Bradley Palmer

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Bradley Webster Palmer (1866–1946) was a prominent U.S. attorney and businessman. He was involved with the creation and development of multiple corporations, including the United Fruit Company, Gillette Safety Razor Corp., and International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation. He was also part of the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference following the First World War.

From 1937 to 1944, Palmer donated his extensive land holdings to the state of Massachusetts. These lands today make up the 721-acre Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, Massachusetts.


Family background[edit]

The American Palmers in Bradley Palmer's ancestral line came from William Palmer, Nottinghamshire, who was possibly one of the original Scrooby congregation of puritan separatists. He sailed on the vessel Fortune in 1621 from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, settling finally in Duxbury. Three other related Palmers from the same region of England were in Massachusetts by 1635. The Palmers have been prolific and are widely spread throughout the United States. Bradley Palmer descended ultimately from William. Bradley's grandfather on his father's side, Gideon, was one of 17 children fathered by Gideon Palmer of Rhode Island. The grandfather moved to Pennsylvania in 1836.[1]

Bradley Webster Palmer was born on June 28, 1866, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.[2] His father was Henry W. Palmer, who served in the Congress of the United States.[3] Born in Clifford, Pennsylvania, HW Palmer at first attended seminary, then went to the National Law School at Poughkeepsie, New York, graduating in 1860. He was admitted to the bar in New York in 1860 and in Pennsylvania 1861. That year he married Ellen M. Webster in New York. She was from a poor family. Her father, George W. Webster, had moved to New York from New Hampshire. He was a vestryman at the local Episcopal church. Ellen was one of several children, not all of whom survived to adulthood. While married to Henry she became a public advocate of laws against child labor, which was then rampant in the mines of Pennsylvania.

Subsequently Henry joined the Union Army, serving as a pay clerk at New Orleans, 1862–1863. Then he started a law office in Wikes-barre, Pennsylvania (Palmer, Dewitt and Fuller), where he worked for the rest of his life when not in political office. Among his offices he was Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania, 1879–1883, and a member of congress, 1901–1907 and 1909.[4]

Education and service[edit]

Bradley's parents sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he was admitted at the age of 16 in 1882. From there he went immediately to Harvard University, receiving an AB in 1888. He was a treasurer of the Harvard Lampoon and a member of the Hasty Pudding Club. He stayed on an extra year in Harvard University School of Law, earning the AM in 1889. He was a proctor that year. Returning to Wilkes-Barre he went to work in his father's law office there in 1889 at the age of 23 and passed the bar in Pennsylvania in 1890. He showed some interest in the military, serving the 9th Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard, 1888-1889. He returned to Boston in 1891 and passed the bar in Massachusetts the following year.[5]

Legal career[edit]

Until 1899 Bradley's chief work in the firm of Storey, Thorndike and Palmer[6] had been to check the legality of bonds and then to handle the legal business of the Boston Fruit Company, the company of Andrew W. Preston, a Boston banana importer. In that year, however, he created the United Fruit Company by a merger of Preston's firm and the banana import business of Minor Cooper Keith. Bradley became a director and a permanent member of the executive committee, while his law partners were listed as executives. Their first move was to buy outright or buy an interest in 14 competitors. They now had a monopoly on the Costa Rican banana import business and controlled 80% of the entire business in the United States. These moves under Bradley's tutelage brought instant wealth to everyone concerned. The profits in 1899 were 1.6 million, and were up to 6.2 million by 1907.[7] For all business purposes, Bradley was United Fruit. When the first anti-trust suit was brought against United Fruit in 1909, charging that it had created a monopoly and was using its financial interests in the competition (in this case the Bluefields Steamship Company) to suppress their business, Palmer, as secretary, was named along with Preston and Keith, the president and vice president.

Palmer was a lawyer and partner with multiple Boston-based corporations, including the United Fruit Company (which controlled large land holdings and agriculture in Central America), Gillette, and IT&T. He was an attorney for Sinclair Oil during the Teapot Dome scandal.

Personal life[edit]

Palmer never married, but was involved in the social life of the North Shore of Massachusetts, which is relatively densely populated with horse farms. He belonged to Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, Massachusetts, which is known for its golf course and its equestrianism. Periodically it holds steeple-chasing events, polo matches, horse shows and fox hunts. Bradley Palmer hosted some of these events on his estate. Bradley died in 1946.

Bradley enjoyed numerous individualisms, such as smoking a cigar with the end stuck in a pipe bowl.[8]

Public service[edit]

By 1917 Palmer's career now altered course away from United Fruit. In 1917 he joined the office of Alien Property Custodian, which was charged with the investigation of attempts by German nationals to conceal their extensive property of all sorts in the United States, and with the confiscation and disposition of this property.[9] President Woodrow Wilson's first appointee to the office was Alexander Mitchell Palmer, known as a crusading and fearless Attorney General of the United States. He was not related to Bradley Palmer. The attorney general choose Bradley Palmer as an investigator for the office. They did both investigations and dispositions, mainly by sale, for which legal expertise was required. All of them, including the Custodian, served without pay.[10] In 1918 Bradley was also appointed to an advisory committee supporting the Federal Reserve Board, also serving without pay. He was the board's lawyer.

Land holdings[edit]

Palmer's house, recently restored. The massive Pinus strobus in front, visible in all old photographs, undoubtedly pre-dates the house (1902).

Beginning in 1891 Palmer began to acquire land.[8] An equestrian and nature-lover, he continued to purchase land as he accumulated the means. At one point, he owned over 10,000 acres (40 km²) on the North Shore of Massachusetts in towns such as Boxford, Georgetown, Hamilton, Ipswich, Rowley, and Topsfield.

In 1898 Palmer purchased the hereditary farm holdings of the Lamson family, some 747 acres (3.02 km2).[8] This would become the estate in which he resided, known as Willow Dale. The mansion was built in 1902. Famous visitors to Willow Dale included the Prince of Wales and President William Howard Taft.[11]

By 1944, Palmer had donated all of his land holdings in Massachusetts to the Commonwealth, leasing back the 107 acres (0.43 km2) surrounding his mansion. The estate is now incorporated as part of the Bradley Palmer State Park.


  1. ^ Kulp 2009, pp. 194–196
  2. ^ Davis, William Thomas (1895). Bench and Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 1. Boston: The Boston History Company. p. 391. 
  3. ^ United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Privileges and Elections (1920). Hearings. I. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. p. 347. 
  4. ^ "PALMER, Henry Wilbur, (1839–1913)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 22 June 2010. 
  5. ^ Marquis, Albert Nelson, ed. (1916). Who's Who in New England (2nd ed.). Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Company. p. 815. 
  6. ^ The name of the firm changed somewhat over the years as partners moved in and out.
  7. ^ Noonan, John T (2002). Persons and masks of the law: Cardozo, Holmes, Jefferson, and Wythe as makers of the masks. Berkeley, Calif. [u.a.]: University of California Press. pp. 73–75. 
  8. ^ a b c Janes, Annette V. (2002). Hamilton. Images of America. Charlestown SC: Arcadia Publishing. pp. 55–56. 
  9. ^ Custodian 1977, pp. 7–9
  10. ^ Custodian 1977, p. 19
  11. ^ Ipswich Bay Circuit Committee. "Willowdale State Forest West (Hood Pond Section)". Retrieved 21 June 2010. 


  • Kulp, George Brubake (2009). "Henry Wilbur Palmer". Families of the Wyoming Valley. BiblioLife. pp. 194–203. 
  • United States. Alien Property Custodian (1977). Alien Property Custodian report: a detailed report by the Alien Property Custodian of all proceedings had by him under the Trading with the enemy act during the calendar year 1918, and to the close of business on February 15, 1919. New York: Arno Press.