Oral History Interview with
Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration, 1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice President and Director, Defense Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator, 1945; Director, Office of Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46. Secretary Snyders longtime close friendship with Harry S. Truman began with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
John W. Snyder
March 15, 1980
This interview was conducted by Richard Shick for the Oral History Committee of the Treasury Historical Association and donated to the Harry S. Truman Library for its oral history transcript collection.
See also: John W. Snyder Oral History, by Jerry N. Hess of the Harry S. Truman Library done in 1987-1969.
See also: John W. Snyder Oral History, by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley of the William Jewell Oral History Project dated March 18, 1976.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. Requests to publish or for further information should be directed to the Treasury Historical Association, Washington, D.C. 20220.
Opened November, 1982
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
March 15, 1980
by Richard Shick, Treasury Historical Association
SHICK: This is Richard Shick and we’re talking with Mr. John W. Snyder, former Secretary of the Treasury.
Mr. Snyder, let’s talk about personal impressions first. Do you recall your first reactions on being nominated to the Secretary of the Treasury?
SNYDER: Well, it’s going to be a little surprising to you, about the time that I had to reflect. President Truman announced at a press conference that he was appointing Fred Vinson as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The reporters started to rush out but stopped to ask, “Wait a minute, who’s going to take his place at the Treasury?”
He said, pointing at me, “That fellow sitting right there.” So you can see how much time I had to reflect upon the appointment.
SHICK: Did you have any inkling?
SNYDER: No, frankly I had been hoping very much to be able to go back to St. Louis to the First National Bank. I had given up the Presidency to come to help Mr. Truman when he first became President, and continued to hope to find a way back. I was his first appointment - he named me Federal Loan Administrator, as that job was open at the time and there was no question about replacing someone. As I had considerable experience in the RFC and in the Federal Loan Administration, I was immediately confirmed. I was in the Federal Loan Administrator job about three months and did quite a number of things there in consolidating war-time subsidiaries, and planning for the financing for the reconversion period. I worked
out a plan between the banks and the RFC to share loans to small business and to larger business for the transfer from war to peace. I had consolidated all the various subsidiaries such as Defense Plant Corporation, Rubber Reserve Corporation, Defense Supply and others back into the mother corporation, the RFC. And about that time, Henry Morgenthau resigned as Secretary of the Treasury. President Truman and I had talked about that before. He and I discussed a successor quite a bit. We knew well that he would not retain Morgenthau in that office.
It was my opinion that Fred Vinson would be of great value to him up on the Hill because with the war over we would run into all sorts of legislative problems, particularly taxes and reorganization of the government and things of that character. Because of Vinson’s long experience in Congress in the House Ways and Means Committee, we thought that he would be a very good man for the President’s
Cabinet in the tax side of it and so I was fully expecting that appointment. When he was appointed, I was unexpectedly moved over to his job, the OWMR (Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion). Of course, that was not a spot that I would have chosen for myself. It was more or less a workable operation, so far as mechanics were concerned in wartime as things were somewhat controlled by our being in an emergency war situation. But once the war was over, getting the cooperation back, getting the departments back in their old functions again was a pretty delicate political operation and I had never been in politics at all. The only time I got in politics was when Mr. Truman was running for office and that was to help in the background in raising funds. So, I was, in my own mind, not suited for that highly political position. It was not a happy appointment as far as I was concerned, but the President was in Potsdam and
the ox was in the ditch, so without any question I went along and was sworn in and operated that department for about nine months. We think we did a tremendously good job in spite of what the papers, the liberals and the opposition felt about it. We had, within less than nine months after the war, the peacetime economy running to a capacity that was in excess of what it was before the war. So, the move out of OWMR for me was very pleasant. It was good to get into business and banking which I knew something about.
So, that was the immediate reaction. However, it was not so much as to what my reaction was, but the suddenness of it. I had to get quickly to the Undersecretary of the Treasury and assure him that I knew nothing about this, or I would have talked with him if I had known it and that I definitely wanted him to stay on. That was Governor O. Max Gardner, from North Carolina, who was helping Fred Vinson out over there and I certainly didn’t
want to lose him. After I got through talking with him I told him (I went over to his house - this was late in the afternoon - he had gone to the Mayflower to his apartment) so the minute I got out of the Press conference I made a beeline down to their apartment and caught Mrs. Gardner and O. Max there and told them what had happened, and the circumstances. It’s up to you now, Governor, what we do about this. If you will not stay with me, I’ll go right back and tell Mr. Truman that I won’t take it. Oh, he said, you can find plenty of people. I said no, you’re the one I want and I want to urge you to take it and I hope that you’ll see your way. Well, he and his wife talked about it and while they did, I said I’ll tell you this, if anything ever comes up that you want, after helping me get settled over there, if anything ever comes up that you want, after helping me get settled over there, if Mr. Truman can get it for you, I’ll certainly do my best to get him to do it. Oh, he says, I think you’re pretty sincere
about this, therefore, I’ll promise you I’ll help you get started. He did not make a long time commitment.
SHICK: Nowadays there’s a lot of pre-clearance and pre-investigation.
SNYDER: Well, that’s the proper thing to do, of course, but Mr. Truman was suddenly catapulted into that job and quite a number of FDR’s Cabinet members wanted to get out. But most of them - about half of them I’d say - promised to stay on for a few months so that he could look around and get people he wanted. Miss Perkins was one, Stimson was one, and there were several. The Postmaster General Walker was not well and he had been trying to get out for some time. They acted very kindly about it. By July, all but Wallace, Forrestal, Ickes and Stimson had resigned.
SHICK: Did you have any preconceived view of the Department and were these substantiated or
changed as a result of your six year tenure?
SNYDER: Well, I guess I had quite a number of preconceived notions about certain segments of it, as I had been in banking all my life and had been before the Treasury on bank matters before and then when the crash came in ‘29 I was asked by the Comptroller of the Currency, Robert Neil of St. Louis, Missouri District, to help with some of the closed banks and it ended up that at one time I had eight that I worked with, trying to either get them reorganized, reopened or to liquidate them. I was very fortunate in that because of the eight, one of them reopened, four liquidated up in the top eighties or ninety percent. One liquidated in full and two unfortunate ones had their presidents commit suicide when they closed. So you can imagine what you’d find in such a bank. They experienced bad liquidations because somehow the bank’s liquid assets had been taken out before the suicides.
Then, of course, I had been in the Defense Plant Corporation, running it for Mr. Jesse Jones. I went down to Washington in 1940 and with several of the RFC people, Emil Schram, Hans Klagsbrunn, Cliff Durr, and Claud Hamilton, Chief Counsel for the RFC, we organized the Defense Plant Corporation, whose function was to furnish money to build plants to build things for the war. So we set up rather a unique system which I could take three or four days to tell you all about, but it will suffice to say that during the course of our operations over three or four years, we advanced over 11 billion dollars in building plants for the war. We built up the aircraft operations - we built 15 or 20 plants for that. We built all the synthetic rubber plants, we built all of the magnesium plants and we built aluminum plants. We actually financed everything you could think of from plants to build tanks, to build trucks, and even to industrial diamonds. That was about the smallest one we built.