Charles Richard Crane

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Charles Richard Crane in 1909

Charles Richard Crane (August 7, 1858 – February 14, 1939)[1] was a wealthy American businessman, heir to a large industrial fortune and connoisseur of Arab culture, a noted Arabist. His widespread business interests gave him entree into domestic and international political affairs where he enjoyed privileged access to many influential power brokers at the top levels of government. His special arena of interest was Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Biography and diplomatic activity[edit]

He was the eldest son of plumbing parts mogul, Chicago manufacturer, Richard T. Crane. In the 1900s, he brought Thomas Masaryk, Maksim Kovalevsky and Pavel Milyukov to lecture at the University of Chicago. After meeting Masaryk, he became interested in Slavic nationalism and sponsored The Slav Epic paintings by Alphonse Mucha[2] When Mucha designed the Czechoslovak bills, he used a previous portrait of Josephine Crane Bradley as Slavia for the 100 koruna bill.[2]

President William Howard Taft appointed Crane minister to China on July 16, 1909,[3] but on the eve of his departure to his post on October 4, 1909, he was recalled to Washington and forced to resign under pressure by U.S. Secretary of State Philander C. Knox,[4] who held him responsible for the publication in a Chicago newspaper of the U.S. government's objections to two recent treaties between Japan and China.[5][6]

Charles R. Crane (left) and James Farley stand behind Franklin D. Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia, December 7, 1931.

Crane contributed heavily to Woodrow Wilson's 1912 election campaign. Wilson rewarded Crane with appointments to the 1917 Special Diplomatic Commission to Russia, known as the Root Commission, as a member of the American Section of the Paris Peace Conference, and to the 1919 Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey that became known as the King-Crane Commission. While the commission was originally proposed by the U.S. to develop an international consensus on the future make up and status of post-World War I Middle East nations, the commission quickly became a U.S.-only sponsored effort. With the appointment of Crane as co-head of the commission, it set about to issue a report to inform U.S. policy makers.[7] In respect to the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East, the report cautioned "Not only you as president but the American people as a whole should realize that if the American government decided to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, they are committing the American people to the use of force in that area, since only by force can a Jewish state in Palestine be established or maintained." Crane opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East.[8] He was a passionate spokesman for the independence of the Arab states.[9]

Crane was appointed United States Ambassador to China by President Wilson and served from March 22, 1920, to July 2, 1921.

In 1925 Crane founded the New York-based Institute of Current World Affairs. The institute employed field representatives in Mexico, Jerusalem, and occasionally Moscow. These representatives compiled regular reports on developments in their regions, and shared their expertise during ICWA-sponsored lecture tours of major U.S. universities. The reports were also made available to the U.S. State Department.

In 1931, Crane helped finance the first explorations for oil in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He was instrumental in gaining the American oil concession there.[10]

He was also a member of the famous Jekyll Island Club (aka The Millionaires Club) on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Allegations of Anti-Semitism[edit]

When Franklin Roosevelt appointed William E. Dodd American ambassador to Germany in 1933, Crane wrote Dodd a letter of congratulation that told him:[11]

The Jews, after winning the war, galloping along at a swift pace, getting Russia, England and Palestine, being caught in the act of trying to seize Germany, too, and meeting their first real rebuff, have gone plumb crazy and are deluging the world—particularly easy America—with anti-German propaganda. I strongly advise you to resist every social invitation.

According to Larson, at a dinner, Ambassador Dodd heard Crane express admiration for Hitler and learned that Crane also had no objection to how the Nazis were treating Germany's Jews, telling Dodd: "Let Hitler have his way."[11]

In his biography of Crane, Norman E. Saul notes that he maintained relationships with prominent Jews such as Louis Brandeis and Lillian Wald and suggests that his “vague but open” anti-Semitism was not uncommon among Anglo-Saxons of his time. Saul notes that his admiration of Hitler left, in retrospect, the most damaging legacy to his reputation.[12]


He was predeceased in 1938 by his son, Richard Teller Crane II, a diplomat. On April 24, 2006, Crane's art collection was sold at Christie's auction house.


  1. ^ Charles Richard Crane at Find a Grave
  2. ^ a b An Introduction to the Work of Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau, lecture by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, British Columbia (March 2004).
  3. ^ New York Times: "Crane Takes Post as Envy to China," Juluy 17, 1909, accessed February 3, 2012
  4. ^ New York Times: "Call Back Minister Crane," October 5, 1909, accessed February 3, 2012
  5. ^ New York Times: "State Secrets Out; Crane Questioned," October 11, 1909, accessed February 3, 2012
  6. ^ David Philipson, My Life as an American Jew: An Autobiography (1941), 32-33, wrote that President Taft told him in November 1909 that he asked for Crane's resignation after hearing Crane responded to his election by saying: "Well, now that Taft is President, I suppose that Jake Schiff and his Jew crowd will have a great deal to say in our national affairs."
  7. ^ "The King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919". Hellenic Resources Network. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
  8. ^ F.W. Brecher, "Charles R. Crane's Crusade for the Arabs, 1919-39," Middle Eastern Studies, XXIV, January 1988; pp 46-47. Elliott A Green, "The Curious Careers of Two Advocates of Arab Nationalism," Crossroads no. 33 [1992]
  9. ^ Beecher, Frank W. Reluctant Ally: United States Foreign Policy toward the Jews from Wilson to Roosevelt (NY: Green-wood Press, 1991), pp. ??
  10. ^ Harry St. J. B. Philby, "Sa'udi Arabia" (NY: F.A. Praeger, 1955), Chapter 11 {page?}
  11. ^ a b Larson, Erik, In The Garden of Beasts (Crown Publishers, 2011), 38-9
  12. ^ The Life and Times of Charles R. Crane, 1858–1939: American Businessman, Philanthropist, and a Founder of Russian Studies in America |Norman E. Saul|Lexington Books|2012|ISBN 9780739177464 p=270

Further reading[edit]

  • Norman E. Saul, The Life and Times of Charles R. Crane, 1858-1939: American Businessman, Philanthropist, and a Founder of Russian Studies in America. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2013.

External links[edit]