Andrew Mellon

Andrew Mellon

Andrew Mellon: The Financier, Philanthropist, and Political Figure of the 20th Century

Andrew Mellon was a distinguished financier, philanthropist, and political figure who played a crucial role in the shaping of American fiscal policy during the early 20th century. He was respected for his financial acumen, which helped him build an extensive business empire. His considerable influence extended into the political realm, where he served as the Secretary of the Treasury for three consecutive presidents. Mellon’s life and accomplishments provide a fascinating insight into the political and economic dynamics of his era.

Early Life and Education

Born on March 24, 1855, in Pittsburgh, PA, Andrew William Mellon was the son of Thomas Mellon, a successful banker, and attorney. Andrew began his career at his father’s bank, T. Mellon & Sons, at a young age. He was educated at the Western University of Pennsylvania, though he did not graduate. His early exposure to banking and finance laid the foundation for his future success.

The Rise of a Business Tycoon

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mellon established a vast business empire. He took over his father’s bank, which was later renamed Mellon National Bank. He also co-founded the Union Trust Company in Pittsburgh in 1889. His strategic business ventures and investments spanned across a range of industries including aluminum, steel, oil, coal, and more.

Mellon’s investments in companies like Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America), Gulf Oil, and the Carborundum Company led to tremendous wealth. He also financed large companies including the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Koppers, and the Pittsburgh Coal Company, among others. His business acumen and strategic investments made him one of the wealthiest men in the United States.

Andrew Mellon

Political Career

Mellon’s influence extended beyond the realm of business and into politics. A staunch Republican, Mellon was a generous donor to the party and wielded significant political influence. In 1921, newly elected president Warren G. Harding appointed Mellon as his Secretary of the Treasury, a position he would hold until 1932, serving under not only Harding, but also Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

As Treasury Secretary, Mellon sought to reform federal taxation in the aftermath of World War I. He strongly advocated for tax cuts for top earners, arguing that it would stimulate economic growth and increase government revenue. His tax reform efforts resulted in the passage of the Revenue Act of 1921, the Revenue Act of 1924, and the Revenue Act of 1926. These acts significantly reduced tax rates, particularly for the wealthy.

Mellon also played a significant role in the negotiation of war debts owed to the United States by foreign governments following World War I. However, his popularity declined following the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Facing impeachment proceedings in Congress, Mellon was shifted to the position of United States ambassador to the United Kingdom by President Hoover in 1932.

Andrew Mellon

Philanthropy and Art Collection

Mellon was a keen art collector and a generous philanthropist. His collection was valued at $25 million and included works by Raphael, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. Mellon donated this collection to the U.S. government in 1937 and also gave $15 million to build the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which now houses his collection.

Later Life and Legacy

Mellon returned to private life after Hoover’s defeat in the 1932 presidential election. In 1933, the federal government launched a tax fraud investigation against Mellon, culminating in a high-profile case. In 1937, Mellon passed away, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most influential financiers and political figures of the 20th century.

Andrew Mellon’s life and accomplishments reflect a period of significant economic and political change in American history. His influence in both the business and political realms helped shape the fiscal policies of the United States during the early 20th century. As a philanthropist, his generous donations continue to benefit art and education institutions today. His life exemplifies the interconnectedness of finance, politics, and philanthropy in shaping our society.

Scroll to Top