bank, Andrew worked alongside his father and his brother, Richard.

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Mellon's dad realized early that Mellon had a knack for all things in finance and transferred ownership of the bank to Andrew about 8 years after he joined the bank. Using the family bank as a springboard, Mellon helped found and fund (in exchange for equity) numerous companies that were to become very successful, particularly around the Pittsburgh area. Business-wise, you could find Mellon involved in some way in just about everything: steel, oil, coal, aluminum, and much more. This made him very rich, very quickly.

Later Life & Career

Mellon's business savvy and empire grew; he became one of the richest men in the U.S. by the early 1920s, which didn't go unnoticed. President Warren G. Harding made Mellon Secretary of the Treasury in 1921, and Mellon's life on the national political stage began. He continued to serve as Secretary of the Treasury until 1932, which means he served under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.

As the roaring twenties began, Mellon was seen as something of a hero. Some even said he was the best Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton. Mellon cut taxes, helped lower the national debt, enforced prohibition, and was, more or less, in charge of one of the most prosperous periods in American history. Of course, if you know anything about the 1920s, it's that while they began with a big bang they ended with an even bigger bust. The crash of 1929 brought upon the worst economic period in U.S. history. Of course, Mellon was blamed for this in some part, and this eventually led him to resign his position.

Thereafter, Mellon was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom for about a year. That was to be the last official public position he'd hold.

Of course, a man of Mellon's stature wasn't going away any time soon. He wanted to make an impact in another way. See, Mellon had a sweet tooth for the arts. Using his hefty bank accounts, he collected large amounts of fine works of art. In the end, he wanted to donate his money and his art collection towards the establishment of an art museum, the creation of which he negotiated with the U.S. government.

This led to the construction of the National Gallery of Art. Mellon wound up donating $15 million to build the museum and donated about $25 million worth of art. In spite of this, Mellon made it known that he didn't want the museum named after him.

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