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Roman L. Horne Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
Roman L. Horne

Economist, U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, 1944-46; organizing secretary, International Monetary Fund, 1946; deputy secretary, IMF, 1946-56; and secretary, IMF, 1956-66.

McLean, Virginia
December 15, 1972
by Richard D. McKinzie

See also Roman L. Horne Papers finding aid

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Roman L. Horne

 

McLean, Virginia
December 15, 1972
by Richard D. McKinzie

[1]

MCKINZIE: Mr. Horne, I wonder if you could tell me how you happened to come into Government service, and then how you came to the War Production Board, and what circumstances led you then to go from the War Production Board on into the Department of the Treasury? I believe that was 1944 when you went to the Treasury.

HORNE: In answer to your first question, I have been in and out of government a number of times. First during the early years of the [Franklin D.] Roosevelt administration.

Like many other people entering college

[2]

in the twenties, I ran into some rough sledding when the depression came along, and fortunately was offered a teaching fellowship at Ohio State University, which enabled me to get both a Masters and a Ph.D. during the worst years. While I was still working on my doctorate in the field of international monetary theory, a favorite professor of mine, Dr. H. Gordon Hayes, came to Washington to take a rather responsible position in the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. That was the beginning of the Roosevelt administration. Right away he began urging me to come to Washington, although I didn't yet have my degree. I held off until the June of '34, because I had certain requirements to work off back at Ohio State. Coming to Washington a year after the Roosevelt administration had taken over, I was afraid that all the good opportunities were gone, but hoped that

[3]

I might be able somehow to take advantage of my professional training.

Through introductions that Professor Hayes made for me, I was able right away to get into writing and editorial assignments, frequently on a short-term basis, without getting too deeply entangled in the bureaucracy. I got out a number of publications under my own name, and came to the attention of a good many people, meanwhile completing the remaining requirements for my doctorate, which I got in 1936.

Among the people whose acquaintance I made in due course was one Chester A. Davis, head of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. I was doing an editorial job in the Department of Agriculture in 1937 when the AAA came under fire in the courts and Mr. Davis, a favorite of President Roosevelt, was

[4]

shifted to the Federal Reserve Board. He invited me to go with him.

Well, that was -- in view of my background -- like the rabbit being tossed into the briar patch. I was very much at home at the Federal Reserve Board, which I had just joined when they moved into that gorgeous marble building they still occupy on Constitution Avenue.

By the time I got to the "Fed," as it is called, I was beginning to feel that my professional career was more or less launched. Meanwhile, I got married, and my wife, a Vassar-trained economist, felt that I might go to seed there because it was all too comfortable. I was in a receptive mood therefore when, in the spring of 1940, I got a telephone call from the Tennessee Valley Authority asking me to come down

[5]

there for an interview. I went, talked to Gordon Clapp, [David E.] Lilienthal, and others. They wanted me to become their chief reports editor. I had some little difficulty understanding this or how they had even found my name. But TVA had had some rough going during the mid-thirties, what with Commonwealth Southern and [Wendell L.] Willkie -- trials, tribulations. So, they had asked me to do this primarily because (a) my credentials were generally satisfying and, (b) -- and more importantly -- I was born and reared in the mountains of western North Carolina and had a familiar -- an all too familiar -- knowledge of the kind of problems that TVA had to deal with, plus the fact that I was working then on the Federal Reserve Bulletin, a very prestigious monthly, and they wanted to introduce some of that style

[6]

into their own publications. My involvement there, while highly rewarding, is not particularly relevant to my later career. But briefly, the TVA moved very rapidly in the early forties, with the war coming on, and by the end of '42 people with my kind of training and experience were being urged to come to Washington and make a contribution to the war effort.

The War Department offered me a captaincy in the Army Specialists Corps, where I was to work on reports to the President and the Congress. This sounded good, but you will not have found a reference to this experience in any file on my background. The Army took me on loan while processing my commission. I moved to Washington in early '43 and went to work in the War Department, then housed in a building referred to as the

[7]

New State Department building, very close to the Federal Reserve, and shortly thereafter moved over to the newly completed Pentagon. I plunged into the kind of work they had mapped out for me as best I could, but before my commission came through I realized that a captain -- particularly with a civilian's demeanor, dress, and independence of mind -- would play no significant role whatever in that atmosphere. He was little more than a messenger boy. I felt trapped, not realizing that a means of escape would shortly appear.

After about two months on the job a man from the personnel office came around to me and he said: "Mr. Horne, there's been a mistake in the handling of your application. We gave you the wrong form to fill out to begin with. Let's just tear this old one up and you fill out the correct form and the

[8]

processing will all move along very much faster."

I said, "Thank you very much," stuck the new form in my pocket, put on my hat and coat and walked out and over to the War Production Board where I knew, as a civilian, I could do something useful. There I moved immediately into a position as Assistant to the Executive Secretary, where my principal duty was to organize meetings of the Board, assemble documentation, and write the minutes of Board meetings. That would have been March or April, I guess, of 1943.

Well, I won't go into what happened during the war, except to say that when the Allied armies moved into France in June of 1944, all of us in the War Production Board with professional background began to think about our personal reconversion to a peacetime career.

[9]

MCKINZIE: May I ask whether or not there was a feeling in the WPB that some modification of that organization might be possible? That the idea of planning for peacetime production was, in the minds of some, just about as important as planning for wartime production.

HORNE: Do you want me to speak on that for a moment?

MCKINZIE: If you would, please.

HORNE: This was very much in the minds of people at the WPB. When I speak of the WPB in this context I am really speaking of a staff and an office -- first under [Donald M.] Nelson, then under [Charles E.] Wilson, and subsequently under [Julius] Krug. Our offices were located on Independence Avenue about four or five blocks west of the Capitol.

[10]

The Board itself actually was made up of more than that: the military and a lot of big brass at cabinet level. And while the Board was advisory to the Chairman, it nevertheless carried weight. People who were civilian-oriented began putting up a mighty struggle, even before the landing in Normandy, to get on with reconversion to a civilian-oriented economy, and at a minimum to initiate meaningful planning. How to let loose all these wartime plants; how to get back on a civilian basis -- these were staggering challenges. But the military-minded people -- and this is part of their training and I don't wish to fault them for it -- the military-minded people didn't want to let anything go, anything, until they had victory in the bag.

When the WPB, for example, would authorize

[11]

the Tennessee Valley Authority to go ahead and build a new dam back in the mountains somewhere -- put up an enormous village around it to house imported labor and technicians, as you had to do -- it was a struggle to get allocations of materials and manpower to build essential supporting services. This was very shortsighted, in my opinion, because if you had all of the essential community facilities the women living there with their men would have been freed to do more important work. But you could hardly get approval to build even a sewage disposal system or a commercial laundry. So, if a woman had to stay home, do her laundry and mind the kids -- well, she didn't have much time for productive employment. And while there was a lot of pressure from some quarters to get on with reconversion, there was just as much, if not

[12]

more, to keep the heat on until the war was over. Some people, unfortunately, had vested financial interests in this, and, indeed, there were people in the WPB -- I don't point to anyone in particular -- who, while working for the government, kept an eye on the industry from which they had been recruited. There is no doubt about that. This was a cause of constant turmoil and concern. But everyone knew that you couldn't make a lifetime career out of the WPB, so many of us, particularly after D-Day, began casting about for opportunities to resume careers that had been interrupted by the war.

Well, in July, actually, the first three weeks of July, 1944, a conference on postwar intervational monetary and financial problems was held at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.. And while this conference was in progress,

[13]

I sat over there at the WPB realizing that that was where I ought to be. But I could not easily desert the ship, besides, I had not been asked to go to Bretton Woods. I was still on loan from the Tennessee Valley Authority, and I had to consider whether I would go back there when the war was over.

The Bretton Woods Conference came and went, and a few days after it ended -- and now I get around to answering your question -- a few days after Bretton Woods I was sitting at my desk reading an article in the Commercial and Financial Chronicle, an article by Herb [Herbert Max] Bratter on the implications of what had happened at Bretton Woods. I was, again, regretting that I hadn't been present, and I thought I must have missed the boat by not being there and getting involved somehow. And so help me, while those

[14]

very thoughts were running through my mind, I had a call from one E.M. [Edward M.] Bernstein at the U.S. Treasury, one of the brilliant minds behind the Bretton Woods proposals. He told how he had come upon my name, and asked me if I would come over to the Treasury and talk about a job. He had just got back from Bretton Woods. They had a big campaign ahead to inform -- or I guess he must have said to educate -- the country and in particular to educate the Congress on the implications of the proposals to create two gigantic international financial institutions, the IMF and World Bank. That campaign would be carried on mainly by the Treasury, to a large extent under his supervision. I went right over. He had something I had written, and I don't mind telling you frankly what appealed to him was that I have an overly simplistic

[15]

style of writing in dealing with complex matters. I think this goes back to my mountain background where nothing very complex ever got understood by anybody. So Bernstein and I talked, and then he took me along to introduce me to his boss whose name was Harry Dexter White. And they said, "Well, you've got a job here, when can you come to work." We agreed that I would start immediately. So I was in the Treasury now. Having been in the Federal Reserve some years before, I was back in the field where I hoped to make my mark. My job was mainly writing and editing, and dealing with members of Congress, a very exciting assignment.

Although the Bretton Woods Conference was over, the Articles of Agreement had yet to be considered and approved by congresses and parliaments around the world including the U.S.

[16]

Congress. And there would be no International Monetary Fund or World Bank until enabling legislation was enacted by a substantial number of Free World powers. So, we went to work out of the Treasury to educate the country and to build a fire under Congress.

I guess I wrote speeches for more than 50 members of the Congress who were kindly disposed. It would happen in this way. Mr. White or Mr. [Henry J.] Morgenthau would approach these people - ask them to make speeches in the Congress and around the country. "W