Eugene Isaac Meyer (October 31, 1875 - July 17, 1959) was an American financier, public official, and publisher of the Washington Post newspaper. After acquiring the newspaper in 1933, Meyer transformed the failing daily into one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, eventually absorbing the Washington Times-Herald in 1954. His work in the newspaper industry was marked by his belief in strong editorial content and responsible journalism, attributes that were inherited by his daughter who took over the Washington Post, maintaining its leading status in Washington DC.
A successful broker, corporate executive, and government agent, Meyer also served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. In 1946, Meyer became the first president of the World Bank. Though he served only briefly, Meyer is credited with instilling the defining traits of the institution's distinguished reputation. Meyer’s broad government experience attracted the nation’s top public officials to seek him out for positions of great leadership. In such positions, Meyer was influential in various public policy initiatives including the amending of state legislation to promote healthy investment, bond trading, and general economic stability. Thus, Meyer's contributions to American social and political life are many.
Born on October 31, 1875 in Los Angeles, California, Eugene Meyer was the son of Marc Eugene and Harriet (Newmark) Meyer. Meyer was raised in San Francisco, California and attended college across the bay at the University of California. However, he dropped out after just one year to enroll at Yale University where he received his B.A. in 1895.
After graduating from Yale, Meyer went to work for the New York banking house Lazard Freres, where his father was a partner. After four years, Meyer quit to begin work on his own in 1901, buying a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. A successful investor and speculator, Meyer married Agnes Elizabeth Ernst in 1910. The couple had five children, including the future publisher Katharine Graham. Focusing on investments in copper, gold, automobiles and chemicals, Meyer accrued an impressive personal fortune; by 1915, at the age of 40, Meyer was worth an estimated $40 million.
Eugene Meyer died in Mt. Kisco, New York, on July 17, 1959.
By the late 1910s, Meyer had developed a solid Wall Street reputation as a shrewd businessman and investor. His firm was the first to make use of a scientific research department to perform detailed analysis on various business trends and statistics. During the First World War, Meyer was appointed to oversee American war production and finance. In 1917, he went to Washington, D.C. as a "dollar a year man" for Woodrow Wilson, becoming the head of the War Finance Corporation and serving there long after the end of hostilities.
In 1920, Meyer teamed with William H. Nichols of General Chemical to help fulfill his vision of a bigger, better chemical company. Meyer and Nichols combined five smaller chemical companies to create the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation, which later became Allied Chemical Corporation, and eventually became part of AlliedSignal, the forerunner of Honeywell’s specialty materials business. In honor of their success, two buildings were named after the men at Honeywell’s headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge named Meyer as chairman of the Federal Farm Loan Board.
In 1930, Meyer was promoted by U.S. President Herbert Hoover to Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System where he served from September 16, 1930 to May 10, 1933. A highly respected financier and government official, Meyer was responsible for all economic policy-making under president Hoover. In 1931, he sought to overcome the free gold problem by advocating for the creation of a Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Serving as the first chairman of this organization, Meyer temporarily allowed government securities to be used as collateral for Federal Reserve notes, an economic implication that successfully expanded the Fed’s gold reserves.
Meyer was also an avid supporter of government relief to combat the Great Depression, taking on an additional post as chief of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Herbert Hoover's unsuccessful attempt to aid companies by providing loans to businesses. Upon Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933, Meyer resigned his government posts.
In 1933, Meyer would also buy the Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction, the paper having been ruined by its spendthrift socialite owner, Ned McLean. On March 5, 1935, Meyer unveiled his personal vision to his readers on the newspaper’s front page. He believed a great newspaper to be founded on the principles of unbiased reporting, general decency, and a large targeted audience. This he promised of the Washington Post.
Over the next 20 years, Meyer spent millions of dollars of his own money to keep the money-losing paper in business, while focusing on improving its quality. By the 1950s the paper was consistently profitable and was increasingly recognized for good reporting and important editorials. As publisher, Meyer occasionally contributed to stories. His friendship with the British Ambassador, Lord Lothian, led to a Washington Post scoop that reported of Edward VIII's relationship with Wallis Simpson.
In June of 1946, following World War II, Harry Truman named Meyer, then 70–years–old, the first president of the World Bank, then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. After accepting the position, Meyer appointed his son-in-law, Philip Graham, as the publisher of the Washington Post. Though Meyer’s presidency with the World Bank would last only six months, in that span he contributed greatly.
Meyer recruited senior staff, loan analysts and clearly defined bank lending policies. His solid reputation on Wall Street and conservative economic approach also allowed him to garner significant confidence in World Bank operations. Under his guidance, the Bank on Wall Street quickly emerged as a key player in post-war economic reconstruction. After six months with the World Bank, Meyer would return to the Washington Post, serving as Chairman of the Washington Post Company until his death in 1959.
Eugene Meyer was best known for a shrewd business sense which earned him a great personal fortune. In addition to his distinguished Wall Street Career, Meyer maintained a great sense of public duty and civic obligation. He served at the Versailles Peace Conference, the Federal Farm Loan Board, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the National Defense Mediation Board. Meyer’s broad government experience attracted the nation’s top public officials to seek him out for positions of great leadership. In such positions, Meyer was influential in various public policy initiatives including the amending of state legislation to promote healthy investment, bond trading and general economic stability. Though he served only briefly with the World Bank, Meyer is credited with instilling the defining traits of the institution's distinguished reputation. Additionally, his work in the newspaper industry was marked by his belief in strong editorial content and responsible journalism, attributes that were inherited by his daughter who took over the Washington Post.
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