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Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

(1891 - 1967)

Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the 52nd Secretary of the Treasury. He served from January 1, 1934, until July 22, 1945.

Morgenthau was born on May 11, 1891, in New York City. He was the son of Henry and Josephine (Sykes) Morgenthau. He attended private schools including Exeter Academy. He studied architecture and agriculture for two years at Cornell University.

In 1913, he purchased a large farm in Dutchess County, New York and specialized and dairy and apple growing. During World War I, he worked with Herbert Hoover’s U.S. Farm Administration on a plan to send tractors to France. From 1922 to 1933, he served as Publisher of “American Agriculturalist.”

In 1929, his long-time friend and then Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, appointed him Chairman of the New York State Agricultural Advisory Commission. In 1930, he was appointed State Commissioner of Conservation, and directed a million-acre reforestation program. He also was appointed to the Taconic State Park Commission.

Upon Roosevelt’s election to the Presidency, Morgenthau was appointed Chairman of the Federal Farm Board and Governor of the Farm Credit Administration in 1933. On November 17, 1933, he was appointed Acting and Under Secretary of the Treasury, when Secretary of the Treasury William H. Woodin’s ill health forced his resignation after the first year of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” Administration. Morgenthau served as Roosevelt’s advisor, Cabinet member, and Secretary of the Treasury for 11 years, in peace and war.

During his term, Morgenthau is credited with exercising a stabilizing effect on administration monetary policies. In that time, through taxation and loans he raised $450 billion for government programs and for war purposes. This was more than all of the previous 51 Secretaries.

From 1934 through December 7, 1941, Morgenthau defended the dollar against devaluation by other competitive nations. This was accomplished by intervening in the world financial markets through buying and selling foreign currencies, gold and dollars. Protecting the dollar against the depredations of Nazi Germany which was using blocked currencies to produce anarchy in the foreign exchange markets, Morgenthau succeeded until after the Munich Pact of 1938, when a stabilization agreement was reached. As a result, the United States dollar became the strongest currency in the world. In 1939, with Poland overtaken by Germany, Morgenthau established a procurement service in the Treasury Department to facilitate the purchase of American munitions by Britain and France, and he geared the American economy to meet the enormously expanded requirements that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Morgenthau’s major effort was financing the war effort, and he achieved remarkable success with his program for the sale of defense bonds (later known as war bonds). In 1942 alone, sale of these savings bonds amounted to a $1 billion distribution, which not only supported the war needs, but also prevented a serious inflationary threat by syphoning off excess funds.

In January 1944, Morgenthau persuaded Roosevelt to establish the War Refugee Board (WRB). The WRB was tasked with the “immediate rescue and relief of the Jews of Europe and other victims of enemy persecution.” An independent government agency under the Executive branch, the WRB operated until its abolition by President President Truman’s Executive Order 9614 of September 15, 1945.

In 1944, he proposed the Morgenthau plan, under which post-war Germany would be stripped of its industry and converted into an agricultural nation. At the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, Morgenthau assumed a leading role in establishing post-war economic policies and currency stabilization. That had been one of his prime goals since depression days.

In July 1945, three months after the death of President Roosevelt, Morgenthau resigned as Secretary, but remained in office until President Truman’s return from the “Big Three” conference in Berlin. From 1947 until 1950, he was Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, which raised $465 million during that time, and from 1951 to 1954, he served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Financial and Development Corporation for Israel, which handled a $500 million bond issue for the new nation.

He married Elinor Fatman in 1916. They had three children. Two years after her death in 1949, he married Mrs. Marcelle Puthon Hirsch of New York. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., died on February 6, 1967, in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Sources: Department of the Treasury.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.