About Franklin D'Olier
Franklin D'Olier was the first national commander of the American Legion and served in that capacity from 1919 to 1921. Like all of the original American Legion membership, D'Olier was a veteran of The Great War. D'Olier was also a prominent businessman and the great-grandfather of actor Christopher Reeve.
D'Olier was the head of the yarn merchants D'Olier & Company in Philadelphia, PA when he elected as the first national commander at the Minneapolis convention in 1919. A Quaker from Pennsylvania, an 1898 graduate of Princeton University, and a veteran of World War I, D'Olier was 42 years-old when he became the head of the American Legion. He was described by Pulitzer prize winning author Marquis James as, "A conservative in almost everything; the superlative forms of speech could be striken from the language without dimishing his ability to express himself with the same unmistakable clarity and effect; a quiet, serene, unruffled man with a serene, unruffled, analytical mind; an admirable compromiser and conciliator; a tolerant and agreeable man, always willing to hear the fellow's other side and a wizard at converting people to his own side so adroitly that they are apt to be unaware of the change." (A History of the American Legion" by Marquis James. Pgs 135-136. Wm Green. 1923.)
D'Olier was unanimously elected as the first commander of the American Legion in 1919. At his acceptance speech he said only, "My word is simply this. We came here to work. Let us keep working and not listen to speeches. I thank you." As commander he served without pay and defrayed all of his expenses out of his own funds.
The three main items on his agenda as national commander were disability benefits for wounded veterans, jobs training for unemployed veterans, and a scheme of "adjusted compensation" that would have paid veterans what they would have earned if they had not served in the war. It was alleged that the average soldier, sailor, or Marine made $1 per day during the war while the average factory worker made $12. His staunch support for the adjusted compensation lead may of his previous friends in business to become hostile towards him. He said to Marquis James, "I don't feel welcome down here any more. There are a lot of people in this neighborhood (referring to Wall Street) who used to think I was a pretty descent, respectable business man who knew the rules of the game and played by them. Now they treat me as if I belonged to the I.W.W." (A History of the American Legion" by Marquis James. Pg. 141 Wm Green. 1923.)
In September 1920 before the start of the American Legion's national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, D'Olier told a reporter, "The American Legion is the best insurance policy a country ever had."
D'Olier refused to be reelected as national commander as he believed the power of the position should not be held by one man for more than one term. He was succeeded by Frederic W. Galbraith in 1921.
D'Olier would return to his business in Philadelphia while still remaining active in veterans affairs until his death in 1953. In 1945, while heading Prudential Life Insurance, he was asked by President Harry Truman to chair the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. He is buried in the St. Mary's Episcopal church yard in his hometown of Burlington, New Jersey.