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Bernard M. Baruch: Quotes, WW1 & Biography

Instructor: Matthew Hill
In this lesson, learn about Bernard Baruch, who was a financial investor who served in several official and advisory roles from Woodrow Wilson's presidency through Harry Truman's. He was called the 'elder statesman' of his era.

Beginnings of a Wall Street Investor

In a surprising turn of events, a South Carolina-born young man made his first million by his 30th birthday and, in time, became a leading presidential advisor from Woodrow Wilson's presidency through Harry Truman's!

Bernard Baruch was born in August 1870 in Camden, South Carolina. One of four sons, his father worked as a Confederate surgeon during the Civil War. After the war, his family moved to New York City where his father continued his career as a doctor. Baruch attended public school and graduated from the City College of New York where he studied finance. He proved to be a quick student and worked at the A. A. Housman and Company investment firm. By the age of 30, he had become a millionaire and bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

He married Annie Griffin in 1897, and together they had three children. He established a sound financial reputation, which paid off when President Woodrow Wilson appointed him to several administration and advisory roles.

Bernard Baruch
Bernard Baruch

Council of National Defense

When the First World War broke out, Woodrow Wilson asked Baruch to serve on the Advisory Commission on the Council of National Defense. This group was created as an advisory committee of leading businessmen, bankers, investors, and industrialists on economic mobilization for national defense. Baruch, as both a Democratic supporter of Wilson, and as a successful financial investor, was a natural choice for Wilson. This appointment soon led to another one with even greater responsibilities beyond advisement.

Chair of the War Industries Board

In 1918, Wilson appointed Baruch as Chair of the War Industries Board. His primary task was to mobilize and organize the nation's economic resources on behalf of the First World War. This is where Baruch firmly established his reputation. His responsibilities involved tasks such as resolving management-labor disputes to minimize industrial slowdowns, allocating resources for wartime purposes, streamlining production processes for maximum output, and applying price controls. He did his job well, as wartime production rose over twenty percent. Later on, he was rewarded by Franklin D. Roosevelt with yet another economic position.

Bernard Baruch at Work
Bernard Baruch at Work

Versailles Peace Conference

Wilson was impressed with Baruch and he invited him to serve as a member of the Supreme Economic Council at the Versailles Conference. This was a multi-national group tasked with making economic policy at the conference. He and Wilson opposed the harsh economic measures imposed on Germany, but they were out-voted. Baruch returned from Paris committed to remain in government service. In his memoirs he wrote: 'At the age of forty-nine, I had already enjoyed two careers - in finance and, much more briefly, in government. The war had taken me out of Wall Street, often described as a narrow alley with a graveyard at one and a river on the other, and plunged me deeply into the broad stream of national and international affairs.' For his service during the war, he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal.

FDR's Brain Trust

The Great Depression was a natural time to recruit economic expertise, and President Franklin Roosevelt recruited Baruch as part of his 'brain trust' group to help guide his New Deal policies. The 'brain trust' group did hold not formal cabinet positions, but rather were advisors who assisted in policymaking. Baruch also promoted American war readiness as, harking back to his experience in the First World War, he argued prophetically that Hitler would plunge the U.S. into another foreign war. When FDR died, Baruch became an advisor to President Harry Truman.

L-R, Winston Churchill and Bernard Baruch
Winston Churchill and Bernard Baruch

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