Baldridge, Malcolm Howard

views updated


Malcolm Baldridge (19221987) served as Secretary of Commerce for President Ronald Reagan (19811989). Once a successful manufacturing executive, he became a highly respected trade negotiator for the United States known for his straightforward, plain-spoken style. As Commerce Secretary he backed protectionist policies against countries that maintained restrictive import regulations against the United States. He also promoted free trade policies and business deregulation.

Baldridge was born October 4, 1922, in Omaha, Nebraska. He graduated from Yale University in 1944 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Baldridge enlisted in the U.S. Army the year before his graduation from college and fought in World War II. Serving with the 27th Infantry Division, he participated in combat against the Japanese at Okinawa.

After Baldridge was released from the Army in 1946, he took a job as an iron worker for the Eastern Malleable Iron Company in Connecticut, where by 1960 he had worked his way up to company president. In 1962 the Scovill Manufacturing Company (later Scovill Inc.) hired him as an executive vice-president. He was later promoted president and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and then finally to Chairman of the Board of Directors. Under Baldridge's leadership, the company sold its brass milling operations and began to focus solely on manufacturing and distribution of household products such as Hamilton Beach appliances, Nutone remodeling products, Shrader hardware, and Dritz sewing notions. The company prospered under Baldridge's management, earning annual revenues of around $950 million.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Baldridge as Secretary of Commerce on January 22, 1981. Since he had served in Connecticut as campaign chairman for thenVice President George Bush (19811989) during the 1980 presidential primary election, Baldridge's appointment was viewed as a special gesture to the Vice President. Within a year he markedly increased the influence of the Department of Commerce and was eventually considered the most influential Commerce Secretary since former president Herbert Hoover (19291933) held the position.

Baldridge was a respected trade negotiator and participated in talks around the world. He was admired in the White House for treating all staff members with equal consideration. A straightforward communicator, he expressed himself simply and succinctly. Within his own department he discouraged the use of complicated bureaucratic language and issued a widely reprinted memo instructing Department of Commerce staff to use active verbs and avoid unnecessary adjectives and adverbs in letters and memos. During his term in office he slashed 30 percent from the department's budget and, while boosting productivity, also cut personnel costs by 25 percent.

With the U.S. trade deficit approaching $170 billion in the 1980s Baldridge advocated an aggressive approach to deal with foreign trading partners who maintained unfair import policies. Although he advocated free trade and deregulation he did not hesitate to press for "fair trade" or protectionist policies when he felt such action was warranted. For example, Baldridge was at the forefront of the Reagan Administration's move to restrict Japanese imports, including automobiles. His position differed from that of other Reagan advisors, who initially were concerned that protectionist policies would raise prices for American consumers and have a negative impact on foreign relations. In efforts to increase trade Baldridge was a key figure in talks with China and the Soviet Union. He paved the way for U.S. companies in the global marketplace by opening up technology transfers with China, India, and what was then the Soviet Union. At home he was considered an influential negotiator between the administration and Congress.

Baldridge's Cabinet service was tragically cut short when he was killed in a rodeo accident on July 25, 1987. He was an experienced amateur rodeo rider and was practicing calf roping before a competition when his horse reared, fell, and crushed him. He suffered internal injuries to the heart and pancreas and died within a few hours of the accident. His death was a personal and professional loss to the entire Reagan administration. A month after Secretary Baldridge's death, the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award was established in his honor.

See also: Free Enterprise, Free Trade, Protectionism, Protective Tariff, Ronald Reagan


Abrahamson, Peggy. "Malcolm Baldridge Award Encourages U.S. Industry's Quest for Quality." Business America, May 22, 1989.

Carey, John, Robert Neff, and Lois Therrien. "The Prize and the Passion." Business Week, October 25, 1991.

Farnsworth, Clyde H. "Administration Mourns Baldridge, Skilled master of Its Trade Policy." New York Times, July 27, 1987.

Farnsworth, Clyde H. "The Quiet Cowboy." New York Times, July 26, 1987.

Johnston, David. "Malcolm Baldridge, Cabinet Member: Businessman with a Love for Rodeo." New York Times, July 26, 1987.

About this article

Baldridge, Malcolm Howard

Updated About content Print Article