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About Myron C. Taylor
Myron Charles Taylor (January 18, 1874 – May 5, 1959) was one of the major figures in American life during the first half of the 20th century. He was probably America's leading industrialist, and later a key diplomatic figure at the hub of many of the most-important geopolitical events before, during, and after World War II.
In addition he was a philanthropist giving generously to his alma mater, Cornell University, and a number of other causes.
Early life and education
He was born in Lyons, New York, to William Delling Taylor and Mary (née Underhill) Taylor. His father owned and operated a tannery business.
Taylor graduated from the Cornell Law School of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1894.
He returned to Lyons and for the next five years struggled to establish a small-town law practice. He also twice ran for the New York State Assembly as a Democrat, and both times was defeated.
Amassing his fortune
In 1900, Taylor left Lyons to join his brother William Taylor (Cornell, A.B., class of 1891) on Wall Street in New York City, New York. His focus turned to corporate law and his legal career began to flourish.
Taylor won a U.S. government contract for mail pouches and related products. He quickly exploited this lucrative business and began not only to introduce innovations such as the transparent "window" in envelopes through which an address is displayed, but also to buy up competitors.[clarification needed]
His efforts expanded to the cotton markets, identifying opportunities to acquire struggling cotton mills, transform their labor practices, and modernize their technology. This approach later became known as the "Taylor Formula".
Seeing the potential of the infant automotive industry, he established a textile firm that became the leading supplier of combined tire fabric. During World War I his plants became the leading suppliers to the American military effort. Following the war he saw a boom-bust cycle coming and disposed of all his interests in the mills.
With his now-sizable fortune he could have retired, but at the urging of two leading Wall Street bankers—J.P. Morgan (also one of the founders of United States Steel) and George F. Baker—Taylor was recruited to help turn around the finances of U.S. Steel, once the largest steel producer and largest corporation in the world.[clarification needed] On September 15, 1925, he was elected a director and member of its powerful finance committee. He became the committee's chairman in 1929. From March 29, 1932, until April 5, 1938, he was U.S. Steel's chairman and chief executive officer.
During the desperate years of the Great Depression, he applied the Taylor Formula again—closing or selling plants; reorganizing the corporate structure; and upgrading and modernizing the company's operations and technology.
One defining moment occurred in 1937, when Taylor struck a deal with John L. Lewis who, at the time, was head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Through the deal, U.S. Steel agreed to recognize a CIO subsidiary for purposes of representing and organizing U.S. Steel workers. U.S. Steel became the first major industrial corporation to take this historic step. The basis for the deal later became known as the Myron Taylor Labor Formula, defining how to bring about labor stability and long-term prosperity for the company:
The Company recognizes the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives freely chosen by them without dictation, coercion or intimidation in any form or from any source. It will negotiate and contract with the representatives of any group of its employees so chosen and with any organization as the representative of its members, subject to the recognition of the principle that the right to work is not dependent on membership or non-membership in any organization and subject to the right of every employee freely to bargain in such manner and through such representatives, if any, as he chooses
Taylor was a looming presence over the affairs of U.S. Steel, leaving an indelible mark on its history. He soon was featured on the covers of or in articles in Time, Fortune, Business Week, The New Yorker, and The Saturday Evening Post. He did not officially retire from the board until January 12, 1956.[clarification needed]
In July 1938 he represented the U.S. at the Évian Conference, in Évian-les-Bains, France, convened at the initiative of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution leading up to the onset of World War II. Before German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler turned to mass extermination of Jews by way of The Holocaust, the possibility of having refugees sent to willing countries was posed. Sumner Welles, the U.S. Under Secretary of State had proposed an international conference to address the immigration issue. Going into the conference Roosevelt gave Taylor the instruction: "All you need to do is get these people together." Taylor was appointed chairman, and while he was not able to get concessions on immigration, a proposal to create the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees was approved.
Personal envoy to Pope Pius XII
On December 22, 1939, Roosevelt asked Taylor "to take on a special mission for me" — to be Roosevelt's "personal envoy" to Pope Pius XII. Taylor's appointment was announced on December 23, 1939, and confirmed in Rome, Italy,[clarification needed] on February 28, 1940. Taylor served from 1940 throughout the rest of Roosevelt's presidency (his death in 1945) and continued as President Harry S. Truman's "personal envoy" until 1950.
Although appointed as a "Peace Ambassador" and "personal envoy", Taylor was extended ambassador status by the Holy See on February 13, 1940.
His appointment to that diplomatic position was officially protested by many American Protestant Christian denominations, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists.
He left Rome on September 22, 1941, flying to Lisbon, Portugal, and London, United Kingdom, on the way back to the U.S. Initially his direction was to prevent Italy from joining the war with Germany. Later he would be influential in urging limited bombing of Rome in 1943–1944 by the Allies of World War II, and then to only specific military targets. Harold J. Tittmann, Jr. remained as chargé d'affaires after Taylor's departure, and was required to move from Italy[clarification needed] into Vatican City on December 13, 1941. Taylor arrived again in Rome in September 1942, but returned in October.[clarification needed]
In the summer of 1942, Taylor went on his most significant mission yet. He was asked to convey to the Pope that the U.S. would win the war and there would be no peace without victory. Another accomplishment of this trip was to influence the Pope to speak out in the atrocities being perpetuated against the Jews.
Taylor was also successful in persuading Spain's military general and dictator Francisco Franco not to join the Axis powers of World War II. Later he was able to lobby for an Allied military airbase in neutral Portugal that was ultimately granted.
As the war approached its end and afterwards, Taylor recognized the Italian people were in dire need of necessities. He established American Relief for Italy, an organization that became the primary means to provide food, clothing and medicine to millions of suffering Italians. In a short time approximately US$6 million in public funds were raised and over $37 million in relief supplies were distributed.
Taylor intended to step down after the war ended, but following Roosevelt's death he agreed to stay on and to help Truman. Truman charged Taylor to work "not only with the Pope but with other leaders in the spiritual world and in the world of politics and secular affairs as he travels through Europe in the fulfillment of his mission." For the next four years he traveled throughout Europe to get helpful Cold War information to which no other westerner had access, and to shore up opposition by the church to the Soviet Union.
Taylor resigned in January 1950, after which Truman recalled his assistant Franklin C. Gowan, prompting speculation that U.S.–Vatican[clarification needed] ties (strongly opposed by many Protestant leaders) would end. Although there were interim informal diplomacy assignments, the U.S. did not appoint an official U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See until 1984.
On December 20, 1948, President Truman awarded Taylor the Medal for Merit — one of the highest civilian decoration of the U.S. awarded to civilians for exceptionally meritorious conduct. He was also named a Knight of the Order of Pius IX, First Degree.
In early 1950 Taylor officially retired.
His country home in Locust Valley, New York, was situated on the site of a farm started by a Colonial ancestor, Captain John Underhill. After the Underhill house was damaged in a fire, he did not tear it down. Instead, he encased it in a new façade designed by the architect Harriet Lindeberg. Taylor took an active interest in Underhill — placing a marker at the entrance to the Underhill Burying Ground in 1953 and creating an endowment to assist with the perpetual maintenance. The marker reads: "Erected by Myron C. Taylor in honor of his mother Mary Morgan Underhill Taylor, 1953".
Philanthropy and Charitable Activity
Taylor gave $1.5 million in 1928 to Cornell University for the construction of a new building complex for its Cornell Law School and Law Library. The new space allowed the library five floors of stacks for over 200,000 volumes.
The dedication was in the Moot Court Room on October 15, 1932, with a buffet luncheon in the Reading Room following. Taylor and his wife Anabel C. Taylor presented the keys to the hall to then-Cornell University President Livingston Farrand.
Among his last-remaining projects after his retirement was overseeing his 1949 gift to Cornell to build a $1.5 million structure adjoining its Law School (which he had also helped to build). The new building, Anabel Taylor Hall, was named in his wife's honor and built to serve as an interdenominational religious center. Funds from Taylor also went toward the establishment of the Myron Taylor Lectures on Foreign Affairs, and for the Charles Evans Hughes residence center.
Myron and Anabel Taylor contributed several items to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, or owned artwork that was later given by another collector. Among these items include:
a statuette of the god Anubis as embalmer, Ptolemaic Period, c. 332-30 BC (given by Mr. and Mrs. Myron Taylor in 1938)
Bouquet of Chrysanthemums, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1881 (purchased by Taylor by 1937, sold in 1961 to Annenberg, bequest to The Met in 2002).
Taylor quietly lived out his final years, never seeking public accolades or recognition. When his wife died on December 12, 1958, he lost his raison d'etre and he died five months later on May 5, 1959, at his home in New York City at age 85.
Truman paid tribute noting, "The Honorable Myron C. Taylor performed great services for both me and my predecessor in the White House to the Vatican at a time when it was essential that the United States be represented in that quarter. Undoubtedly, no one could have performed the job as well as he did... All of this should be deeply grateful for the unselfish works of this fine man and able public servant."
Leaders in government, finance and industry were among the 200 people who attended the funeral service at his home on 16 East Seventieth Street. Honorary pallbearers included Welles; Deane Waldo Malott, president of Cornell University; Roger M. Blough, chairman of U.S. Steel; and Benjamin F. Fairless and Irving S. Olds, former chairmen of U.S. Steel.
Four clergymen, led by the Right Rev. Horace Donegan, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, participated in the service held in the music room of the residence.