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Mellon: An American Life

af David Cannadine

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273572,555 (3.88)2
A landmark work from one of the preeminent historians of our time: the first published biography of Andrew W. Mellon, the American colossus who bestrode the worlds of industry, government, and philanthropy, leaving his transformative stamp on each. Following a boyhood in nineteenth-century Pittsburgh, during which he learned from his Scotch-Irish immigrant father the lessons of self-sufficiency and accumulation of wealth, Andrew Mellon overcame painful shyness to become one of America’s greatest financiers. Across an unusually diverse range of enterprises, from banking to oil to aluminum manufacture, he would build a legendary personal fortune, tracking America’s course to global economic supremacy. Personal happiness, however, eluded him: his loveless marriage at forty-five to a British girl less than half his age ended in a scandalous divorce, and for all his best efforts, he would remain a stranger to his children. He had been bred to do one thing, and that he did with brilliant and innovative entrepreneurship. The Mellon way was to hold companies closely, including such iconic enterprises as Alcoa and Gulf Oil. Collecting art, a pursuit inspired by his close friend Henry Clay Frick, would become his only nonprofessional gratification. And by the end of his life, Mellon’s “pictures” would constitute one of the world’s foremost private collections. Mellon’s wealth and name allowed him to dominate Pennsylvania politics, and late in life he was invited to Washington. As treasury secretary under presidents Harding, Coolidge, and finally Hoover, he made the federal government run like a business—prefiguring the public official as CEO. But this man of straightforward conservative politics was no politician. He would be hailed as the architect of the Roaring Twenties, but, staying too long, would be blamed for the Great Depression, eventually to find himself a broken idol. The New Deal overthrew Andrew Mellon’s every fiscal assumption, starting with the imperative of balanced budgets. Indeed, he would become the emblem—and the scapegoat—for the Republican conviction and policy that the role of government is to help business create national wealth and jobs. At the age of seventy-nine, the former treasury secretary suffered the ultimate humiliation: prosecution by FDR’s government on charges of tax evasion. In the end Mellon would be exonerated, as he always trusted he would be, and throughout the trial, which lasted more than a year, he never abandoned what had become his last dream: to make a great gift to the American people. The National Gallery of Art remains his most tangible legacy, although he did not live to see its completion. The issues Andrew W. Mellon confronted—concerning government, business, influence, the individual and the public good—remain at the center of our national discourse to this day. Indeed, the positions he steadfastly held reemerged relatively intact with the Reagan revolution, having lain dormant since the New Deal. David Cannadine’s magisterial biography brings to life a towering, controversial figure, casting new light on our history and the evolution of our public values.… (mere)
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Mellon, Andrew W (Subject)
  LOM-Lausanne | Apr 30, 2020 |
Mellon An American Life by David Cannadine

biography of Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937)

Sir David Cannadine joined Princeton in the fall of 2008, having previously held positions at Cambridge, Columbia and London Universities.

"Andrew W. Mellon belonged to a remarkable American generation which witnessed the creation and accumulation of individual fortunes in unprecedented abundance by such men as Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Morgan, and Frick."

The Mellons were Protestant Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in south western Pennsylvania in 1818.

Father, Thomas (known in later years as the judge) instilled self sufficiency and an entrepreneurial
spirit in his sons.
Thomas began the accumulation of family wealth.
The Mellons were one catalyst in the transformation of western Pennsylvania into one of the then richest industrial regions in the United States.
Among the many companies Andrew would later help to found and fund were ALCOA, Carborundum, Koppers, and Gulf Oil.
Andrew excelled as "businessman and banker; as a politician and statesman; as an art collector; and as a philanthropist. "
During his life, Andrew gave away nearly ten million dollars.
He was very generous to charitable endeavors and educational institutions in Pittsburgh.
But, his most famous gift was to the American people in money and fine art to establish the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Besides being a financial pioneer, he was
49th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office.....March 9, 1921 – February 12, 1932.

Cannadine ,as biographer, provided a very rich reading experience.
He approached A W Mellon holistically and I felt he investigated all pertinent phases of Mellon's life and personality.

-------------------
★★★★★
Being someone who loves the tapestry that is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...I call it a read worth your time ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 31, 2016 |
Andrew Mellon was many things in his long life: master financier, Gilded Age plutocrat, art collector, and the US Treasury Secretary popularly credited with creating the unprecedented prosperity of the 1920s and widely blamed for the catastrophe of the Great Depression of the 1930s (rather like former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan in our day). British historian David Cannadine does an outstanding job of describing all of these Mellons, and of placing them in the context of their times.

Not an easy task, because Mellon was a cold, withdrawn character not much given to introspection and, it seems, largely baffled by life outside of the financial world. Even his one "hobby," art collecting, seemed to have been sparked more by a desire to drive a hard bargain than by any deep aesthetic feeling. That may be unfair, of course. Cannadine acknowledges that Mellon may have had his emotional depths. But even this most able of biographers cannot find them. Not surprisingly, his relationships with his wife and children were distant and, at times, quite difficult, even to the point of provoking scandal. Mellon seems to have been the type who was alone even in a crowd.

So, why is he worth reading about? One reason is the important role he played in the industrialization of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the heartland of coal and steel - Pittsburgh. He was the contemporary of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, friend of coal baron Henry Clay Frick, and financial backer of aluminum pioneer Arthur Vining Davis (whose monopoly profits still finance worthy PBS programs), all enormously wealthy Pittsburgh luminaries. Unlike those industrialists, Mellon's genius lay in finance, and he had a knack for chosing winning investments (in banking, steel, coal, aluminum, and oil - he was a founder of Gulf Oil). He outlived most of his peers (he died in 1937 at age 82) and thus witnessed both the rise and decline of Pittsburgh's industrial glory. He also lived long enough to see himself reviled as the epitome of elitest greed and oppression - but never understood why some might see him that way.

Mellon is also worth considering as another kind of epitome - the hyper-individualistic entrepreneur. The product of a prim, thrifty Scotch-Irish family and a father dedicated to pursuing profit above all else, Mellon was first, foremost, and always focused on business and the accumulation of money. Not that he was in any way ostentatious. Just the opposite was true; it was the making of money, not the fact of great wealth or what it could buy, that apparently drove him. He lived well, but (compared with his peers) modestly. He believed absolutely in the free market, opposed government regulation at all levels, worked to defeat organized labor whenever and wherever possible, and perceived no conflict between his own interests and those of the American people and nation. On the other hand, Cannadine insists he was scrupulous in paying taxes and that he refused to resort to tax loopholes or other forms of tax avoidance - a fact that stymied the Roosevelt Administration when it vainly tried, apparently for political reasons, to convict him of tax evasion in the 1930s.

In the end, he was something of a tragic figure, if for no other reason than his own inability to understand that America in the 1930s was no longer the same country of his youth. Still, he does seem, in his old age, to have developed a desire to give something back to the American people. And thus we can all enjoy the National Gallery of Art, on the Mall in Washington, DC, which Mellon paid for out of his own pocket and to which he donated the most impressive private American art collection of the time. Despite his central role in creating the institution, which opened in 1941, he refused to have it carry his name. Later, his foundation and his children financed the I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery, which opened in 1978. His name is largely forgotten now, and even students at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh (which he helped found) are probably more familiar with the first name than the second.

This book benefits greatly from the fact that Cannadine is an able historian as well as a biographer. His treatment of Mellon in the 1920s and 1930s is especially interesting, because of the momentous economic changes the nation experienced during that tumultuous 20 years. Mellon spent ten years as secretary of the Treasury and ex officio chairman of the Federal Reserve Board (the two positions were not separated until 1935), under three Republican presidents. At the Treasury, he reduced the debt from World War I and reformed the tax code (in favor of the rich), steps which helped fuel the prosperity of the 1920s. As a Fed leader, he bears some responsibility (along with the Fed governors) for not taking active measures after the 1929 stock market crash to counter the deflationary spiral that collapsed the banking system and plunged the world into depression between 1931 and 1933.

Mellon was unwavering in his commitment to laissez-faire economic principles even as the depression destroyed lives and livelihoods. His prescription was to "liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate...." He opposed Hoover's and, later, Roosevelt's efforts to stimulate economic growth and fight unemployment. He approved of private charity (to which he contributed in Pittsburgh), but saw no role for the government in helping the unemployed or destitute. As Cannadine puts it, "Mellon accepted the brutal inequities of capitalism at its harshest with nary a thought, much less a qualm." No doubt these attitudes, which he freely expressed and never questioned, contributed to the decline of his public reputation in the depression years. But the pendulum eventually swung back in his direction - during the Reagan years, "'New Republicans' and 'supply-siders' rediscovered and hailed Mellon as the dishonored prophet of small government and fiscal responsibility, of committed and systematic tax cuts (especially for the rich), and of the universal benefits of 'trickle down' economics." ( )
2 stem walbat | Nov 23, 2010 |
Herbert Spencer, English philosopher: credited for the quote "survival of the fittest".
Robert Burns, poet and lyricist: favorite son of Scotland.
His father was Thomas Mellon, a self-made millionaire.
Contemporary of Carnegie and Frisk.
Pittsburg is the Mellon and Carnegie hometown.
The Mellon family were at odd with the East coast upper class (New York, Boston...) who consider them as less sophisticated.
"Other People's Money and How the Bankers Use It" is a collection of essays written by Louis Brandeis published as a book in 1914. The book attacked the use of investment funds to promote the consolidation of various industries under the control of a small number of corporations, which Brandeis alleged were working in concert to prevent competition.
Woodrow Wilson ordered the creation of the FTC to fight anti-competitive practices and the Federal Reserve to help prevent sharp market crashes.
Robert K. Duncan was a chemist who encouraged Mellon to create Mellon Institute at the university of Pittsburg. The goal of the institute was to do industrial research for future products.
Rockefeller: Oil magnet
Vanderbilt: Rail road magnet
Carnegie: Steel magnet
JP Morgan: Finance magnet
Around 1932, Britain moved away from the gold standard. Most European countries followed suit.
In around 1933, with the election of Roosevelt, Black votes start shifting to the democratic party.
Mellon was US ambassador to Britain for about 11 months. He was about to be impeached from his position as treasury secretary.
Roosevelt presidency was a monumental shift in American attitude toward capital and big businesses.
Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to bring economic development to the most empoverished area of the country. The building of damns and canal helps reduce frequent flooding and allowed farmer to irrigate their crops.
Roosevelt went after Mellon in a vindictive manner. He enleached the IRS and FTC against Mellon interests.
Andrew Mellon chose the architect John Russell Pope to build the National Gallery of Arts in Washington.
Mellon donated his art collection to the government to become the nucleus for a national art gallery.
Mellon died in 1937 of cancer. His relationship with his son Paul Mellon was distant. ( )
1 stem amadouwane | Aug 19, 2008 |
4270 Mellon An American Life, by David Cannadine (read 8 Feb 2007) This is a new biography of Andrew Mellon (born 24 March 1855 in Pittsburgh, Secretary of the Treasury from 1921 to 1932, died 26 Aug 1937 on Long Island, NY). The book often refers to his father's book and his son's: Thomas Mellon and His Times, by Thomas Mellon (read 28 Oct 1995) and Reflections in a Silver Spoon: A Memoir by Paul Mellon with John Baskett (read 2 Mar 1996) The story of how Andrew became very rich in Pittsburgh is related very well, as is the story of his unfortunate marriage in his middle age, and the painful divorce he went thru. His time as Treasury Secretary is also told well and his inspiration to endow the National Gallery of Art makes an interesting story. The book tells the bad with the good, though it is sympathetic to Mellon. It is as good a biography as I have read in a long time, and should win a Pulitzer prize, though I suppose it won't since its subject is not a fashionable one. ( )
1 stem Schmerguls | Oct 28, 2007 |
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A landmark work from one of the preeminent historians of our time: the first published biography of Andrew W. Mellon, the American colossus who bestrode the worlds of industry, government, and philanthropy, leaving his transformative stamp on each. Following a boyhood in nineteenth-century Pittsburgh, during which he learned from his Scotch-Irish immigrant father the lessons of self-sufficiency and accumulation of wealth, Andrew Mellon overcame painful shyness to become one of America’s greatest financiers. Across an unusually diverse range of enterprises, from banking to oil to aluminum manufacture, he would build a legendary personal fortune, tracking America’s course to global economic supremacy. Personal happiness, however, eluded him: his loveless marriage at forty-five to a British girl less than half his age ended in a scandalous divorce, and for all his best efforts, he would remain a stranger to his children. He had been bred to do one thing, and that he did with brilliant and innovative entrepreneurship. The Mellon way was to hold companies closely, including such iconic enterprises as Alcoa and Gulf Oil. Collecting art, a pursuit inspired by his close friend Henry Clay Frick, would become his only nonprofessional gratification. And by the end of his life, Mellon’s “pictures” would constitute one of the world’s foremost private collections. Mellon’s wealth and name allowed him to dominate Pennsylvania politics, and late in life he was invited to Washington. As treasury secretary under presidents Harding, Coolidge, and finally Hoover, he made the federal government run like a business—prefiguring the public official as CEO. But this man of straightforward conservative politics was no politician. He would be hailed as the architect of the Roaring Twenties, but, staying too long, would be blamed for the Great Depression, eventually to find himself a broken idol. The New Deal overthrew Andrew Mellon’s every fiscal assumption, starting with the imperative of balanced budgets. Indeed, he would become the emblem—and the scapegoat—for the Republican conviction and policy that the role of government is to help business create national wealth and jobs. At the age of seventy-nine, the former treasury secretary suffered the ultimate humiliation: prosecution by FDR’s government on charges of tax evasion. In the end Mellon would be exonerated, as he always trusted he would be, and throughout the trial, which lasted more than a year, he never abandoned what had become his last dream: to make a great gift to the American people. The National Gallery of Art remains his most tangible legacy, although he did not live to see its completion. The issues Andrew W. Mellon confronted—concerning government, business, influence, the individual and the public good—remain at the center of our national discourse to this day. Indeed, the positions he steadfastly held reemerged relatively intact with the Reagan revolution, having lain dormant since the New Deal. David Cannadine’s magisterial biography brings to life a towering, controversial figure, casting new light on our history and the evolution of our public values.

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