Averell Harriman: Wikis


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William Averell Harriman

In office
January 1, 1955 – December 31, 1958
Lieutenant George De Luca
Preceded by Thomas E. Dewey
Succeeded by Nelson A. Rockefeller

In office
23 October 1943 – 24 January 1946
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by William H. Standley
Succeeded by Walter Bedell Smith

In office
Preceded by John G. Winant
Succeeded by Lewis W. Douglas

In office
October 7, 1946 – April 22, 1948
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Henry A. Wallace
Succeeded by Charles W. Sawyer

Born November 15, 1891(1891-11-15)
New York City, New York
Died July 26, 1986 (aged 94)
Yorktown Heights, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Kitty Lanier Lawrence (divorced)
Marie Norton Whitney (her death)
Pamela Beryl Digby Churchill Hayward
Alma mater Yale University

William Averell Harriman (November 15, 1891  – July 26, 1986) was an American Democratic Party politician, businessman, and diplomat. He was the son of railroad baron E. H. Harriman. He served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman and later as the 48th Governor of New York. He was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1952, and again in 1956 when he was endorsed by President Truman but lost to Adlai Stevenson. Harriman served President Franklin D. Roosevelt as special envoy to Europe and served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and U.S. Ambassador to Britain. He served in various positions in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.


Early life

William Averell Harriman was born in New York City, the son of railroad baron Edward Henry Harriman and Mary Williamson Averell, and brother of E. Roland Harriman. Harriman was a close friend of Hall Roosevelt (brother of Eleanor Roosevelt).

During the summer of 1899, Harriman's father organized the Harriman Alaska Expedition, a philanthropic-scientific survey of coastal Alaska and Russia that attracted twenty-five of the leading scientific, naturalist and artist luminaries of the day, including John Muir, John Burroughs, George Bird Grinnell, C. Hart Merriam, Grove Karl Gilbert, and Edward Curtis, along with 100 family members and staff, aboard the steamship George Elder. Young Harriman would have his first introduction to the nation - Russia - that he would spend a significant amount of attention on in his later life in public service.

He attended Groton School in Massachusetts before going on to Yale where he joined the Skull and Bones society. He graduated in 1913.

Business affairs

Using money from his father, in 1922 he established W.A. Harriman & Co, a banking business. In 1927, his brother Roland joined the business and the name was changed to Harriman Brothers & Company. In 1931, they merged with Brown Bros. & Co. to create the highly successful Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.. Notable employees included George Herbert Walker and his son-in-law Prescott Bush.

Harriman's main properties included Brown Brothers & Harriman & Co, Union Pacific Railroad, Merchant Shipping Corporation, and various venture capital investments including the Polaroid Corporation. Harriman's associated properties included the Southern Pacific Railroad (including the Central Pacific Railroad), Illinois Central Railroad, Wells Fargo & Co., the Pacific Mail Steamship Co., American Shipping & Commerce (HAPAG), the American Hawaiian Steamship Co., United American Lines, the Guaranty Trust Company, and the Union Banking Corporation.

Thoroughbred racing

Following the death of August Belmont, Jr. in 1924, Harriman, George Walker, and Joseph E. Widener purchased much of Belmont's Thoroughbred breeding stock. Harriman raced under the name of Arden Farms. Among his horses, Chance Play won the 1927 Jockey Club Gold Cup. As well, he raced in partnership with Walker under the name Log Cabin Stable. U.S. Racing Hall of Fame inductee Louis Feustel, trainer of Man o' War, trained the Log Cabin horses until 1926. [1] Of the partnership's successful runners purchased from the August Belmont estate, Ladkin is best remembered for defeating the European star Epinard in the International Special No. 2.

War seizures controversy

While Averell Harriman served as Senior Partner of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., Harriman Bank was the main Wall Street connection for German companies and the varied U.S. financial interests of Fritz Thyssen, who had been an early financial backer of the Nazi party until 1938, but who by 1939 had fled Germany and was bitterly denouncing Adolf Hitler. Business transactions for profit with Nazi Germany were not illegal when Hitler declared war on the US, but, six days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Trading With the Enemy Act after it had been made public that U.S. companies were doing business with the declared enemy of the United States. On October 20, 1942, the U.S. government ordered the seizure of Nazi German banking operations in New York City.[citation needed]

The Harriman business interests seized under the act in October and November 1942 included:[citation needed]

  • Union Banking Corporation (UBC) (for Thyssen and Brown Brothers Harriman).
  • Holland-American Trading Corporation (with Harriman)
  • the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation (with Harriman)
  • Silesian-American Corporation (this company was partially owned by a German entity; during the war the Germans tried to take the full control of Silesian-American. In response to that, American government seized German owned minority shares in the company, leaving the U.S. partners to carry on the portion of the business in the United States.)

The assets were held by the government for the duration of the war, then returned afterward. UBC was dissolved in 1951.

Diplomatic and political career

Averell Harriman (center) with Winston Churchill (right) and Vyacheslav Molotov (left)

Harriman served President Franklin D. Roosevelt as special envoy to Europe, and was present at the meeting between Winston Churchill and the US president at Placentia Bay in August 1941. The outcome of this five-day meeting became known as the Atlantic Charter, a common declaration of principles of the US and the UK. He served as the US Ambassador to Soviet Union between 1943 and 1946 and the Ambassador to Britain in 1946.

In 1945, while Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Harriman was presented with a Trojan Horse gift. In 1952, the gift, a carved wood Great Seal of the United States, which had adorned "the ambassador’s Moscow residential office" in Spaso House, was found to be bugged.[1][2]

He was later appointed the United States Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman to replace Henry A. Wallace, a critic of Truman's foreign policies. Harriman served between 1946 and 1948. He was then in Paris, where he was put in charge of the Marshall Plan, and had friendly relations with Irving Brown, a CIA agent charged of the international relations of the AFL-CIO [3][4]. Harrimann was then sent to Teheran in July 1951 to mediate between Persia and Britain in the wake of the Persian nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.[5]

In the 1954 race to succeed Republican Thomas E. Dewey as Governor of New York, Harriman defeated Dewey's protege, U.S. Senator Irving M. Ives, by a tiny margin. He served as governor for one term until Republican Nelson Rockefeller defeated him in 1958. As governor, he increased personal taxes by 11% but his tenure was dominated by his presidential ambitions. Harriman was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1952, and again in 1956 when he was endorsed by Truman but lost (both times) to Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. Harriman was generally considered to be on the left or liberal wing of the Democratic party, hence his losing out to the more moderate Stevenson.

His presidential ambitions defeated, Harriman became a widely-respected elder statesman of the party. In January 1961, he was appointed Ambassador at Large in the Kennedy administration, a position he held until November, when he became Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. In December 1961, Anatoliy Golitsyn defected from the Soviet Union and named Harriman a Soviet spy, but Harriman nonetheless remained in his position until April 1963, when he became Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. He continued in that position in the Lyndon Johnson administration, until March 1965 when he again became Ambassador at Large, a position he would hold for the remainder of Johnson's presidency. Harriman was the chief US negotiator at the Paris peace talks on Vietnam.

Harriman is noted for supporting, on behalf of the state department, the coup against Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. Johnson's confession in the assassination of Diem could indicate some complicity on Harriman's part.[6] [7]

Harriman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and West Point's Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1975.

Family life

His first marriage was to Kitty Lanier Lawrence, whom he had divorced before her death in 1936. He subsequently married Marie Norton Whitney, who left her husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, to marry him. They remained married until her death in 1970.

His third and final marriage was in 1971 to Pamela Beryl Digby Churchill Hayward, the former wife of Winston Churchill's son Randolph, and widow of Broadway producer Leland Hayward. Harriman died in 1986 in Yorktown Heights, New York, aged 94. He and Pamela are buried at Arden Farm Graveyard in Arden, New York.


Summary of career

  • Vice President, Union Pacific Railroad Co., 1915-17
  • Director, Illinois Central Railroad Co., 1915-46
  • Member, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, 1915-54
  • Chairman, Merchant Shipbuilding Corp.,1917-25
  • Chairman, W. A. Harriman & Company, 1920-31
  • Partner, Soviet Georgian Manganese Concessions, 1925-28
  • Chairman, executive committee, Illinois Central Railroad, 1931-42
  • Senior partner, Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., 1931-46
  • Chairman, Union Pacific Railroad, 1932-46
  • Co-founded Today magazine with Vincent Astor, 1935-37 (merged with Newsweek in 1937)
  • Administrator and Special Assistant, National Recovery Administration, 1934-35
  • Founded, Sun Valley Ski Resort, Idaho, 1936
  • Chairman, Business Advisory Council, 1937-39
  • Chief, Materials Branch & Production Division, Office of Production Management, 1941
  • US Ambassador & Special Representative to the Prime Minister of Britain, 1941-43
  • Chairman, Ambassador & Special Representative of the US President's Special Mission to the USSR, 1941-43
  • US Ambassador to the USSR, 1943-46
  • US Ambassador, Britain, 1946
  • US Secretary of Commerce, 1946-48
  • United States Coordinator, European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan), 1948-50
  • Special Assistant to the U.S. President, 1950-52
  • US Representative and Chairman, North Atlantic Commission on Defense Plans, 1951-52
  • Director, Mutual Security Agency, 1951-53
  • Candidate, Democratic nomination for US President, 1952
  • Governor, State of New York, 1955-58
  • Candidate, Democratic nomination for US President, 1956
  • US Ambassador-at-large, 1961
  • United States Deputy Representative, International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian, 1961-62
  • Assistant US Secretary of State, Far Eastern Affairs, 1961-63
  • Special Representative to the US President, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 1963
  • Under US Secretary of State, Political Affairs, 1963-65
  • US Ambassador-at-large, 1965-69
  • Chairman, President's Commission of the Observance of Human Rights Year, 1968
  • Personal Representative of the US President, Peace Talks with North Vietnam, 1968-69
  • Chairman, Foreign Policy Task Force, Democratic National Committee, 1976
  • Member, American Academy of Diplomacy Charter, Club of Rome, Council on Foreign Relations, Knights of Pythias, Skull and Bones Society, Psi Upsilon Fraternity and the Jupiter Island Club.

See also


  1. ^ The Great Seal
  2. ^ http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/R?r101:FLD001:E53490,E53490 INTRODUCTION TO `EMBASSY MOSCOW: ATTITUDES AND ERRORS' – (BY HENRY J. HYDE, REPUBLICAN OF ILLINOIS) (Extension of Remarks - October 26, 1988) page [E3490]
  3. ^ Harry Kelber, « AFL-CIO’s Dark Past », 22 November 2004, on laboreducator.org
  4. ^ Frédéric Charpier, La CIA en France. 60 ans d'ingérence dans les affaires françaises, Seuil, 2008, p. 40-43. See also Les belles aventures de la CIA en France, 8 January, 2008, Bakchich.
  5. ^ http://www.bibliothecapersica.com/articles/v12f1/v12f1011.html
  6. ^ http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1963_1104_jfk_vietnam_memoir.html
  7. ^ http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1966_0201_lbj_mccarthy_vietnam.html


  • Rudy Abramson. Spanning the Century: The Life of W. Averell Harriman, 1891-1986 (1992), 779pp
    • review by Hogan, Michael J. "The Vice Men of Foreign Policy" . Reviews in American History 1993 21(2): 320-328. ISSN 0048-7511 Fulltext in Jstor
  • Bland, Larry I. "Averell Harriman, the Russians and the Origins of the Cold War in Europe, 1943-45." Australian Journal of Politics and History 1977 23(3): 403-416. ISSN 0004-9522 Abstract: Portrays Harriman, Roosevelt's lend-lease expediter in London, and later ambassador in Moscow, as representative of "the best in the American diplomatic tradition." The rich, well travelled son of a railroad magnate broke with his class in 1932 and became a New Dealer. He took a "Wilsonian liberalism" into diplomatic affairs, but by 1943 urged hard reciprocal bargaining with the Russians. His optimism about Soviet postwar intentions was shaken in 1945 by the fate of Poland and the prisoners of war issue, and he became a pioneer "cold warrior." By the 1960s he was wanting to "de-escalate the rhetoric." Concludes that the irony of Harriman's ambassadorship is that some of his sound advice of 1943-44 was ignored, while his rather shrill rhetoric of 1945 was accepted as expert advice.
  • Chandler, Harriette L. "The Transition to Cold Warrior: the Evolution of W. Averell Harriman's Assessment of the U.S.S.R.'s Polish Policy, October 1943-Warsaw Uprising." East European Quarterly 1976 10(2): 229-245. ISSN 0012-8449. Abstract: Although Harriman helped develop the philosophical foundations of the Containment Policy he approached his job as Ambassador to the USSR with considerable understanding and acceptance of the goals of Soviet foreign policy. His position was generally conciliatory toward the Soviet Union until Stalin's stern refusal to aid the beleaguered Poles in the Warsaw Uprising convinced him that the "Soviet will could be bent, if at all, only by hard bargaining, a readiness to apply pressure by withholding favors, and a willingness to do without Soviet assistance in some other areas." Based on recently declassified documents.
  • Clemens, Diane S. "Averell Harriman, John Deane, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the 'Reversal of Co-operation' with the Soviet Union in April 1945." International History Review 1992 14(2): 277-306. ISSN 0707-5332. Discusses the events of April 1945 that led to a change in US policy concerning the Soviet Union. Harriman, ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Major-General John Deane, commanding general of the US military mission to Moscow, had been urging Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take a firmer stance against Stalin and his plans for Eastern Europe, especially as they concerned the formation of the new government in Poland. After Roosevelt died, Harriman and Deane were able to convince President Harry Truman to stand firm, and by the end of the month US-Soviet relations were deteriorating. According to the author, the Cold War had begun.
  • Isaacson, Walter and Thomas, Evan. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made 1986. 853 pp.
  • Langer, John Daniel. "The Harriman-beaverbrook Mission and the Debate over Unconditional Aid for the Soviet Union, 1941." Journal of Contemporary History 1979 14(3): 463-482. ISSN 0022-0094 Fulltext in Jstor. Abstract: US presidential adviser Harry Hopkins, suggested a mission to Moscow to determine Russian needs after the Nazi invasion. In mid-September 1941 W. Averell Harriman, US lend-lease representative in London, and Lord Beaverbrook, British supply minister, met with Joseph Stalin and offered incredibly generous aid. It was vainly anticipated that the USSR would reciprocate with information. Instead the formal protocol sealing the conference was but a restatement of Allied promises of specific help. The United States treated the protocol as sacred and even after Pearl Harbor gave preference to supplies to Russia before meeting the needs of American forces. Friendship with the Soviet Union, in the interest of peace, was to be won at any price.
  • Larsh, William. "W. Averell Harriman and the Polish Question, December 1943-August 1944." East European Politics and Societies 1993 7(3): 513-554. ISSN 0888-3254. A detailed investigation of the Harriman Papers, resulting in an appeal for a reexamination of American foreign policy and diplomacy during World War II, especially regarding the Polish question, and a new look at the origins of the Cold War. Czechoslovakia's Eduard Benes and the Czech solution had considerable influence on W. Averell Harriman and his optimistic belief that the USSR would honor its declarations for an independent Poland and exercise a restrained predominance in other East European matters.
  • Moynihan, Daniel Patrick and Wilson, James Q. "Patronage in New York State, 1955-1959." American Political Science Review 1964 58(2): 286-301. ISSN 0003-0554 Fulltext in Jstor. Abstract: An analysis of the efforts of the Harriman administration "to discover and apply guidelines for patronage decisions which would optimize the attainment of two potentially conflicting goals," namely, "staffing the government with competent and attractive administrators, and acquiring and consolidating power over the party apparatus."
  • Paterson, Thomas G. "The Abortive American Loan to Russia and the Origins of the Cold War, 1943-1946." Journal of American History 1969 56(1): 70-92. ISSN 0021-8723 Fulltext in Jstor. Abstract: In January 1945 the USSR requested a loan of six billion dollars from the United States to finance the purchase of industrial equipment, railroad equipment, and manufactured goods. Harriman dismissed the Russian terms as unreasonable and urged that the obvious Soviet need for a loan be used as a diplomatic weapon. The Truman administration followed this proposal, but failed to prepare Congress or public opinion for a loan and refused to enter into serious negotiations over it at Teheran. Russia was miffed at American "dollar diplomacy" at a time when a large British loan was negotiated at two percent interest. The USSR refused to accept the U.S. price of an "open door" in Eastern Europe, Soviet membership in Bretton Woods institutions, and compliance with U.S. international economic policy. The loan controversy may have worsened relations over reparations and East European questions.
  • Wehrle, Edmund F. "'A Good, Bad Deal': John F. Kennedy, W. Averell Harriman, and the Neutralization of Laos, 1961-1962." Pacific Historical Review 1998 67(3): 349-377. ISSN 0030-8684 Abstract: In the case of Laos, Kennedy sought to establish a truly neutral government in the volatile region of Southeast Asia. At Kennedy's behest, his special ambassador, W. Averell Harriman, sought a government in Laos that included nationalists, democrats, socialists, and Communists. Kennedy and Harriman secured Soviet support for a coalition government under Prince Souvana Phouma. In 1962 it looked as if the plan had been successful, but while the government remained in place for a decade Soviet and American support for true neutrality waned within a few years.

Primary sources

  • W. Averell Harriman. America and Russia in a changing world: A half century of personal observation (1971)
  • W. Averell Harriman. Public papers of Averell Harriman, fifty-second governor of the state of New York, 1955-1959 (1960)
  • Harriman, W. Averell and Abel, Elie. Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946. (1975). 595 pp.

External links

W. Averell Harriman has been interviewed as part of Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, a site at the Library of Congress.

Preceded by
Robert Daniel Murphy
Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient
Succeeded by
Gordon Gray
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas E. Dewey
Governor of New York
1955 – 1958
Succeeded by
Nelson Rockefeller


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