Bernard Mannes Baruch (August 19, 1870–June 20, 1965) was a Wall Street financier and adviser to numerous presidents. He was born in 1870 in Camden, South Carolina, but moved to New York in 1881. After graduating from the City College of New York, he began working on Wall Street as an office boy. By 1900 Baruch had become a millionaire through speculation and stock trading.
Baruch financially supported Woodrow Wilson's presidential campaign in 1912. During World War I, Baruch's developing relationship with Wilson led to his becoming a member and, in 1918, chairman of the War Industries Board (WIB), the principal government agency involved in the wartime economic mobilization effort. Adept at self promotion, Baruch gained a lasting reputation as an effective public servant, though historians have raised questions about the WIB's performance. Baruch advised Wilson on economic matters at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
During the twenties, Baruch contributed heavily to Democratic congressional candidates, gaining significant influence with such party leaders as Senator Joseph Robinson. In response to the Great Depression, Baruch quickly called for the establishment of a government agency modeled on the WIB to spearhead recovery efforts. He initially opposed Franklin Roosevelt for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932, but when Roosevelt initiated the New Deal, two men closely associated with Baruch, Hugh Johnson and George Peek, were appointed to head the National Recovery Administration and Agricultural Adjustment Administration, respectively. Both men had worked on the WIB and had business ties to Baruch during the 1920s, but Baruch had little to do with either man's appointment and did not approve many of their actions in office. Although Baruch's position in the Democratic Party made him too important for Roosevelt to ignore, the two men never had a close relationship and Baruch's influence over the New Deal was often exaggerated in press accounts.
After 1938, Baruch hoped to play a central role in the nation's mobilization for war. He had influence in the War Department and in the various mobilization agencies that were established, but the only official position he held during World War II was as head of a 1942 committee to make recommendations for dealing with a critical rubber shortage. Following the war, President Harry Truman entrusted Baruch with developing a plan to present to the United Nations for controlling all forms of atomic energy. Failure to reach agreement with the Soviet Union over the Baruch Plan contributed to the emergence of the Cold War. Baruch retained the status of elder statesman until his death in 1965, but his influence in Washington was minimal during the last fifteen years of his life.
Baruch, Bernard M. Baruch: My Own Story. 1957.
Baruch, Bernard M. Baruch: The Public Years. 1960.
Grant, James. Bernard M. Baruch: The Adventures of a Wall Street Legend. 1983.
Schwarz, Jordan A. The Speculator: Bernard M. Baruch in Washington, 1917–1965. 1981.
Larry G. Gerber