Owen D. Young

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Owen D. Young

Owen D. Young (1874-1962), American industrialist and monetary authority, authored financial plans for Germany after World War I.

Owen D. Young was born Oct. 27, 1874, on a farm near Van Hornsdale, N.Y. At the age of 16 he entered St. Lawrence University and in 1896 took his law degree cum laude from the Boston University Law School. Starting as a clerk in the firm of Charles H. Tyler, in 1907 Young became a partner. He also lectured at the Boston Law School. In 1898 he married Josephine Edmonds, who bore him four sons.

Young specialized in public utility securities law. The Panic of 1893 and the ensuing depression required reorganization of many utility companies, mainly because of the demise of their major supplier, General Electric (GE).

In 1913 Young's handling of a case against a GE subsidiary brought an invitation to become GE's general counsel. By 1922 he had become chairman of the board. Always interested in the problems of the laboring man, he pushed for the adoption of employee stock option plans and the use of unemployment insurance.

Young's participation in President Woodrow Wilson's Second Industrial Conference following World War I marked the beginning of his counseling of five U.S. presidents. In 1924 he coauthored the Dawes Plan, which provided for a reduction in the annual amount of German reparations, a loan to stabilize the German currency, and the French evacuation of the Ruhr Valley. The Dawes Plan worked, primarily because of American loans and investments. In the late 1920s investments fell, and Germany again defaulted on its payments. In 1929 a new international body met to consider a program for the final release of German obligations. Young acted as chairman. Germany's total reparations were reduced and spread over 59 annual payments. The Young Plan, which also reduced Allied war debts to the United States, collapsed with the coming of the Great Depression.

During the 1920s Young organized the Radio Corporation of America and acted as its board chairman until 1929, when he became chairman of the executive committee. In 1939 he retired to the family farm, where he began dairy farming. More than 20 colleges awarded him honorary degrees. Long interested in education, he served as a New York State regent and in 1949 labored on the state commission that recommended the present system of higher education. His donations to the New York Public Library were valued at over $1,000,000. He died on July 11, 1962.

Further Reading

For further details on Young see Ida M. Tarbell, Owen D. Young: A New Type of Industrial Leader (1932), and the section on him in Ray Thomas Tucker, The Mirrors of 1932 (1931).

Additional Sources

Case, Josephine Young, Owen D. Young and American enterprise: a biography, Boston: D.R. Godine, 1982. □