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Sun, 1 Jul 2001 02:00:09 -0400 From: ANB Biography of the Day <firstname.lastname@example.org> American National Biography Online Harriman, W. Averell (15 Nov. 1891-26 July 1986), businessman and government official, was born William Averell Harriman in New York City, the son of the railroad organizer Edward H. Harriman and Mary Averell (Mary Williamson Averell Harriman). He spent his early years in New York and on the family estate of Arden in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. He was educated at Groton and Yale. Harriman did poorly in preparatory studies, which brought admonishment from his father, and it is possible that his stammer, which he carried throughout his long life, resulted from this experience. At Yale he did better academically, and excelled socially. After college Harriman prepared to move up the ladder of his father's Union Pacific Railroad and spent two years in Omaha studying railroading from the laying of track on up. In 1915 he was called back to New York to become a junior vice president. Railroading did not, however, hold his attention. When the United States entered World War I in 1917 he espied a way to follow in the footsteps of his father, who had taken an interest in ships in the years before he died, by going into shipbuilding. He presided over construction of a vast shipyard at Chester, Pennsylvania, for his Merchant's Shipbuilding Corporation which, like all government-financed yards, was just beginning to turn out ships by the time of the armistice in 1918. After the war the world shortage of ships continued, and Harriman created the United American Lines, one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. He arranged a joint service with the German-owned Hamburg-American Line. Not yet thirty, he was hailed as "Harriman II" and "the Steamship King." When the glut of ships, merchant and passenger, became evident in 1926, he abandoned the shipping business. Turning next to European investments, Harriman became involved with the Georgian Manganese Company, which exploited manganese deposits in Soviet Georgia. He entered the business in 1925 without personally examining the mines, an error that his father would never have made. He concluded a contract with the Soviet government that permitted him to exploit only lesser deposits and again lost out: the Soviets took over a rich preserve in the neighborhood and a German firm picked up the remnants of the Harriman company. Other European efforts during the 1920s, notably an attempt to electrify vast areas of Poland, also failed. Returning to Union Pacific, Harriman was elected chairman of the board in 1932 and sponsored the first streamliner trains in the hope of rejuvenating the road's declining passenger traffic. Pulled by diesel engines, the trains made the run from Chicago to the West Coast in record time, with luxurious accommodations, reasonably priced meals, and conductors replaced by stewardesses in imitation of increasingly attractive airline travel. The experiment was only a modest success. If Harriman and the Union Pacific board had instead concentrated on reconstructing its freight operations, they would have positioned the road far better for the freight-carrying requirements of World War II and for the competition with trucks that followed. With his brother Roland, Harriman meanwhile established an investment firm, which in 1931 combined with Brown Brothers to create Brown Brothers Harriman. Although in its initial years the partnership did not do well, it eventually proved profitable. Until the beginning of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, Harriman had not enjoyed success in his work, in spite of his efforts in the fields that had occupied his father. In 1915 he married Kitty Lanier Lawrance; they had two daughters. After their divorce in 1929, he married Marie Norton Whitney in 1930. Upon his second wife's death in 1970, he married Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward (Pamela Harriman) in 1971. From his second and third marriages there were no children. An excellent sportsman, he took up polo and became a member of the American team in 1928 with a handicap of eight (out of a possible ranking of ten). When his interest in polo waned he turned to croquet and eventually was listed in the Croquet Hall of Fame. Early in the 1930s, seeking a way to advance business for the Union Pacific, he created the Sun Valley resort in Ketchum, Idaho, and took up skiing. At the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, Harriman's interest began to turn from business to politics. He sensed that power in the country had passed from Wall Street to Washington. His political interests focused on the Democratic party. During his attempt to mine manganese in the Soviet Union he had tangled with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, which may have been the reason that he voted in 1928 for the Democratic presidential candidate. In 1932 he voted for Roosevelt, whose Hudson Valley family he knew. The result was a post in the National Recovery Administration, which he owed partly to his friendship with its administrator, Brigadier General Hugh Johnson. After Johnson's dismissal by the president, Harriman ran the NRA until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1935. Thereafter, Harriman served the administration only as chairman of the business advisory council for the department of commerce from 1937 to 1939. With the coming of war in Europe and increasing evidence that the United States would be involved, Harriman unabashedly sought a post in Washington or abroad. Early in 1941 he joined the Office of Production Management. Then came a major assignment. With passage of the lend-lease legislation in March, the administration undertook to support the nation's allies with massive war materials, a program that eventually totaled approximately $50 billion. At the outset it was necessary to send a special presidential representative to Britain, and Harriman flew to London first as minister, then, after August, as ambassador. He soon was intimate with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and often joined him at his country place on weekends. The "defense expediter," as President Roosevelt designated Harriman, bypassed the American ambassador in London, John G. Winant, the State Department, and the American military to communicate directly with the president, often through his close friend Harry Hopkins, who at that time lived in the White House. When the Soviet Union entered the war, Harriman extended his operations to Russian lend-lease. He recommended the removal of the American ambassador in Moscow, Laurence Steinhardt, whom the president replaced with Admiral William H. Standley. When Harriman bypassed Standley, the latter quit and was replaced by Harriman, who served in Moscow from 1943 to 1946. His access to the president, however, no longer obtained when Hopkins became ill in 1944, and Harriman had to communicate with Washington through the State Department. Although he was present at the Big Three conferences at Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam, he was no longer a major figure. Harriman served conspicuously in postwar foreign relations during the administrations of Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The businessman-turned-public servant played many roles but was disappointed when the post that he dearly wished for, secretary of state, went in 1949 to his Yale friend, Dean Acheson. At the beginning of the Kennedy administration he again hoped for the secretaryship, which to his chagrin went once more to a younger man, Dean Rusk. After serving briefly as ambassador to Great Britain in 1946, Harriman replaced Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace when the latter resigned in September of that year. He remained in the Truman cabinet until 1948, when an opportunity arose with passage through Congress of the first appropriation for the Marshall Plan. He became the number-two man in the Economic Cooperation Administration, balancing the Republican administrator of the plan, Paul G. Hoffman. Upon virtual completion of the plan in 1950, he returned to Washington as a special assistant to the president during the outbreak and initial course of the Korean War. From 1951 to 1953 he served as director of the Mutual Security Administration, supervising rearmament of America's allies in Europe. In these positions his work varied in importance. At the department of commerce he presided over a vast bureaucracy that largely ran itself, but the position gave him the opportunity to participate in cabinet meetings, which in the Truman administration (unlike the Roosevelt administration) were important affairs. In the ECA, Harriman's talents as a troubleshooter were much in evidence; division of the Marshall Plan's $13.3 billion among the nations of western Europe called for the highest qualities of diplomacy. The months as special presidential assistant were an interlude, after which in the MSA he dispensed billions in military assistance as well as the final appropriations of the Marshall Plan and the Truman administration's 1949 Point IV program of technical assistance to developing countries. During the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harriman turned his energies to political office. He sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, but was defeated by Governor Adlai E. Stevenson II of Illinois. Running for governor of New York in 1954, he was elected by a slim margin of 11,000 votes out of 5 million. The governorship constituted the apogee of his political career. He enjoyed Albany, and for the rest of his life insisted upon being known as "Governor Harriman." Privately he described himself as "the guv." In attempting to manage the state's deteriorating finances, he instituted an austerity program, which was understandably unpopular. To that program he added his own ineptitude as a politician, giving miserable speeches and displaying little judgment on matters politic. He persuaded his Republican friend, Nelson Rockefeller, to head up an attempt to revise the state's archaic constitution, which overrepresented upstate and rural areas at the expense of New York City. Rockefeller used the public attention that this appointment brought him to defeat the man who had appointed him. Harriman lost his bid for a second term to Rockefeller in 1958 by a half million votes, at a time when the Democratic party was displaying a national resurgence. In 1961 Harriman became part of the Kennedy administration by taking on the posts of ambassador-at-large, assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, and undersecretary of state for political affairs, which made him available for tasks that did not interest Secretary of State Rusk. These appointments led to a series of international missions that took him all over the world. He enjoyed them, as he loved to travel. Among other tasks, he took up the problem of civil war in Laos, which the Kennedy administration considered its largest international problem until the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Here he was in his element, willing to negotiate patiently and, when necessary, badger the factional leaders into achieving peace, which he appeared to have attained by the time the negotiation came to an end (although critics later claimed that he only had made Laotian territory available as a highway for men and supplies passing from North to South Vietnam). In 1963 Harriman negotiated and signed the limited test-ban treaty, a momentary triumph during a decade of tense Soviet-American relations. He continued as undersecretary for political affairs in the Johnson administration and in 1965 resumed the post of ambassador-at-large. In this role he began negotiations for peace in Vietnam, which were concluded by the subsequent administration of Richard M. Nixon. The advent of the Nixon presidency brought Harriman's nearly thirty-year diplomatic and political career to an end. He continued his interest in foreign policy and, as a private citizen, journeyed to many places, including the Soviet Union, where he talked with leading figures in Moscow. Undertaking to write his memoirs, he resorted to several assistants, but, except for a book about his World War II work in Britain and Russia, which was written in collaboration with the journalist Elie Abel, he did not approve of their work. Gradually, as age limited his activities, he slowed down. Increasing deafness made conversation difficult, and his eyesight nearly failed. In his last years he suffered from bone cancer. He died in Westchester County, New York. Harriman's life spanned the century from President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) to Ronald Reagan, two vastly different eras. His movement from business to politics, particularly international affairs, well-reflected the basic power change of his time. His strengths as a negotiator and envoy did not lie in personal relations. Having started at the top, he disliked dealing with people below. This fact was evident in business dealings and government assignments, in which he always sought out the source of authority. If he had to deal with lower levels, he did his best to retrace quickly his steps to the top. In diplomacy he fared best as the protege of Hopkins in 1941-1943, and as an administrator of the Marshall Plan and Mutual Security Administration, when his forceful personality made an impression. In his occasional forays into domestic politics he invariably proved inept. Bibliography Harriman's papers are in the Library of Congress. They include a remarkable series of memoranda by one of Harriman's literary assistants, Mark L. Chadwin, which were compiled from interviews with Harriman and other individuals. The National Archives contains major files of documents that concern his offices and posts. His memoir is W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin: 1941-1946 (1975). The only biography, Rudy Abramson, Spanning the Century: The Life of W. Averell Harriman, 1891-1986 (1992), is based in part on interviews with its subject and friends and acquaintances. Harriman wrote Peace with Russia? (1959) and America and Russia in a Changing World: A Half Century of Personal Observation (1971). An obituary is in the New York Times, 27 July 1986. Robert H. Ferrell Citation: Robert H. Ferrell. "Harriman, W. Averell"; http://www.anb.org/articles/07/07-00120.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Copyright Notice Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the American National Biography of the Day and Sample Biographies provided that the following statement is preserved on all copies: From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org. =