Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Livermore oral history interview.
Opened October, 1975
Oral History Interview with
March 4, 1974
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Dr. Livermore, I thought we might start by you giving us a little background of where you were born and your education and how you came to work for the Federal Government the first time.
LIVERMORE: I was born in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts in 1902, September; and stayed there until I was 12, when my family moved to Chicago, Illinois. I completed high school in Chicago and my parents sent me back to Dartmouth College, for sentimental reasons, in New England. My brother went to the University of Illinois. I've always been, therefore, a geographically split personality, also because my mother's family were Chicago pioneers in
the 1840s: the Ogden and Downs families. Her grandmother was a cousin of the first mayor and "Patriarch" of Chicago, William B. Ogden. She was a pioneer resident of Chicago (1844) and of Lake Forest. Chicago seemed as much home to me, and always has, as New England.
FUCHS: What did you study at Dartmouth?
LIVERMORE: Well, I was a major in government, as we say today. By temperament I should have been an historian; my son has turned out to be one. He is at the University of Michigan. My daughter is a professor of classics at the University of Maine -- two academic children! I was valedictorian of my class (1922) with an outstanding academic record, but my family were business oriented entirely. They didn't know anything about the academic world even though my mother was Wellesley '95. So, as a compromise I was sent to the Harvard graduate school of business in 1922. Graduate work there for me was exceptionally easy and I had the
highest record in the class, especially the first year. But I never wanted to become a business executive. In my subsequent life I think I carried out a basic drive of my nature which has been to experiment with different activities in life; not to be bound down in a lifetime with one corporation or one job. I have had a tremendous diversity of interests and about 15 "permanent" jobs. I had quite a time getting into the academic world. I was nabbed, you might say, after leaving Harvard to work in the securities boom of the late twenties in Boston. However, I had gotten in a single adventurous winter out in Duluth, Minnesota before I came back to Boston.
FUCHS: What did you do out there?
LIVERMORE: I was doing one of the very earliest marketing surveys of the Northwest, from the Twin Cities to Seattle. In Boston from spring '26 to the fall of '28 I was a combined statistician, economic analyst, trainer of salesmen, and general research
and idea man in an active brokerage firm. It was like living in a crazy nightmare or a dream when you look back on it. By late '28 I knew I didn't want to go on with the "Boom" idiocy longer, so I got a job in December of '28, before the boom had broken, to go to the University of Buffalo. It was then a privately endowed institution. It is now the State University of New York at Buffalo. With time out for graduate work I remained there until the spring of 1941, doing a great deal of consulting and writing. All the good writing I've done, or nearly all of it, was in that 12-year period when I was in my thirties.
FUCHS: I believe you produced a book in that period which you say still has some sales.
LIVERMORE: Yes, the Early American Land Companies book, which was a study of the pioneer corporate character (without state charters) of the early speculative land companies, has had quite a revival in historical interest. Harvard Press handles a hardback reprint of it
It's primarily of value to legal historians in law schools, rather than as a general historical work. At Columbia University in the thirties I was allowed to write a thesis that split between economics, history, and law. More than a third of my work was in the Columbia law school rather than in the graduate school of arts and sciences. That is testimony to the liberality of graduate study at Columbia as compared with Harvard or Chicago, at that time. So I've always been a great admirer of Columbia.
I wrote a couple of textbooks in that period and a lot of articles. The great break of my life came, of course, in the spring of '41 about eight or ten months before Pearl Harbor. My acquaintance with Eddie George led to that. I was among the first recruits in the spring of '41 in the skeleton war-directing organization that had begun in late 1940. It was the predecessor of the final War Production Board.
There were a few business executives there,
including Bill [William L.] Batt and Arthur Whiteside of Dun and Bradstreet, Because of Eddie George's connection with Dun and Bradstreet, I was assigned to Arthur Whiteside, president of Dun and Bradstreet. He was then down there as a friend of Don Nelson, in the summer of '41. He remained afterward for a couple of years during the Second War.
Well, the summer and early fall of '41 was one of the great periods in my life, because we were asked to work simultaneously on as many as 10 or 12 different problems, according to what came into that little office, long before Pearl Harbor. And it was in that period, in the summer, that I picked up an interest in the mining machinery industry. This remained my favorite industry all during the war, because we were struggling to keep them from converting over to military production. It would have been disastrous for metal and coal production during the later stages
of the war in '44 and '45 if we had not preserved those companies as manufacturers of their own products rather than converting over to making naval turrets or artillery(which their owners and directors wanted to do, in 1942 especially).
FUCHS: What was your title there?
LIVERMORE: We had no titles. We were classified under the Civil Service Commission I believe as "industrial analysts," all of us. It was a very wonderful period because there was no hierarchy. You worked on whatever was pressing, or for whichever one of the top men, like Batt or Whiteside, who had something where he needed help. We also interviewed many businessmen who came down wandering around trying to find how they could secure a little help in getting materials away from the military. The pressure was already on before Pearl Harbor on some of the alloy metals and on certain kinds of machinery. The military were already in their buildup before Pearl Harbor.
FUCHS: Now were some of these men, such as Whiteside, dollar-a-year men?
LIVERMORE: Oh, yes, all of the ones that I remember. Bill Batt certainly was. He was head of the big roller bearing firm, SKF, and Whiteside was still active in running his own company. He had to go back two days a week to New York.
FUCHS: What was your view of the dollar-a-year men? Mr. Truman, as you know, as a Senator had some apprehensions about this.
LIVERMORE: That status more or less disappeared, of course, by the end of '43. But in '41 and '42 there were a great many dollar-a-year men. I've often reflected on it. I did at the time. You could get individual cases over the whole spectrum. There were men who used it only for selfish interests in order to find out for their own company's benefit what was going on. I don't think anybody abused the position, in the very narrow selfish sense of grabbing anything for
their own company. But they did benefit by having their antennas out and knowing what was coming. On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, there were at least a half dozen men that I can think of who gave complete service to the Government, with no thought of personal gain or the interests of their companies. Whiteside was a classic example. His company didn't depend on any allocation or decisions. Dun and Bradstreet was a 100-year old world-famous firm and they weren't going to be injured or helped either way. He was completely free to do as he saw the best interests of the country. Bill Batt was in that status also. His company had sold out their complete capacity for roller bearings for months and years ahead, so he had no problem as far as his own company was concerned. He was a tremendously social-minded man anyway.
FUCHS: William L. Batt?
LIVERMORE: William L. Batt.
FUCHS: What was his position?
LIVERMORE: Right-hand man to Nelson, in the fall of 41. He was a great example of the best kind of dollar-a-year man you could hope to find. There