Bernard Mannes Baruch (1870–1965) financier and government official
Born in South Carolina, Baruch’s father was a physician who moved to New York in 1881. Bernard was raised in New York City and graduated from the City College of New York in 1889. He went to work after graduation and made his first million dollars by the time he was 30. He became a governor of the NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE and was one of Wall Street’s best-known investors in the 1920s.
Baruch’s first job on Wall Street was with A. A. Houseman & Co. in 1891. He began speculating in railroad stocks and soon bought and sold American Sugar Refining. His first serious market operation earned him $60,000 and sealed his fate as a speculator. As the Spanish-American War ended, he cut short a vacation and returned to New York, sensing that the market would rise on the news. He traveled to the city on a weekend, climbed through a window at the Houseman office, and traded stocks in London while the U.S. market was still closed. Shortly afterward, he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for $39,000 and opened his own office. He was so successful at making money in the market that he began to look for something more challenging to do with his time.
Following Woodrow Wilson’s career since he became president of Princeton University, Baruch actively supported his presidency and was rewarded for his support. Baruch served in Woodrow Wilson’s administration as chairman of the War Industries Board in 1918 and a year later served on the U.S. delegation to the Versailles peace conference. In the early 1920s, his name was linked by Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent to a Jewish plot to control the world, a common paranoia in the 1920s. Commenting later on the claim, he wrote that, “similar attacks were picked up and mounted by the Ku Klux Klan . . . to say nothing of Joseph Goebbels and Adolph Hitler.” He continued his interest in the stock market and made a substantial reputation by being one of the major Wall Street investors to withdraw most of his money from the market before the 1929 crash. Sensing that the stock market was becoming perilously high prior to 1929, he also proposed a bankers’ pool of funds to help prop it up in the event it fell, but was turned down by Wall Street bankers.
In the 1930s, Baruch was an active supporter of the NEW DEAL but never became secretary of state, a job he coveted. He supported government institutions designed to stimulate the economy but was not a supporter of government price supports, As a result, he began to drift away from FDR and the New Deal.
During World War II, he served on a committee writing an influential report on the state of the RUBBER INDUSTRY. He also served President Harry Truman after the war on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission studying the U.S. position on atomic energy. Despite his government service, his reputation as an investor earned him the most accolades and opprobrium, although he was always quick to point out that he paid most of his own expenses while in government service. He also donated substantial sums to educational institutions in New York City. A 1953 gift to the City University of New York resulted in the university renaming its business school after him. Despite a strong penchant for the press and self-promotion, Baruch was one of Wall Street’s best-known figures who glided between New York and Washington with great ease during the two world wars.
- Baruch, Bernard M. My Own Story. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1957.
- Coit, Margaret L. Mr. Baruch. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.
- Field, Carter. Bernard Baruch: Park Bench Statesman. New York: Whittlesy House, 1944.
- Grant, James. Bernard M. Baruch: The Adventures of a Wall Street Legend. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.
- Schwarz, Jordan A. The Speculator: Bernard M. Baruch in Washington 1917–1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981.