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Governor W. Averell Harriman Oral History Interview, January 10,1980

Oral History Interview with
Governor W. Averell Harriman

During the Truman administration served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, 1943-46, to Great Britain, Apr.-Oct. 1946; Secretary of Commerce, Oct. 1946-Apr. 1948; U.S. representative in Europe under the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, with rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, 1948-50; special assistant to the President, 1950-51; American representative on North Atlantic Treaty Organization Committee to study Western defense plans, 1951; and director of the Mutual Security Agency, 1951-53.

Washington, D.C.
January 10,1980
by Bernard W. Poirier, Director.

See Also Additional W. Averell Harriman Oral History by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson done in 1971

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


This transcript is based on the tape recorded statements of W. Averell Harriman who has made minor emendations in the draft edited by Bernard W. Poirier, Director of Iroquois Research Institute.

Copies of the transcript and of the taped interview have been donated by Iroquois Research Institute to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, Missouri; and to the Program of Oral History, Columbia University, New York. Transcripts alone have been donated to the repositories listed on the inside of the back cover.

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

This transcript may be read, quoted from by giving proper credits, and cited by researchers and writers. Publication rights are retained by Iroquois Research Institute. The transcript may be reproduced freely for research and scholarly purposes.

Opened April, 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Governor W. Averell Harriman


Washington, D.C.
January 10,1980
by by Bernard W. Poirier, Director.



Biographical Sketch, Harriman
Biographical Sketch, Poirier
The Marshall Plan
Truman and MacArthur, Wake Island
Mutual Security Agency
Preserving Historic Monuments
Importance of Allied Cooperation


Biographical Sketch


W. Averell Harriman was born in 1891. During his business career, he served as Chairman of the Board of the Union Pacific Railroad and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Central Railroad and was an active partner in the banking firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman Company.

During the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he served as Administrative Officer for the National Recovery Administration, and for three years he was Chairman of the Business Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce. During World War II President Roosevelt sent him to England as his Special Representative in Great Britain in charge of Lend-Lease and other military activities. Subsequently, President Roosevelt appointed him Ambassador to the Soviet Union. He attended the Teheran and Yalta Conferences and all but one of the meetings between Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Under President Truman he was Ambassador to Britain, Secretary of Commerce, European Administrator of the Marshall Plan, and Chairman of a Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He was Special Assistant to President Truman during the Korean War, and later served as Director for the Mutual Security Program.

He was elected Governor of New York State, 1955-59. Under President Kennedy and President Johnson he served as Under Secretary of’ State for Political Affairs and Ambassador-at-Large. He was the Senior U.S. Negotiator for the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1963 and for the peace negotiations with North Vietnam in 1968.

In early 1977, Governor Harriman was appointed by President Jimmy Carter a member of the Presidential Advisory Board on Ambassadorial Appointments and continues to serve in this capacity. In July 1978, Governor Harriman was appointed the senior member of the United States Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament. During 1979 and 1980, he was active in speaking in support of the ratification of the SALT II Treaty.

His books are: Peace with Russia?, 1959; America and Russia in A Changing World, 1971; and with Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin 1941-1946, 1975.

Prepared: 1 April 1980


Biographical Sketch


Bernard W. Poirier was born in Rhode Island in 1931. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Canada and enrolled him in a French-speaking boarding school in Massachusetts. During his business career he lived in Europe for seven years conducting research and managing laboratory operations in Belgium and France. His research activities were conducted on four continents and in arctic and tropical areas.

He worked as a civilian scientist with the U.S. Navy Department from 1959-1963. His assignments included scientific service on nuclear submarines, special duties at the State Department, and representation at the Admiralty, London and at the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Paris. He also served as Executive Advisor to a United States Senator, 1969-1971. His writings have been published in newspapers and magazines in the United States and abroad, He has been the author or co-author of scientific works including regional and topical histories. In 1972, he founded the Iroquois Research Institute which specializes in environmental, historical and archaeological studies.

Prepared: 1 April 1980


This is the oral history transcript of the taped interview of W. Averell Harriman by Bernard W. Poirier, Director of Iroquois Research Institute at Governor Harriman’s home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. on Thursday, January 10, 1980.

POIRIER: Would you speak a bit so I can get the tone level?

HARRIMAN: Well, how about this, is this about right or shall I get the microphone closer?

POIRIER: Fine. Can you hear me alright, Governor?

HARRIMAN: Yes, sir.

POIRIER: There are two things that we would like to discuss with you, one of’ these has to do with construction after World War II and the financing of construction; and the other issue is a peripheral issue but it has to do with monuments and fine arts and I understand that perhaps you may want to pass on that.

HARRIMAN: Well no, I can say a word or two about it, but there wasn’t much of that during the Marshall Plan days.

POIRIER: General Eisenhower in his book mentions that you were among the personalities that had visited him to discuss American activities in Europe after D-Day and he issued quite a number of orders to his commanders before the invasion and one of those had to do with the preservation of historical monuments.

HARRIMAN: Do we want to do this historical monuments first or the other one? Then why don’t we do the other one first?

POIRIER: OK. In the priorities that took place when you came back to help convince the Congress to go with the Marshall Plan, had you and the President at that time already developed the sort of priorities of how you would allocate these funds in Paris?

HARRIMAN: You say I came back. Actually, I was Secretary of Commerce at the time. I came back from being Ambassador in London in October, 1946 in order to take the position as Secretary of Commerce, and I was Secretary during the period when Congress acted on the so—called Truman Doctrine that gave aid to Greece and Turkey. Then came the development of the Marshall Plan. I played a role in all those events and for the Marshall Plan the President appointed three committees; the one of which I was chairman had the most effect because it was made up of representatives of civilian life; business, labor, agriculture,


economists, and all aspects of life. We reported on the economic recovery of Europe which was called the Harriman Report. That was in the late summer and autumn of 1947.

During the winter of 1948, I was very active when the Marshall Plan was before Congress and particularly with Senator Vandenberg who was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee