Owen D. Young was an American industrialist, businessman, lawyer and diplomat. His ancestors were early English immigrants to New York, but he had humble origins. As a boy he demonstrated academic inclinations. He grew up on a small family farm. His parents had to morgage the farm to pay for his education. Young is little known today, but played a role in several important undertakings. He was involved in efforts to assist Germany with World War I reparations. This ultimtely failed because of the Deporession and the NAZIs. His greatest achievement was founding the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), a subsidiary of General Electric (1919). At the time the British threatened to control the infant American radio industry. He also played a key role in thevNew York state university. In retirement he was involved in local schools.
The family originted in the German Rhineland. They emigrated because of war and religious persecution. At the time, English armoes under the Duke of Marlbourgh was fighting Louis XIV's French armies in the Rhinelnd. The family first went to England. The English sent them to New York to provide naval stores for the Royal Navy (1710). They gradully moved up the Hudson and them a liitle west along the Mohawk. This was the very edge of the frontier at the time.
Owen's parents were Jacob Smith Young and Ida Brandow. They worked a farm owned by Jacob's father and Ownen's grandfather. This was at a time that America was industrializing. Working a small family farm mean that the family was of very modest means. Farm family generall anted several children so thy could help out with all the work that needed to be done. Forwhat ever reason, Owen would prove to be the only surviving son.
Owen was born on in rural New York state (1874). He grew upon a small family farm near Stark/Van Hoenesville in central New York west of the Hudsom River. Owen was an only child. Owen had an older brother who died before Own was born. His parents saw him as something of a miracle. And he would be their only child. The family had a religious tradition. Owen was the first male of the family not to be given a Biblical name.
Owen began school (1881). He proved to be an excellent tudent with auick mind. America had public schools even in rural areas. He impressed his teacher, Menzo McEwan, who would help to mke sure he got an excellent education, including sevondary school. At this time, a relatively small number of children pursued studis beyonf primry chool, especilly rural children of modest means. Owen attended East Springfield Accademy, primarily because fees were rather modest. This was at some distance from Van Hornesville and the family farm where his parents needed him. Even so, his parents supported his desire to obtain an education. It was a difficult family decesion. His parents were no longer young and as a teenager his labor was badly needed. And they would have to pay school fees. East Springfield Academy was a small, struggling coeducational secondary school. The president of th Academy managed to convince his parents. Young describes enjoyed his time there and made lifelong friendships. As an adult he tried to attend all of the class reunions. It was at the Accademy that ahole new life opened up to Young. He wax introduced discovered Universalism which he would sescribe as offering more intellectual freedom and differed from what he describes as the gloom and hellfire of the Christianity of his yoiuth. He then entered St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York(1890). He became a brother of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He graduated (1894). His parenbts had to mortgage their farm to finance his college education. He then went to law school at Biston Unuvrsity. He completed a 3-year law course in only 2-years, graduating cum laude (1896).
He married Josephine Sheldon Edmonds, who he met in college (1898). She was a Radcliffe graduate. They had five children. She died (February 1937). In later life he married Louise Powis Clark (1887–1965), a widow with three adult children.
Young after earning his law degree joined Charles H. Tyler's Noston law firm. He becme a partner 10-years later. They were involved in corporate law, litigation between major corporations. One case assigned to Young
was representing Stone and Webster in a case against General Electric (1911). GE president, Charles A. Coffin, noticed him.
When GE's General Counsel Hinsdill Parsons died (April 1912), Coffin offered the job of Chief Counsel to Young. Young accepted the offer and moved to Schenectady. Under his ledership guidance and teaming with president Gerard Swope, GE shifted into the manufacture of home electrical appliances. GE became the best known domestic manufacturer and prompted the electrification of American farms, factories and transportation systems. Little progress was made in farm electrifucation. This would occur during the New Deal with the Rural Electrification Administration. But urban America did rapidly electrify and the desire to have GE home appliances was a factor. Young become GE's president a decade later after joining the company (1922). He was also inaugural chairman, serving in that position until 1939.
The U.S Government at the end of World War I became concerned about British control of the world's tele-comunications system. British control of cable systems from Europe was a factor in British propaganda during the War. Reponding to a Government request, Young helped create the Radio Corporation of america (1919). At the time commercial radio bradcasting was just beginning in America. He became its first chairman and served in that position (until 1929). America soon emerged as a world leader. GE and RCA technology in radio broadcasting would be a factor. RCA became the largest radio company in the world. [Doenecke]
Young was appointed to the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation (1928). He served in that position (until 1939).
The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I rqeuired Germany to pay reparations. President Woodrow Wilson appointed Young to participare in the Second Industrial Conference following the War. Wilson was the first of five presidents that Young would advise, both Democrat and Republican. Young coauthored the Dawes Plan which reduced the annual amount of German reparations (1924). A great deal of the German reoaration payments would actually be provided by American loans. The Germans again defaulted on its payments (late-1920s). A new international commision met to consider a program that would release Germany from World war I repatriations. for the final release of German obligations. Young served as chairman. Germany's total reparations were again reduced and spread out over 59 annual payments. It became known as the 'Young Plan'. Young was named Time Magazine's 1929 Man of the Year. Unfortunately, the Young Plan collapsed with the Wall Street Crash and the outbreak of the Great Depression (1929).
Young also played a role in the beginning planning for a state university system in New York. Franklin Roosevelt was at the timr governor. He would become a member of the New York State Board of Regents, the governing body of New York's educational system (until 1946). Governor or Thomas E. Dewey appointed him to head the state commission that set up th groundwork for the State University of New York system. Observers report that the commission mnvers held vried and often conflicting views. Upomg by all accounts managed to obtain a degree of consensus in the report submitted to and adopted by the legislature.
Young was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1932. Because of the Depression and downward spiral of the economy. There was little doubt it would be a crucial election. President Hoover ran for reelection. There was a fight for the Democrtic nomintion. Young did not campaign actively, but his advisers promoted his candidacy beginning well before the convention (1930). Governor Roosevelt held the lead, bit it was an open question if he could obtain the two-thirds vote needed at the time. Reports suggest that the two major candidates, Smith and Roosevelt--both New York govrnors, held him in high regard. Young was seen as a possible compromise candidate, acceotable to both sides.
After retiring from GE and RCA, Young becme involvd in local eduction in his home town. He built the Van Hornesville Central School in his hometown. It consolidated the small rural schools in the area. After his death, it was renamed Owen D. Young Central School. He was also a trustee of St. Lawrence University (1912-34) He served as president of the board for much of that time. The University's main library was named in his honor. He retired to the family farm, where he began dairy farming. He enjoyed wintering in Florida. He died at his winter home in St. Augustine, Florida (1962).
Doenecke, Justus D. "Young, Owen D.". American National Biography Online.
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