Raskob, John J.

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RASKOB, JOHN J.

John Jakob Raskob (March 19, 1879–October 15, 1950) was an industrialist, financier, chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1928 to 1932, and cofounder of the American Liberty League. Born in Lockport, New York, Raskob rose from poverty to extraordinary wealth through a combination of ambition, financial acumen, and good luck. Educated at parochial schools and then the Bryant and Stratton Business School, Raskob struggled to support his mother and siblings after his father's death in 1897. In 1900 he became secretary to Pierre S. du Pont, and after 1902 the two men reorganized the financial structures of the family gunpowder company. As treasurer after 1914 Raskob oversaw the investment of some of the DuPont Company's enormous wartime profits into the General Motors Corporation (GMC), and he and Pierre du Pont reorganized the struggling carmaker's operations.

During the 1920s Raskob combined business vision with increasing political activism. His greatest achievement at GMC was the creation in 1919 of the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), which lent customers money to buy GMC cars. The first of its kind, GMAC financed twothirds of all GMC car sales by 1927. Raskob also championed employee stock bonuses and investment plans, and by 1929 he was worth more than $100 million. Politically Raskob contributed heavily to the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment after 1925 and to the political campaigns of Alfred E. Smith, a fellow Catholic, self-made man, and anti-prohibitionist. Prohibition struck Raskob as a dangerous expansion of federal regulatory power and as an infringement of personal liberty. In 1928 Smith, who was the Democratic presidential nominee, appointed Raskob chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Raskob transformed the DNC into a permanent organization and used his influence to advocate more business-friendly policies within the party.

The Great Depression significantly reduced Raskob's personal fortune and convinced him that the federal government should retrench its expenditures and allow business to recover without government interference. Consequently he gave strong support to conservative Democrats in their fight against Franklin Roosevelt's presidential nomination in 1932. Raskob then became a prominent critic of the New Deal. In 1934 Raskob, du Pont, Smith, and other business leaders founded the American Liberty League to warn Americans of the dangers of federal centralism and government activism. Raskob withdrew from political life after Roosevelt's landslide victory in 1936, and he eased out of his business commitments during the later 1930s. Raskob then devoted himself to his charitable foundations, and died on his country estate in Maryland in 1950. His wife, Helena, and twelve children survived him.

See Also:AMERICAN LIBERTY LEAGUE; CONSERVATIVE COALITION; DEMOCRATIC PARTY; ELECTION OF 1928; ELECTION OF 1930; ELECTION OF 1932.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Craig, Douglas B. After Wilson: The Struggle for the Democratic Party, 1920–1934. 1992.

Dale, Ernest. The Great Organizers. 1960.

Douglas Craig