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George P. Baker Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
George P. Baker

Member, Civil Aeronautics Board, 1940-42, Vice Chairman, 1942; Director, Office of Transport and Communications Policy, Department of State, 1945-46; Chairman, U.S. delegation to Bermuda Civil Aviation Conference, 1946; U.S. member Transport and Communications Commission, United Nations, 1946-56; Vice Chairman, President's Air Policy Commission, 1947; and Chairman, Commission on Aero Research and Development Board, National Military Establishment, 1948-49.

Boston, Massachusetts
July 24, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened December, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
George P. Baker

 

Boston, Massachusetts
July 24, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[1]

MCKINZIE: A significant event in your life occurred in 1940 when you were appointed to the Civil Aeronautics Board. Could you talk about how you became interested in that and then the circumstances under which you were appointed to the position?

BAKER: I had been interested in transportation, one kind or another, since I was very young. When I decided to do graduate work, I did it because I wanted to be a teacher in the field of transportation economics and management. I got my doctorate degree at Harvard in

[2]

Economics with Transportation as my special field. I had an older professor at the Harvard Business School who was interested in seeing me do this and who had hoped that I would succeed him, as I ultimately did. In '36, after about 7 years as a tutor and instructor in history, government and economics at Harvard College, I went across the river to the Business School as an Assistant Professor of Transportation. At that time, Professor Cunningham, who was the James J. Hill Professor of Transportation at the Harvard Business School was giving courses dealing with railroad transportation, highway transportation, and the problems of shippers using any form of transportation. He wanted to expand that field to include some courses in water and air transportation. There was a small amount of research money lying around

[3]

that I was given to give myself some background in the air transportation field. I developed at Harvard one of the first courses in air transportation management. I guess that was what drew me to the attention of Vice-Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board Edward Warner, who had been Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at MIT and one of the first members of the Civil Aeronautics Board when it was set up two years earlier. The circumstances around my appointment, I don't know for sure, but they were probably something like this:

There was much difference of opinion when the Board was set up as to whether it should be set up as an independent agency or whether it should be within the Department of Commerce, where there was an Assistant Secretary for Aviation, matters or something of that kind. The Board was set up as a separate entity

[4]

although it was part of a three partite entity, a Civil Aeronautics Authority. One part was called the Civil Aeronautics Board and was made up of the same people. A second part was the Civil Aeronautics Administration. A third was the Air Safety Board. This was a kind of a complicated set-up and right along in there a fellow named Louis Brownlow came through with a report for the President on Government organization. It had a strong recommendation that the Civil Aeronautics Board as well as many others, like the ICC, be put within the Executive branch of the Government. The President seemed to be sympathetic and a bill was drawn up which would accomplish this. The older agencies like the ICC quickly, politically, got themselves out of it. It was a hell of a fight as far as the CAB was concerned and it was being fought by the CAB

[5]

members, led by the Chairman, Robert Hinkley.

There was a lot in the aviation press which said that the administration was trying to capture control of the aviation industry. At some point in there, Mr. Hinkley was asked to come over to the White House and discuss the matter with the President. When he came out of the White House he was interviewed on the steps. It turned out two things had happened: (1) he was the new Assistant Secretary for Aviation and Commerce and, (2) he was in favor of inclusion in the Executive branch. The four other members of CAB rose and yelled, and a lot of Congressmen rose and yelled. There needed to be a replacement for him and I think they wanted somebody just as unpolitical as they could get. The idea of reaching for a Harvard professor fitted pretty well into calming down the heat.

[6]

A phone call came to my house and my wife answered it. Someone said, "This is the White House," she said I wasn't there. "Well," they said to her, "can you tell us what his political alignment is?"

She said, "I don't know. I think he'd like to be called independent. I know he's voted for some Democrats, but he's probably more Republican." She said, "I know he voted for some Democratic Governors. The only thing I really know about this is that he's never voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt."

In spite of that, I think because of my background, I was asked to do it. The school was tickled to death and gave me a leave of absence. I was to come back at the end of two years but the war came. The Business School had had a close relationship with the Quartermaster General's office for a long time

[7]

and I was asked to come in there and reorganize the Requirements Division in the Office of the Quartermaster General. I resigned from the Board at that time.

MCKINZIE: Is there a connection between being with the Office of Quartermaster General and going into the Department of State at the end of the war?

BAKER: No. I knew the guy, who was also a Harvard professor, who was in charge of research and development in the Office of Quartermaster General. He was in a hell of a jam because the Requirements Division of the Office of the Quartermaster General was still using "wear-out rates" of World War I to figure out what we'd need in Africa or Iceland. He wanted help there; it seemed a good thing to do and I did it. When that was set up, I shifted to the War Department general staff

[8]

to deal with aviation production scheduling problems, which was a little more in my line. I think the reason they wanted me at the State Department was because, supposedly, I did know something about aviation. I'd been on the CAB, had an academic interest in it and some history. They needed somebody, specifically, to worry about these negotiations with the British.

MCKINZIE: At the time, did you have a sense that this was a chance to be in on something important from the very beginning?

BAKER: It was interesting and, I felt, very important. I'd been interested in this industry.
By then, I'd developed this teaching approach to airline management problems. I had been in right at the beginning of this regulation of the airline industry, and a new form of subsidization. It had been subsidized since

[9]

'28, but there was a whole new method of subsidizing, a whole new method of promoting. I was very interested in it. It was going to be an enriching area, as far as going back to Harvard in my own field. By then I'd been asked to come back and succeed Professor Cunningham, who would have retired four years earlier but stayed on until I came back.

MCKINZIE: Did you, at the time you took the position as Director of the Office of Transport and Communication Policy, know that you'd be involved in making the bilateral agreements?

BAKER: Yes. I came on in the middle of August and we were actually on location in Bermuda in the telecommunications negotiations in November. Those were all scheduled. I don't know that the Bermuda aviation conference was

[10]

scheduled but it was known we were going to have one and needed to get it scheduled. That was going to be the job.

The day I came in, I tried to find Charlie Taft whom I was to succeed; he wasn't in his office. He was leaving that day and I was coming in. He was trying to negotiate a problem dealing with Mexico between Braniff and Pan American. Juan Terry Trippe would not sit down in the same room with Mr. Braniff and they were in different rooms with Charlie running back and forth.

I knew Mr. Trippe just through my CAB relationship with him. I knew him much better later in life and very pleasantly. He was on the visiting committee at the Harvard Business School when I was Dean. He was a very able man, no question about it. He was single-sighted in this stuff, but when

[11]

you think what he accomplished in taking that little island-jumping line in the Caribbean and making it the leading overseas carrier in the world, it's a tremendous accomplishment.

MCKINZIE: How much briefing did you get when you took the job?

BAKER: My briefing came from my subordinates; practically none came from Charlie Taft. He'd been in a short time and I don't think he felt very happy about it or comfortable in the job. He was going on to something he liked much better that I don't remember. I got my briefings from the head of the three divisions under me. They all knew their stuff cold and then we started working with the inevitable committees getting things coordinated.

MCKINZIE: It must have been fairly easy for you

[12]

since you already had the contacts with the CAB.

BAKER: Yes, I did. I'd been in Washington six years and I never was out of Washington during the war. During the last two years of the war, there was something called the Air Coordinating Committee that had, about every week or two weeks, high level representatives from State, CAB, CAA, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and so forth. I was a representative from a special projects office of the Air Force, representing the Assistant Secretary for Air. So really, I did know all these people, and I did have more of a head start.

MCKINZIE: Did you have the feeling that people in the State Department saw these transportation agreements as a part of a larger foreign policy?

[13]

BAKER: Yes, I was not aware very much of what that policy was, but I knew that this had to fit into a broader policy. I think they were trying to do just that. It was very hard for aviation people to be denied rights that they felt were in the interest of American Civil Aviation. Sometimes it was more important to us to get say some oil rights than it was to get the Civil Aviation rights. I'm making that as a generalization, but we kept coming up against those things. The industry felt it was my job to get in there and fight for Civil Aviation. As a State Department man, I didn't feel that was my job. My job was to try to carry out whatever the Government policy was in the aviation field, that policy having been worked out within a broader framework. Actually, what was desirable from

[14]

the viewpoint of United States Civil Aviation was really the job of the CAB to figure out, not the State Department. My job was also trying to get the CAB not to want too much, because the CAB had no knowledge at all about what was necessary as far as shipping rights, telecommunication rights, oil development rights or any of these other things.

MCKINZIE: Did you do those things in a formal way -- by sending out memorandums?

BAKER: No, but there were under Will Clayton and Willard Thorp, various other divisions. Thorp had his own coordinating ideas. Any policy that was coming in from agencies like the CAB, we would deal with. Then we would send our solution to the Assistant Secretary for approval. He would look at it on a broader level, and maybe have some troubles

[15]

with it. As the process goes on, you get to working with the other directors of other divisions, but you try to work it out first.

MCKINZIE: Did knowing people at CAB make that whole process a little easier?

BAKER: Yes, it did, including this other work, with the air coordinating committee that had all kinds of Government departments interested.

MCKINZIE: What was the "state" of international agreements, or lack thereof, which existed from the time you took over? What preparations were made for the Bermuda conference?

BAKER: When I came in, the Chicago conference on Civil Aviation between the British and the Americans had been over about six months. I didn't know the details. I did know that Adolf Berle led our delegation there.

[16]

There had been bad feelings during it and at the end of it, and there had been very rigid positions taken. I also was told as soon as I got in that it was felt that our policy needed a closer look. There were differences of opinion between the Chairman of the CAB and the majority of the CAB as to what policy should be. The CAB, I think, felt that they had not had a proper amount of say. I knew that this was now going to be a part of my job: to set up the mechanism for a re-look at the policy prior to a meeting with the British. We needed to get these rights set, instead of operating on the wartime agreed routes, and to work out a viable policy that we might be able to get agreement with the British on and which was in our own interest. This was the first and major job I thought I would have. Telecommunications was somewhat comparable although there had not been any

[17]

prior conference first. It became imminent as soon as I got in and saw what was happening.

MCKINZIE: When you began to have meetings and make preparations for conferences did you have to take up such issues as frequency of