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William McCormick Blair (May 2, 1884, Chicago – March 29, 1982, Washington, D.C), was an American financier.



His father, Edwin Tyler Blair, was the son of William M. Blair, who founded the first wholesale hardware house in Chicago. Edwin was a Yale graduate and spent his life working in his father's firm. He was very wealthy, and employed four Swedish servants to manage the house while his children were growing up.

By 1930 he was living in a house that would be valued at around $2.2 million in 2005, with an army of Scandinavian hired help. William McCormick Blair's mother Anna Reubenia McCormick was the daughter of the reaper manufacturer, William Sanderson McCormick. Her grandfather was Robert Hall McCormick, who invented the threshing machine and the blacksmith's bellows.

William graduated from Groton School in 1903, and received a BA from Yale in 1907. At Yale, he was a member of Skull and Bones. His son, Bowen Blair notes that Skull and Bones were most eager to have him among their ranks. He later received honorary degrees from Northwestern University and Lake Forest College.

Upon graduation he entered the Northern Trust Company of Chicago. Shortly after, he entered the bond brokerage firm, David Reid & Co. In 1909 he moved to Lee, Higginson and rose through the ranks, becoming managing partner of its Chicago office.

When it looked as if America would enter the war in 1917, Blair was involved with the Four-Minute Men of Chicago, giving speeches during intermissions at the cinema. He was also active in the sale of War Bonds. When the Four-Minute Men were absorbed by the Committee on Public Information, he went to Washington to be its director. As the war came to a close he enlisted in the Army and trained in a New York base.

After the war he continued with Lee, Higginson, but due the underwriting of Swedish magnate Ivar Kreuger the firm went bankrupt.

In 1934 he was associated with Francis A. Bonner, who was also at Lee, Higginson. Together the two were organising a financial company of their own. Blair was left with no money after the collapse of Lee, Higginson, but he managed to obtain $50,000 from Joseph and Edward Ryerson, John and Douglas Stuart of Quaker Oats and Roger Shepherd.

Their firm was opened on January 8, 1935 as Blair, Bonner & Co. Against all odds the firms succeeded, and was a popular choice for Midwestern financing. In its early days it assisted the growth of the Household Finance Corporation, Continental Casualty and Continental Assurance.

In 1941 Bonner left the company, and it was renamed William Blair & Company. The firm was managed by five partners: William Blair, Wallace Flower, Donald Miehls, Lee Ostrander and Daniel Ritter.

In 1946 Blair's sons, William McCormick Blair, Jr., Edward McCormick Blair and Bowen Blair joined the firm. Blair, Sr. stepped down as managing partner in 1961, and handed the reins over to son Edward.

He remained a senior partner of William Blair & Company until his death in 1982. The firm has since counted such notables as Donald Rumsfeld among its directors.

Blair was a director of the Continental Casualty Co., the Continental Assurance Co. and the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Co. He was a Life Trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, a University of Chicago Life Trustee, Trustee of the Field Museum of Natural History, Trustee of Groton School, and Trustee of the Yale Alumni Board. Blair was also on the Board of Trustees at The Scripps Research Institute.


In 1980, Blair guided the founding of the David Adler Music and Arts Center (formerly known as the David Adler Cultural Center) in Libertyville, Illinois. The center is located on the property that once was the home the famous architect, David Adler, who had bequeathed it to the city. Blair had been the client, neighbor, and friend of Adler, and had recruited Adler to become a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1925.

He has been decorated as a chevalier in the Légion d'honneur and as a commander in the Royal Order of Vasa.

See also




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