The career of the Utahn who led the Federal Reserve Board through some of the darkest days of the Great Depression.
With the Federal Reserve System so much in the news these days, let’s take a look at the Utahn Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated to head the central bank in 1934: Marriner S. Eccles. Only a few years earlier, Eccles, the son of Scottish immigrants, had demonstrated his financial and administrative acumen by successfully shepherding a group of banks organized under the auspices of the First Security Corporation through the initial years of the Great Depression. Such skills did not go unnoticed in Washington. As early as 1933, Eccles became a frequent visitor to the nation’s capital, providing advice, attending conferences, and testifying before Congress about economic matters. By 1934, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau had lured the Utah banker to Washington as his special assistant and Eccles immediately became involved in drafting the Federal Housing Act and advocating for public works programs and deficit spending.
Within a few months of setting himself up at Treasury, Eccles found himself facing yet another career change. Eugene Black, governor of the Federal Reserve Board, had resigned his post and President Roosevelt had put the Utah businessman’s name forward as Black’s replacement. By 1935, with his nomination ratified by the Senate, Eccles unveiled his plans for a reformed and refashioned Federal Reserve System that established the central bank’s independence from the Treasury Department. Eccles remained at the helm of the Federal Reserve through the rest of the Depression and World War Two. In 1944, Eccles represented the United States at the Bretton Woods Conference where the World Bank and International Monetary Funds were created.
Shortly after Harry Truman declined to reappoint Eccles as chair of the Fed, the Utahn resigned his post on the board and returned west to resume his work in the banking industry. He died in 1977.
Image: Marriner Eccles. Marriner Eccles became the head of the Federal Reserve System, and presided over several other companies, including the Amalgamated Sugar Company, and the Utah Construction Company. Courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library.
See Sidney Hyman, Marriner S. Eccles: Private Entrepreneur and Public Servant (Stanford: Stanford University Graduate School of Business, 1976) and Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Also see Leonard Arrington’s entry on Eccles in the online Utah History Encyclopedia, as well as Jeff Nichols’ article on Eccles, originally published in the March 1995 issue of the History Blazer, which can now be found on the Utah History To Go website.