Hobcaw House Guestbooks Part 2: Baruch’s Transition from Wall Street Speculator to Public Servant

GUEST POST BY TOM RUSSO

By the second decade of the Baruch era at Hobcaw (1915 – 1925), as Bernard Baruch’s involvement in national politics grew, guests began to include members of the Democratic Party and Congress.

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Bernard Baruch first learned of presidential nominee Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Democratic Convention, and formally met him through William Gibbs McAdoo, Jr., Wilson’s campaign manager. Impressed with Wilson, Baruch gave generously to his campaign. In October 1914, Wilson appointed Baruch to the National Defense Council and in 1918 made him Chairman of the War Industries Board (WIB), created to oversee industrial procurement for the war. Its members served with no salary and were called “dollar-a-year-men.”

A number of those with whom Baruch worked in Washington D.C. during this period appear as guests at Hobcaw Barony well into the 1920s. Baruch made many close friends through his WIB work, several of whom became lifelong policy associates. Members of the WIB who signed the Guest Book included George Peek (farm policy) and Leland Summer (engineer and nitrate specialist).Other regular visitors included Joe Robinson, Senator from Arkansas; Key Pittman, Senator from Nevada; and Edith Bolling Wilson, Woodrow Wilson’s widow.

Another frequent Hobcaw visitor was Cary T. Grayson, White House physician and personal confidant of President Wilson’s. On January 31, 1926, Rear Admiral Grayson wrote in a Guest Book, the “T. in my middle name stands for Turkey,” a reference to his love of turkey hunting in the woods of Hobcaw. He and Baruch also shared an interest in thoroughbred horse racing.

In February of 1916, artist Louis Aston Knight visited, commissioned by the Baruchs to paint Hobcaw scenes. Today, visitors to the Discovery Center and Hobcaw House are beneficiaries of this visit, as many of Aston Knight’s works are on display.

Garet Garrett also signed the Guest Book. A conservative journalist and author, he was a close friend of Baruch, dating to his early Wall Street years. Garrett reinforced Simon Baruch’s admonition to young Bernard that the value of money lies in the good one does with it rather than the money itself.

Even though he left the South to live and prosper elsewhere, Baruch always enjoyed the company of native-born Southerners whose interests paralleled his own. One of these was Key Pittman, a visitor to Hobcaw as early as 1911. Born in Mississippi, Pittman spent most of his life in Nevada and served as Nevada’s senator from 1913 to 1940. From 1933 – 1940 he was Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This was the period when the President looked to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for national security direction, called the pre-National Security era.

Baruch also nurtured relations with the leaders of European countries, including Winston Churchill, who became a close friend and shared Baruch’s interests in mining and national preparedness. Baruch cultivated these connections to nurture access, influence and power in the halls of Congress and around the world, bolstering his legacy as a presidential advisor over seven decades. Much more can be learned about Bernard Baruch’s life in his two-volume memoir, Baruch: My Own Story and Baruch: the Public Years.

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