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Prescott Bush

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Prescott Sheldon Bush (born May 15, 1895 in Columbus, Ohio - died October 8, 1972 in New York City) was a Connecticut Senator and Wall Street banker with Brown Brothers Harriman. His son, George H. W. Bush, and grandson George W. Bush would both later become US Presidents.

Born in Columbus, Ohio to Samuel P. Bush, a steel company president, and Flora Sheldon.

After attending the Douglas School in Columbus and St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island from 1908 to 1913, Bush entered Yale University. There, he played varsity golf, football, and baseball, and was president of the Yale Glee Club, and the best close-harmony man in the class of 1917. His devotion to singing at Yale would remain strong his entire life, evidenced in part by his founding of the Yale Glee Club Associates, an alumni group, in 1937. A Yale University legend tells of Bush digging up the skull of Geronimo (1918) and giving it to the Skull and Bones society.

After graduation, he served as an Artillery Captain in the American Expeditionary Forces (1917-1919) during World War I. He received training in intelligence at Verdun and was briefly assigned to a staff of French officers. Alternating between intelligence and artillery, Bush was under fire in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

After his discharge in 1919, Bush went to work for the Simmons Hardware Company in St. Louis, Missouri. He married Dorothy, George Herbert Walker's daughter, on August 6, 1921, and together they had five children; including the future president of the United States, who is named after George Herbert Walker.

The Bushes moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1923, where Bush worked for the Hupp Products Company. He left in November 1923 to become president of sales for Stedman Products of South Braintree, Mass. In 1925, he joined the United States Rubber Company in New York City as manager of its foreign division and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut.

He entered business in the organization of George Herbert Walker and Averell Harriman and became an officer in their investment banking firm, W. A. Harriman and Company in 1926. When it merged with Brown Brothers in 1931, he became a partner in the new firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman. Bush called it "my good fortune" to work with close friends, including Yale classmates E. Roland Harriman, Knight Woolley, and Ellery James, as well as Robert A. Lovett and Thomas McCance.

As a managing partner of Brown Brothers Harriman, he sat on several corporate boards, including the following:

  • Dresser Industries. An oil drilling equipment supply company. in 1928 W.A. Harriman and Company paid $4,000,000 for Dresser's corporate stock, and sold securities against the company. In 1929 Bush refinaced Dresser "so that we retained a substantial measure of control." in 1930 E. Roland Harriman and Bush became members of the board (Bush served until 1952), and installed his Yale classmate Henry Neil Mallon as chairman. Mallon and Bush were lifelong friends, as demonstrated by the fact that in 1948 Mallon would hire George W. Bush to work at Dresser. George W. Bush named one of his sons, Neil Mallon Bush, after Mallon. In September 1998, Dresser merged with Halliburton and is now known as Halliburton Company.

  • Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Bush was introduced to William Paley, founder of CBS, by Averell Harriman, who in 1929 had represented CBS in a merger with Paramount Studios. In 1932, he took an active role in arranging the financing for Paley to purchase the company. Bush joined the board of directors and kept the position for several years.

  • Union Banking Corporation. Established in August 1924 with George Herbert Walker as presdient. Prescott Bush was on the board of directors from 1934 to 1943 with E. Roland Harriman, H. J. Kouwenhoven, Johann G. Groeninger, Harold D. Pennington, Cornelis Lievense, Ray Morris, and E. S. James.

  • Harriman Fifteen Corporation. Located at 1 Wall Street in New York. Bush and Averell Harriman were sole directors of the company, with George Herbert Walker serving as company president, beginning in 1930. Half of the company's holdings were in the Silesian Holding Company, (see Silesian-American Corporation), according to a 1931 report.

  • Hydrocarbon Research Company. Now known as Hydrocarbon Technologies, Inc. The company was formed in 1943 by Percival Cleveland Keith, Jr., (December 24, 1900 - July 9, 1976), to develop and commercialize chemical and energy technologies. In August 2001, the Company was acquired by Headwaters Incorporated.

  • Vanadium Corporation of America. This company was headed by Charles M. Schwab and Jacob Leonard Replogle. In August 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the Manhattan Engineer District (MED), also known as the Manhattan Project, to develop atomic weapons and to procure the raw materials, principally uranium, necessary for their production. The MED contracted the Vanadium Corporation of America and the U.S. Vanadium Corporation (owned by Union Carbide) to procure and process uranium bearing ore.

  • United States Guaranty Trust. Bush was on the board of directors with Eugene W. Stetson (president) and Samuel R. Bertron (vice president).

  • The Simmons Company. This company would later be a major financial contributor to the campaigns of both Bush presidencies.

  • Commercial Pacific Cable Company

  • Hamburg-America Line

  • Prudential Insurance

  • Pan American Airlines

  • Massachusetts Investors Second Fund

  • Rockbestos Products Corporation

  • Pennsylvania Water and Power Company

He was a member of the Executive Committee of the United States Golf Association (USGA) from 1928-1935, serving successively as Secretary, Vice President and President. The USGA sponsors the Walker Cup Match, which is named after George Herbert Walker, who was the organization's president in 1920, when it originated.

From 1944 to 1956, Bush was a member of the Yale Corporation, the principal governing body of Yale University. From 1947 to 1950 he served as Connecticut Republican finance chairman, and was the Republican candidate for the United States Senate in 1950, losing to Senator William Benton by only 1,000 votes. The following year, Bush was Connecticut chairman of the United Negro College Fund, and was one of the UNCF's earliest supporters.

In 1952 he was elected to the U.S. Senate (Republican, Connecticut), defeating Abraham Ribicoff for the vacancy caused by the death of James O'Brien McMahon. He served until January 1963, and was a staunch supporter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In a speech on Nathan Hale given June 6, 1955, in New London, Connecticut, Bush shared his reflections on the Cold War. "We must maintain strong defenses, military and spiritual," he said. "It is our conduct, our patriotism and belief in our American way of life, our courage that will win the final battle."

He maintained homes in Long Island, New York and Greenwich, Connecticut; the family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine; a 10,000-acre plantation in South Carolina; and an island retreat in Florida.

Table of contents
1 War seizures controversy
2 External links
3 Further Reading

War seizures controversy

Harriman Bank was the main Wall Street connection for German companies and the varied U.S. financial interests of Fritz Thyssen, who had been an early financial backer of the Nazi party until 1938, but who by 1939 had fled Germany and was bitterly denouncing Hitler.  Dealing with Nazi Germany wasn't illegal until Hitler declared war on the US, but, six days after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed the Trading With the Enemy Act.  On October 20, 1942, the U.S. government ordered the seizure of Nazi German banking operations in New York City. 

Prescott Bush's business interests seized under the act in October and November 1942 included:

  • Union Banking Corporation (UBC) (for Thyssen and Brown Brothers-Harriman)
  • Holland-American Trading Corporation (with Harriman)
  • the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation (with Harriman)
  • Silesian-American Corporation (with Walker)

Bush's interest in UBC consisted of one share. For it, he was reimbursed $1,500,000.

Toby Rogers has claimed that Bush's connections to the Silesian-American Corporation resulted in his connection with the corporation's mining operations in Poland which used slave labor out of Oswiecim, where the Auschwitz concentration camp would later be constructed; however, such charges remain, essentially, unsubstantiated.

External links

Further Reading

  • The Prescott Bush Papers are at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

  • The Greenwich Library Oral History Project has interviews with Prescott Bush, Jr., and Mary Walker.

  • There is material by and about Bush in the History of the Class of 1917 Yale College (1919) and the supplementary class albums.

  • John Atlee Kouwenhoven, Partners in Banking: An Historical Portrait of a Great Private Bank, Brown Brothers, Harriman (1968).

  • Obituaries are in the Washington Post, Oct. 9, 1972; the New York Times, Oct. 9, 1972; the Hartford Courant, Oct. 9, 1972; and Yale Alumni Magazine, Dec. 1972.

  • "Prescott Sheldon Bush."Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-1975. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

  • Darwin Payne, Initiative in Energy: Dresser Industries, Inc., 1880-1978. New York: Simon and Schuster (1979).

Bush's articles include:

  • "Timely Monetary Policy," Banking, June 1954 and July 1954
  • "To Preserve Peace Let's Show the Russians How Strong We Are!" Reader's Digest, July 1959
  • "Politics Is Your Business," Chamber of Commerce, State of New York, Bulletin, May 1960.

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