John J. Raskob

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John J. Raskob LOC.jpg

John Jakob Raskob, KCSG (19 March 1879 – 15 October 1950) was a financial executive and businessman for DuPont and General Motors, and the builder of the Empire State Building. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1928 to 1932 and a key supporter of Alfred E. Smith's candidacy for President of the United States.

After Franklin D. Roosevelt became President, Raskob was a prominent opponent of the New Deal through his support of a number of anti-Roosevelt organizations including the American Liberty League. Raskob was also a leader in the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.

Early life[edit]

Raskob was born to John and Anna Frances (née Moran) Raskob, in Lockport, New York, where his father ran a successful cigar-production business.[1] His parents were of German and Irish descent, respectively. The Raskob family originated in the Eifel region in Germany. Raskob's grandfather was an emigrant from the village of Großlittgen in Eifel. During his studies at both parochial and public schools, Raskob delivered newspapers, worked in seasonal agriculture, participated in local theater, and was involved in the Catholic community.[clarification needed] He entered a local business school after his high school graduation but dropped out to support his family through secretarial work following his father's death in 1898.[citation needed]

Career[edit]

DuPont and General Motors[edit]

Pierre S. du Pont and John J. Raskob.
Raskob selected as Chairman of Democratic National Committee.

He was hired in 1901 by Pierre S. du Pont as a personal secretary. In 1911, he became assistant treasurer of DuPont, in 1914 treasurer, and in 1918 vice-president for finance of both DuPont and General Motors. Raskob had been an early investor in General Motors and had engineered DuPont's ownership of 43% of GM, purchased from the financially troubled William C. Durant.

While with GM, he led the creation of General Motors Acceptance Corporation, the corporation that allowed GM dealers to offer installment credit directly to customers. He also promoted the use of standard financial statistics to measure the performance of different operations within a diversified company, primarily through his associate Donaldson Brown.

Raskob held the head financial job at both GM and DuPont until 1928, when he resigned from GM in a dispute with chairman Alfred P. Sloan.

"Everybody Ought to be Rich"[edit]

Raskob was very bullish in the stock market in the 1920s and gave an interview to Samuel Crowther for Ladies Home Journal in which he suggested every American could become wealthy by investing $15 per month in common stocks (at a time when average American's weekly salary was between $17 to $22).[2] The article (entitled "Everybody Ought to be Rich") arrived at newsstands just two months before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Political activity[edit]

Raskob had supported Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith in the 1928 election, and Smith invited Raskob to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Sloan, a supporter of Herbert Hoover, insisted Raskob resign either from GM or the DNC. Raskob left GM after the board supported Sloan, sold his GM stock, and used the proceeds to build the Empire State Building. Raskob made Smith president of the Empire State Co., operators of the building, based on a promise to do business together the night Smith lost the presidential election. Raskob served as chairman of the DNC through 1932. He continued to promote Smith's candidacy as Chairman of the DNC, and to advocate for the adoption of an anti-prohibition policy. Both of these positions were opposed by different factions within the Democratic Party, and in 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won the party's nomination and the election, Raskob resigned as DNC chairman.

Toward the end of Roosevelt's first term as president, Raskob began actively working against Roosevelt. Testimony given to the United States Senate Lobby Investigation Committee revealed Raskob was an active fundraiser for Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, considered a possible anti-Roosevelt candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 1936 United States presidential election.[3] Raskob later became involved with the American Liberty League, an anti-New Deal organization active around the time of the 1936 election.

Empire State Building[edit]

During the Great Depression, Raskob's business interests were focused on the Empire State Building, which was in competition with the Chrysler Building to become the world's tallest building at the time.[4] According to one story, Raskob had taken a jumbo pencil, stood it on end and asked architect William F. Lamb, "Bill, how high can you make it so that it won't fall down?"[5] He was also invested in precious metal mining in Nevada and New Mexico, ranching, the aeronautical industry, and pesticides. Raskob remained with DuPont until his retirement from the company in 1946.

Philanthropy[edit]

Raskob's religious convictions motivated him be substantially involved in charitable giving over the course of his life. He provided the initial funding for the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Wilmington,[6] and established several other foundations, including one which funds grants for projects and programs associated with the Catholic Church,[7] and another which provides no-interest educational loans.[8] In 1921, he was appointed a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Pius XI, recognizing him for his contributions.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Raskob married Helena Springer Green in 1906, and together had 13 children.[1] One son, William, predeceased him in an auto accident at the age of 20, and the Bill Raskob Foundation was started in memory of him. Raskob is known in the Claymont and Wilmington areas for building the "Patio" at what is now Archmere Academy between 1916 and 1918.[10] Originally his residence, one of its most significant features is a fountain made of marble, which has each of his 13 children sculpted around the side

Raskob is buried at Cathedral Cemetery in the city of Wilmington.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Biographical Essay". The John J. Raskob Papers. Hagley Museum and Library. 
  2. ^ Stanley K. Schultz (1999). "Crashing Hopes: The Great Depression". American History 102: Civil War to the Present. Retrieved 2008-03-13. "That same year, John Jacob Raskob, Chief Executive of General Motors and head of the Democratic National Committee, published an article entitled "Everybody Ought to be Rich" in the Ladies Home Journal. Raskob suggested that every American could become wealthy by investing $15 per month in common stocks. He failed to realize, however, that the weekly salary of the average American worker was between $17 and $22, but that's not important: the optimism was there." 
  3. ^ "Liberty Leaguers backed Talmadge", The New York Times. April 16, 1936. Page 2.
  4. ^ "Empire State Building:Official Internet Site". 
  5. ^ "John Jakob Raskob". 
  6. ^ Rev. Edmond J. FitzMaurice, D. D. "Pastoral Letter". p. 10. "Mr. Raskob asks to be listed as the first donor to the Fund with an initial contribution of $500,000." 
  7. ^ "The Raskob Foundation For Catholic Activities". 
  8. ^ "The Bill Raskob Foundation". 
  9. ^ John J. Raskob papers
  10. ^ "Archmere's application for registration as a National Historic Place". 
  11. ^ John Jakob Raskob.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Clem L. Shaver
Democratic National Committee Chairman
1928–1932
Succeeded by
James Farley