Jump to content

William McChesney Martin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bill Martin
9th Chairman of the Federal Reserve
In office
April 2, 1951 – January 31, 1970
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
DeputyC. Canby Balderston
James Robertson
Preceded byThomas B. McCabe
Succeeded byArthur F. Burns
Member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors
In office
April 2, 1951 – February 1, 1970
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded byThomas B. McCabe
Succeeded byArthur F. Burns
President of the New York Stock Exchange
In office
May 1938 – May 1941
Preceded byCharles R. Gay
Succeeded byEmil Schram
Personal details
William McChesney Martin Jr.

(1906-12-17)December 17, 1906
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJuly 27, 1998(1998-07-27) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationYale University (BA)
Columbia University

William McChesney Martin Jr. (December 17, 1906 – July 27, 1998) was an American business executive who served as the 9th chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1951 to 1970, making him the longest holder of that position. He was nominated to the post by President Harry S. Truman and reappointed by four of his successors. Martin, who once considered becoming a Presbyterian minister, was described by a Washington journalist as "the happy Puritan".[1]

Early life[edit]

William McChesney Martin Jr. was born in St. Louis to William McChesney Martin Sr. and Rebecca Woods. Martin's connection to the Federal Reserve was forged through his family heritage. In 1913, Martin's father was summoned by President Woodrow Wilson and Senator Carter Glass to help write the Federal Reserve Act that would establish the Federal Reserve System on December 23 of that year. His father later served as a governor and then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Martin graduated from Yale University, where his formal education was in English and Latin rather than finance. However, he still maintained an intense interest in business through his father. His first job after graduation was at the St. Louis brokerage firm of A. G. Edwards & Sons, where he became a full partner after only two years. From there, Martin's rapid rise in the financial world landed him in 1931 a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), just two years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 at the outset of the Great Depression. Martin pursued graduate study in Economics at Columbia University from 1931 to 1937; however, he did not receive a degree.[2] During the early part of that decade, Martin's work towards increasing regulation of the stock market led to his election to the NYSE's board of governors in 1935. There, he worked with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to reestablish confidence in the stock market and prevent future crashes. He eventually became president of the New York Stock Exchange at age 31, leading newspapers to label him the "boy wonder of Wall Street." Like his tenure as governor on the exchange, Martin's presidency focused on cooperating with the SEC to increase regulation of the exchange.

During World War II he was drafted into the United States Army as a private and rose to the rank of colonel.[3] While in the service, he supervised the disposal of raw materials on the Munitions Allocation Board. He was also a liaison between the Army and Congress, as well as the supervisor of the lend-lease program with the Soviet Union.


Director of the Export-Import Bank[edit]

Martin's return to civilian life was also a return to the financial world, but this time it was in the Federal government. Harry S. Truman, a fellow Democrat, appointed Martin director of the Export-Import Bank, which he operated for three years (1946-1949). It was at this institution that he was publicly viewed as a "hard banker." He insisted that loans be sound, secure investments; on that principle he opposed the State Department on multiple occasions for making loans that he saw as being politically motivated. On those grounds he would not permit the Export-Import Bank to be used as a fund for international relief.

Martin left the Export-Import bank when he was summoned to the Treasury to serve as assistant secretary for monetary affairs. Martin served at the Treasury for about two years when its conflict with the Federal Reserve Board reached its climax. During the period immediately preceding the final negotiations with the Fed, Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snyder was hospitalized. In this situation, Martin became the chief negotiator for the Treasury. From the Treasury's perspective, Martin was a valuable representative, for he had a thorough understanding of the Federal Reserve System and of financial markets. Furthermore, he was viewed as an ally of Truman, who strongly opposed the Fed's independence. During negotiations, Martin re-established communication between the Treasury and Fed, which had been forbidden by Snyder.

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board[edit]

With Robert Rouse, Woodlief Thomas, and Winfield Riefler of the Fed, Martin negotiated the 1951 Accord. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and Secretary Snyder accepted the Accord, and it was approved by both institutions. The Chairman of the Board of Governors at the time of ratification was Thomas B. McCabe (1893–1982), who would officially resign from his position just six days after the statement of the Accord was released. The Truman Administration saw the resignation of McCabe as the perfect opportunity to regain control of the Fed almost immediately after it had supposedly become independent. Truman appointed Martin to serve as the next Chairman of the Board of Governors, and the Senate approved his appointment on March 21, 1951.

Contrary to Truman's expectations, however, Martin guarded the Fed's independence, not just through Truman's administration but also through the four succeeding administrations. To the present day, his term as chairman is the longest term in the history of the Fed. For nearly two decades, Martin would achieve global recognition as the world's most important central banker.[citation needed] He was able to pursue independent monetary policies while still paying heed to the desires of various presidential administrations. Although the objectives of Martin's monetary policy were low inflation and economic stability, he rejected the idea that the Fed could pursue its policies based on a single indicator (an example of oversimplification) and instead made policy decisions by examining a wide array of economic data. As chairman, he institutionalized this strategy in the proceedings of the FOMC, gathering the opinions of all governors and presidents within the System before making decisions. As a result, his decisions were often supported by unanimous votes on the FOMC. The task of the Federal Reserve, he famously said, is "to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going,"[4][5] that is, raise interest rates just when the economy reaches peak activity after a recession.

Martin was selected administrator-designate of the Emergency Stabilization Agency, part of a secret group created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 that would serve in the event of a national emergency, and that became known as the Eisenhower Ten.[6]

After the presidential election of 1960, Republican Party candidate Richard Nixon blamed his defeat on Martin's tight-money policies.[7]

Martin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963 and the American Philosophical Society in 1972.[8][9]

In 1966 he underwent successful prostate surgery.[10]

Externally, Martin was perceived to be the dominant decision-maker at the Fed but this is only a perception.[11][neutrality is disputed] Throughout his tenure, he defended the right of the Fed to take actions that would sometimes conflict with presidential goals. He regularly asserted that the Fed is responsible to the US Congress and not to the White House. Lacking confidence in Martin, Richard Nixon expected him to resign at the outset of the new administration in 1969, but Martin chose to remain in his post. Pursuing a tight-money policy to suppress inflation, by mid-1969 Martin ran afoul of Nixon's concern that the Fed was in danger of pushing the nation into economic recession, a belief that had been publicly stated by conservative economist Milton Friedman. At a White House meeting on October 15, 1969, Nixon confronted Martin over his tight-money policy, but Martin declined to yield. Two days later, the White House announced that Arthur Burns would replace Martin as chairman of the Federal Reserve on Feb. 1, 1970.[12]

The 1974 William McChesney Martin Jr. Federal Reserve Board Building

Martin ended his tenure as Chairman of the Board of Governors on January 30, 1970. On that day, his career in public service ended, but he continued to work, holding a variety of directorships of corporations and nonprofit institutions, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Martin was an avid tennis player who played tennis nearly every day on the tennis court located outside the Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, D.C.[13] Martin would go on to serve as president of the National Tennis Foundation and chair of the International Tennis Hall of Fame after retiring from the Federal Reserve.[14]

He died of a heart attack at his home in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 1998, at the age of 91.[15]


The 1974 Federal Reserve Annex next to the Eccles Building is named for him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hodgson, Godfrey (21 August 1998). "Obituary: William McChesney Martin". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  2. ^ "William McChesney Martin". www.NNDB.com. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  3. ^ "Private Martin". New York Times. April 17, 1941.
  4. ^ Mankiw, N. Gregory (December 23, 2007). "How to Avoid Recession? Let the Fed Work". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Martin, William McChesney Jr. (October 19, 1955). "Address before the New York Group of the Investment Bankers Association of America". FRASER. Statements and Speeches of William McChesney Martin, Jr: 12. Retrieved 11 October 2018. The Federal Reserve, as one writer put it, after the recent increase in the discount rate, is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.
  6. ^ "The Eisenhower Ten: William McChesney Martin Jr". CONELRAD.COM. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  7. ^ Lowenstein, Roger (January 20, 2008). "Ben Bernanke - Federal Reserve Bank - Interest Rates - United States Economy - Recessions - Banking - Housing - Mortgages". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  8. ^ "William McChesney Martin". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  9. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  10. ^ "William Martin Has Surgery". New York Times. July 9, 1966.
  11. ^ Granville, Kevin (April 7, 2015). "America's Endless War Over Money". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  12. ^ Matusow, Allen J. (1998). Nixon's Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars, & Votes. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. pp. 29–31. ISBN 0-7006-0888-5. OCLC 37975682.
  13. ^ "Federal Reserve Tennis Court".
  14. ^ "William McChesney Martin".
  15. ^ Melody Petersen (July 29, 1998). "William McChesney Martin, 91, Dies. Defined Fed's Role". New York Times.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by President of the
New York Stock Exchange

Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors
Succeeded by
Chairman of the Federal Reserve