Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society

431 Days: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Creation of the SEC (1934-35)

Last Days of the Financial Frontier

Kennedy and Roosevelt Early Years

The two men who would launch the SEC were a study in contrasts, but both were deeply influenced by their coming of age in the early twentieth century, a time when business boomed and government was good.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was a patrician, educated at Groton and Harvard. Supremely self-confident, he took up the mantle of political reform from his famous fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt; confronted New York's corrupt Tammany Hall as a state senator; and became Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the administration of Woodrow Wilson.

Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969) was born to upwardly mobile "lace curtain" Boston Irish parents and grew up in an urban ethnic world unknown to Roosevelt. The enterprising youth sold soap, newspapers, and ran errands--his distinctive greeting: "How can we make some money?" Kennedy's ambition kept him sharp. He neither smoked, drank, nor gambled, and though not studious, he attended Boston Latin School and Harvard.

Kennedy might have entered politics like his Boston ward boss father, but he chose business instead. Family connections won him a job as a bank examiner, but he earned the position of bank vice president on his own. In spring 1917 Kennedy became assistant manager of Boston's Fore River Shipyard, then booming due to war production.

It was there that the two men crossed paths for the first time. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt's job was to negotiate contracts and speed up production, and he had commissioned Fore River to build ships for the Argentine navy. Kennedy would not release them until Fore River was paid. With little ado, Roosevelt took the ships. Kennedy learned a bit about the power of the government and Roosevelt learned a bit about the pluck of Joe Kennedy.

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(With permission of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum )
July 29, 1918
(With permission of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation )
(Courtesy of the Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress )

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