Edwin A. Locke Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Edwin A. Locke

Assistant to the Chairman of the War Production Board, 1942-44; Executive Assistant to the Personal Representative of the President, 1944-45; Personal Representative of the President to China, 1945-46; Special Assistant to the President, 1946; Special Representative of the Secretary of State to the Near East (with personal rank of ambassador) and United States Member of the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, 1951-53.

Valdosta, Georgia
April 5, 1967
by J. R. Fuchs

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


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.

See also Edwin A. Locke Files and Edwin A. Locke Papers

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October 1967
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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Oral History Interview with
Edwin A. Locke


Valdosta, Georgia
April 5, 1967
by J. R. Fuchs


FUCHS: Mr. Locke, would you start with a brief sketch of your life, when and where you were born, your education, and your jobs leading up to your entrance into the Government?

LOCKE: I was born and brought up in Boston by a Yankee father and a Southern mother. I went to primary and secondary day schools in the Boston area, and then attended Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire, for a year before going to Harvard from which I graduated in 1932 with a major in Germanic languages and literatures and an A.B. degree cum laude. I then went to work for the Chase National Bank in New York in a training class they had for training men


for service in their overseas branches. And in June of 1933 I was sent to the bank's Paris office where I remained for two and a half years, and then in the fall of 1935 to the London office for six months. In April 1936 I was transferred back to New York City where I worked in various departments of the bank until the war came along.

During 1940 I tried to get into the Naval Air Force, but the Navy decided that unless things got terribly desperate they could get along without an old man like me. I was 29 or 30 at the time. So I got myself a job in Washington in the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, working for a friend of mine named Cliff Hill, who was an assistant, in fact the right hand man of Donald Nelson, then Director of Purchases.

FUCHS: Was this friend of yours in the Government


at the time?

LOCKE: Yes, he was, though on a temporary basis. He had been working for the Guaranty Trust Company in New York. We had certain friends in common and I had met him in that way.

FUCHS: You went in as a compensated employee?

LOCKE: No. For the first three months I believe I was without compensation. Then I went on a salary basis and severed all my connections with the Chase. The Advisory Council on National Defense later became the Office of Production Management, and later still was partially superseded by the Supply, Priorities and Allocations Board, which in turn was succeeded by the War Production Board. At that point I became a direct assistant to Donald Nelson.

FUCHS: What were your principal duties in the National Advisory Council and the Supply,


Priorities and Allocations Board?

LOCKE: In the beginning, in the Advisory Commission, it was mainly a problem of dividing up short items among a number of claimants. I remember the first job I had was to divide up three very large milling machines among four very important claimants, one of which was the Phelps Dodge Copper Corporation. Copper was of course very vital to the then defense effort, and I remember allocating one of the machines to Phelps Dodge. Sometimes we simply established priorities among competing claims and at other times actually allocated supplies when there were not enough to meet all needs.

FUCHS: I see. Was there much in your experience in France or England that helped you?

LOCKE: Not really except for the general training and development of the mind and analytical



In the War Production Board, I got something of everything. Anything that was a problem came to the Chairman's office, and would be mainly turned over to one of his three assistants of whom I was one. So I had a tremendous variety of assignments. And it was through that work that I first became acquainted with Mr. Truman, who was, by that time, head of the special Senate Investigating Committee. I remember very vividly being called into Donald Nelson's office one day. This was very early in the history of the War Production Board. I think it must have been in January or February of 1942 Mr. Nelson said, "Eddie, I've just come back from a meeting with the Truman Committee, and I've agreed that you will be the liaison man between the War Production Board and the Committee."

And I looked at him, staggered by this


statement, because I knew that the relations between the Board and the Committee had been very difficult and tense. I thought for a moment that Mr. Nelson was angry at me for one reason or another. So, I immediately said, "But Boss, I'm not a lawyer."

He said, "Eddie, that's exactly why I'm giving you this job. The lawyers have made such a mess of our relationship up there on the Hill that I don't want them to have anything to do with it at all. You go up there and when we're right, you stand your ground and I'll back you up. But if we're wrong, you admit it, and we'll change our plans accordingly."

FUCHS: Now, had lawyers been principally representing...

LOCKE: Yes, the War Production Board had as a general counsel a very fine man, a very top


notch lawyer by the name of John Lord O'Brian; but as so often happens in human relations, he and the Truman Committee didn't hit it off together at all. I suppose that perhaps Judge O'Brian was taking somewhat the legalistic approach, defending his client to the death, so to speak, whereas my instructions and thus my approach were quite different. The essence of our approach to the Truman Committee was that we were both interested in the success of the war effort; we were both to work on it together, and to try to arrive at the right answer regardless of whether either of us had taken the correct position in the first place.

FUCHS: Well, now, had the general counsel, O'Brian, appeared before committee hearings or was this done backstage, so to speak?

LOCKE: Some of both. And then, of course, the atmosphere in those days was hectic and charged,


and it was easier for tensions to build up than in more ordinary times.

FUCHS: Did you go before the Committee in hearings?

LOCKE: In the beginning I had a rather difficult few weeks, and my relations, although I'd see Senator Truman occasionally, were mainly with Hugh Fulton, the Committee's counsel, and with such assistant counsels and staff members as Rudolph Halley and George Meader. I had a difficult first few weeks because they were obviously aggravated by the War Production Board, and didn't feel confident that we would play it straight with them. But after those first few weeks, they began to see that we were sincere, that we were giving them the facts, that we were interested only in the success of the war effort. Our relations greatly improved and became very, very close, so that we were collaborating most intimately together on many,


many, war problems, We always took pains never to try to embarrass the committee, and the committee wasn't always right. They sometimes took hasty positions but we wouldn't immediately stand up in public and denounce them or try to belittle them; instead we would explain to them why they were wrong. I remember the case of high tenacity rayon tire cord versus cotton tire cord. The committee had taken a rather impulsive position against rayon. Instead of demolishing them with a statement as to the facts of the situation, we went up to the committee and explained why we had taken a different position than they had, and provided the facts to support that position. The committee then called a special public hearing at which we presented this material and subsequently came out with a report to the public presenting these facts and coming to a different conclusion than the one with which they had


started. So, we worked this way together and they never tried to embarrass us either. It was a fine relationship. The Truman Committee was a Senatorial body which, I think, made a very significant contribution to the war.

FUCHS: A letter in your papers, which Mr. Nelson wrote to Senator Truman, said that before a certain report was issued that they would like an opportunity to come to his office and speak with him about it. Now was that the customary thing? Had other agencies been doing that prior to that time?

LOCKE: I don't know what other agencies had been doing, but we evolved a system of collaboration with the committee, whereby they gave us 1p draft any report which they were going to publish, so that at least we could assure that their facts would be correct. And sometimes the correction of facts lead to somewhat


different conclusions. Now, we felt we had every right to present facts and to correct misstatements of fact in the committee's report. As to conclusions, they, of course, had every right to come to any conclusion they wished. We felt free to disagree, and we had some interesting discussions. But by and large we never had any serious difference of opinion regarding the Truman Committee's reports. They were a real help to the War Production Board, and, therefore, to the whole war effort.

FUCHS: To go back to your first couple of weeks, is there anyone who stands out in your memory who was especially critical or "short" with you?

LOCKE: This wasn't a personal thing with me, but they made it very plain -- and my contact was primarily with Hugh Fulton -- that they were very displeased with the War Production Board, and


had very little confidence in it based on their recent experience. So, my first job was to establish their confidence in us as individuals, in us as people of integrity, and in us as men who were interested in getting on with the war effort. Once they accepted that, then we began to work very effectively together.

FUCHS: It has been written by a young scholar that Mr. Nelson didn't really assume the power that they allowed him by the law and that the Committee was concerned about this. Do you have any reflections on that? In other words, that he didn't exercise the full scope of his power in handling the war production effort in dealing with the various agencies?

LOCKE: The Committee always had a feeling of this sort regarding Nelson, that he was not sufficiently a decisive man, and that he could, to use your phrase, use more of his powers more often. And


I think to a considerable degree, this was justified. I used to hear in business circles the same criticism about Mr. Nelson, that he took much too long to reach a decision and that he was this way not because the situation required a delayed decision, but because he was procrastinating. And some of this, I think, certainly came through in his direction of the War Production Board. Now, to a degree, this quality of procrastination stood him in good stead at times in Washington in those days because as you know, in public life, if you get out too far ahead of public opinion you can get into serious trouble. Nelson, however, was inclined to lag behind public opinion, and it was only a crisis situation that would serve to bring him abreast of or up to date with or in pace with public opinion. We had a series of these crises. And because of this lag, so to speak, in Nelson's willingness to act, the


Truman Committee found a number of causes for criticism.

FUCHS: Do you recall anything specific that they felt was a major shortcoming in WPB at the time you were assigned as liaison?

LOCKE: Well, when I was assigned as liaison, the War Production Board was brand new. It hadn't been in operation for more than a few weeks.

FUCHS: Do you recall your first meeting with Senator Truman?

LOCKE: No, I don't. My first meeting was with Mr. Fulton and then at some early point he introduced me to Senator Truman.

FUCHS: Were you particularly impressed with Mr. Fulton's capabilities?

LOCKE: Hugh Fulton had an extraordinary mind. Although he was a rather rotund, definitely


overweight person who looked something like a hayseed from the country, he had an amazingly capable mind, and a good ability to express himself, particularly on paper.

FUCHS: How about Charles Patrick Clark?

LOCKE: I knew Charlie Clark, but Charlie was sort of the natural politician. He was something of a wheeler-dealer, and certainly an amiable fellow, but he didn't have the intellect that Fulton and Halley and some of the other staff members had.

FUCHS: Halley is another one I am wondering about.

LOCKE: Halley was another good man. Both he and Fulton, as you know, are now dead.

FUCHS: Roger Willson, who wrote a doctoral dissertation at Harvard, said, "The correlation between Truman's influence and policy development


is much clearer in the case of WPB. Without Truman’s influence, it is unlikely that agency would have long endured or remained as it was. The same might be said of Nelson. Truman's great influence on Nelson and WPB may simply evidence the ability of a strong chairman of a powerful committee to work his will with the weak head of an unstable agency, but through that means Truman played an important role in the policy-making structure of the defense program." Do you have any comment about that?

LOCKE: To be fair about it, I must say, I think that statement both exaggerates the strength of Mr. Truman's influence on the Board and the weakness of Mr. Nelson. Both factors definitely existed and both were important in the situation, but Nelson was not as weak, especially in 1942, and 1943, as this statement implies. His was an incredibly great responsibility and a very


vital responsibility, It was the very heart, really, of a successful war effort, and inherent in it were enormous problems, not only of war production, but of handling, and to a large degree, directing the entire economy. I think that, by and large, Nelson did a remarkab