William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook

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William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baronet

Also Known As: "Max"
Birthdate: (85)
Birthplace: Maple, Ontario, Canada
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of William Cuthbert Aitken, Rev. and Jane Noble
Husband of Gladys Henderson Drury and Marcia Anastasia Aitken
Father of Hon. Janet Gladys Aitken; Sir John William Maxwell Aitken, 2nd Baronet; <private> Aitken and Hon. Janet Gladys Kidd
Brother of Joseph Mauns Aitkens; Capt. Arthur Noble Aitken; Maj. Robert Traven Donaldson Aitken and Allen Anderson Aitken, Maj.

Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:

About William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook


William Maxwell "Max" Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, Bt, PC, (May 25, 1879 – June 9, 1964) was a Canadian-British business tycoon, politician, and writer.

Lord Beaverbrook held a tight grip on the media as an influential Press Baron, owning The Daily Express newspaper, as well as the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Express. His political career included serving as a Minister in the British Government during both world wars.

Early career in Canada

Aitken was born in Maple, Ontario, Canada, (near Keele Street and Major Mackenzie Drive) in 1879, the son of a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister. The following year, his family moved to Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada, which he considered to be his home town. It was here, at the age of 13, that he published his first newspaper.

Although Aitken wrote the entrance examinations for Dalhousie University and registered at the King's College Law School, he did not attend either institution. His only formal higher education came when he briefly attended the University of New Brunswick. Aitken worked for a short time as an office boy in the law office of Richard Bedford Bennett, in the town of Chatham, New Brunswick. Bennett later became Prime Minister of Canada and a business associate.

As a young man, Aitken made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia where John F. Stairs, part of the city's dominant business family, gave him employment, training him in the business of finance. In 1904, when Stairs opened his newly formed Royal Securities Corporation, Aitken became a minority shareholder and the firm's general manager. Under the tutelage of Stairs, who would be his mentor and friend, Aitken engineered a number of successful business deals and was planning to do a series of bank mergers; however, Stairs' unexpected early death in late September 1904 led to Aitken acquiring control of the company. Stairs had given the untested and untrained Aitken an opportunity in business, just as Aitken would later do when he hired A.J. Nesbitt, a young dry goods salesman from Saint John, New Brunswick. Because Montreal, Quebec was, at that time, the financial centre of Canada, Aitken would send Nesbitt to open the Montreal branch of Royal Securities.

In 1909 under the umbrella of his Royal Securities Company, Aitken founded Calgary Power Company, Limited (now formally TransAlta Corporation). As the company’s first president, Aitken concentrated early efforts on the development of the Horseshoe Falls hydro station.

Canada Cement Scandal

In 1910 Aitken acquired many of the small regional cement plants in Eastern Canada and amalgamated them into Canada Cement. Canada was booming economically at the time and he had the monopoly on the material. There were irregularities in the stock transfer resulting from the conglomeration of the cement plants. Aitken sold his shares, making a large amount of money. Aitken then left for England. Some say had he stayed in Canada, he would have been charged with securities fraud.

In 1912, A. J. Nesbitt left Aitken's employ to form the Nesbitt, Thomson and Co. stock brokerage. Aitken appointed employee Izaak Walton Killam as the new President of Royal Securities and sold the Canadian securities company to Killam in 1919.

To England

The year Aitken moved to England, he became Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne. After the death of Charles Rolls in 1910, Aitken bought his shares in Rolls-Royce, and over the next two years gradually increased his holding in the company. However, Claude Johnson, Rolls-Royce's Commercial Managing Director, resisted Aitken's attempt to gain control of the company, and in October 1913 he sold his holding to J. B. Duke, of American Tobacco Company.

Aitken began to build a London newspaper empire. He often worked closely with Andrew Bonar Law, another native of New Brunswick, who became the only Canadian to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In 1911, Aitken was knighted by King George V.

During the First World War, the Canadian government put Aitken in charge of creating the Canadian War Records Office in London, and he made certain that news of Canada's contribution to the War was printed in Canadian and British newspapers. Aitken also established the Canadian War Memorials Fund that evolved into a collection of war art by the premier artists and sculptors in Britain and Canada. His visits to the Western Front in the First World War, during which he held the honorary rank of Colonel in the Canadian Army, resulted in his 1916 book Canada in Flanders, a three-volume collection that chronicled the achievements of Canadian soldiers on the battlefields. After the War, Aitken wrote several books including Politicians and the Press in 1925 and Politicians and the War in 1928.

Adding to his chain of newspapers, which included the London Evening Standard, Aitken bought a controlling interest in the failing Daily Express from Lawson Johnson on 14 November 1916 for £17,500; he had been lending money to the paper and its proprietors since January 1911. He always obscured this transaction because it was at the same time as the Parliamentary crisis which replaced Asquith with Lloyd George, in which Aitken's ally and protégé Bonar Law played a great part.[citation needed] Aitken's friend and biographer, A.J.P. Taylor, states that this was a mere coincidence, brought on by Johnson's eagerness to be quit of the paper.

Aitken was granted a peerage in 1917 as the 1st Baron Beaverbrook, the name "Beaverbrook" being adopted from a small community near his boyhood home. He had initially considered, but on the advice of Louise Manny, rejected "Lord Miramichi" as too difficult to pronounce. The name "Beaverbrook" also had the advantage of conveying a distinctive Canadian ring to the title.

In 1918, Beaverbrook became the first Minister of Information, responsible for Allied propaganda in Allied and neutral countries. Lord Northcliffe became a Director of Propaganda and control propaganda in enemy countries. During his time in office Beaverbrook had a number of clashes with Foreign Secretary Balfour over the use of intelligence material. He felt that intelligence should become part of his department, but Balfour disagreed. Eventually the intelligence committee was assigned to Beaverbrook but they then resigned en masse to be re-employed by the Foreign office. He also came under attack from MPs who distrusted a press baron being employed by the state. Beaverbrook survived but became increasingly frustrated with his limited role and influence, and in September 1918, he resigned, claiming ill health.

First Baron of Fleet Street

Over time, Beaverbrook turned the dull newspaper into a glittering and witty journal, filled with an array of dramatic photo layouts and in 1918, he founded the Sunday Express. By 1934, daily circulation reached 1,708,000, generating huge profits for Beaverbrook whose wealth was already such that he never took a salary. Following the Second World War, the Daily Express became the largest selling newspaper in the world by far, with a circulation of 3,706,000. He would become known by some historians as the first baron of "Fleet Street" and as one of the most powerful men in Britain whose newspapers could make or break almost anyone. In the 1930s, while personally attempting to dissuade King Edward VIII from continuing his potentially ruinous affair with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers published every tidbit of the affair, especially allegations about pro-Nazi sympathies.

The Second World War

During the Second World War, his friend Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, appointed Beaverbrook as Minister of Aircraft Production and later Minister of Supply. Under Beaverbrook, fighter and bomber production increased so much so that Churchill declared: "His personal force and genius made this Aitken's finest hour". Beaverbrook's impact on war time production has been much debated but his innovative style certainly energised production at a time when it was desperately needed. However it has often been argued that aircraft production was already rising when Beaverbrook took charge and that he was fortunate to inherit a system which was just beginning to bear fruit.[9] Still, a Time Magazine cover story wrote, "Even if Britain goes down this fall [1940], it will not be Lord Beaverbrook's fault. If she holds out, it will be his triumph. This war is a war of machines. It will be won on the assembly line."

In addition to his ministerial role, Beaverbrook also accompanied Churchill to several wartime meetings with President Roosevelt. He was able to relate to Roosevelt in a different way to Churchill and became close to Roosevelt during these visits. This friendship sometimes irritated Churchill who felt that Beaverbrook was distracting Roosevelt from concentrating on the war effort. For his part Roosevelt seems to have enjoyed the distraction.

Later in 1941, Beaverbrook headed the British delegation to Moscow with American counterpart Averell Harriman. This made Beaverbrook the first senior British politician to meet Soviet leader Joseph Stalin since Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. Much impressed by Stalin and the sacrifice of the Soviet people, he returned to London determined to persuade Churchill to launch a second front in Europe to help draw German resources away from the Eastern front to aid the Soviets. Churchill was not to be persuaded and this led Beaverbrook to resign as Minister of War Production in 1942. During the remainder of the war (1943–1945), he occupied the role of Lord Privy Seal.

Despite this, throughout the war, Beaverbrook remained a close confidante of Churchill, and could regularly be found with Churchill until the early hours of the morning. Clement Attlee commented that "Churchill often listened to Beaverbrook's advice but was too sensible to take it."

Beaverbrook gave his son Max The Daily Express and The Sunday Express as a birthday present in 1931. Max Aitken Jr. became a fighter pilot with 601 Squadron, rising to Wing Commander with 16 victories.

The benefactor

After the war, Beaverbrook served as Chancellor of the University of New Brunswick and became the university's greatest benefactor, fulfilling the same role for the city of Fredericton and the Province as a whole. He would provide additions to the University, scholarship funds, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Beaverbrook Skating Rink, the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel (profits donated to charity), The Playhouse, Louise Manny's early folklore work, and numerous other projects.

In 1957, a bronze statue of Lord Beaverbrook was erected at the centre of Officers' Square in Fredericton, New Brunswick, paid for by money raised by children throughout the province. A bust of him by Oscar Nemon stands in the park in the town square of Newcastle, New Brunswick not far from where he sold newspapers as a young boy. His ashes are in the plinth of the bust.

Beaverbrook was both admired and despised in England, sometimes at the same time: in his 1956 autobiography, David Low quotes H.G. Wells as saying of Beaverbrook: "If ever Max ever gets to Heaven, he won't last long. He will be chucked out for trying to pull off a merger between Heaven and Hell after having secured a controlling interest in key subsidiary companies in both places, of course."[citation needed]

In England, Beaverbrook lived at Cherkley Court, near Leatherhead, Surrey. Beaverbrook remained a widower for many years until 1963 when he married Marcia Anastasia Christoforides (1910–1994), the widow of his friend Sir James Dunn. Lord Beaverbrook died in Surrey in 1964, aged 85. He had recently attended a birthday banquet organised by fellow Canadian press baron Lord Thomson of Fleet, where he was determined to be seen on his usual good form, despite being riddled with painful cancer. The Beaverbrook Foundation continues his philanthropic interests.



In Popular Culture

For a period of time Beaverbrook employed novelist Evelyn Waugh in London and abroad. Waugh later lampooned his employer by portraying him as Lord Copper in Scoop and as Lord Monomark in both Put Out More Flags and Vile Bodies.

The Kinks recorded "Mr. Churchill Says" for their 1969 album Arthur, which contains the lines: "Mr. Beaverbrook says: 'We've gotta save our tin/And all the garden gates and empty cans are gonna make us win...'."

Beaverbrook was one of eight notable Brits cited in Bjørge Lillelien's famous “Your boys took a hell of a beating” commentary at the end of an English football team defeat to Norway in 1981, mentioned alongside British Prime Ministers Churchill, Thatcher and Atlee.

Published works by Lord Beaverbrook


Military Rank : Lieutenant-Colonel II 10 Battalion, Surrey Volunteer Regiment

                         Lieutenant-Colonel II  New Brunswick Regiment
                         Honorary Colonel II New Brusnwick Regiment

Fought: WW1 - 1915

Occupation : Chairman of the Colonial Bank

Office : Member of Parliament (MP) (Unionist) for Ashton-Under-Lyne

                          Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster - between 1918-1919

Author: Success, Politicians and the Press 1925

                          My case for Empire Free Trade 1930
                          The Resources of the British Empire
                          Don't Trust to Luck 1956
                          Three Keys to Success 1956
                          Men and Power 1917-1918, 1956
                          Friends: Sixty Years of Intimate Personal Relations with Richard Bedford Bennett  1959
                          Courage 1961
                          My Early Life 1964

Office: Minister of Aircraft Production between 1940-1941

                          Member of the War Cabinet between 1940-1942
                          Minister of State 1941
                          Trustee of the British Museum 1943
                           Lord Privy Seal between 1943 and 1945

Source : Complete Peerage new ed. Vol X111 p 239

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William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook's Timeline

May 25, 1879
Maple, Ontario, Canada
July 9, 1908
Age 29
Halifax, Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, Canada
February 15, 1910
Age 30
Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
June 9, 1964
Age 85