Mellon, Andrew W.

A brilliant businessman and philanthropist, Mellon's influence in American society was felt in the areas of business innovation and financial investment, government policy, and philanthropy in education, business research, and the arts. His efforts in the sector helped to further shape not only the means but also the generosity of large donors.

Biographical Highlights

Andrew W. Mellon was not only a brilliant businessman, but philanthropist as well. His list of accomplishments include, but are not limited to banking, Secretary of the Treasury, art collector, the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research, and the National Gallery of Art (Wooster 2002).

Mellon Institute for Industrial Research was created by Andrew Mellon and his brother, Richard, in 1909, in an effort to fund research in promotion of better business and scientific practices. The Institute opened in 1911 and was further funded by Mellon for a new building in 1913 (2002). The advancements of this educational organization were implemented in a selection of Mr. Mellon’s businesses. The Institute later formed an alliance with Carnegie Tech and became Carnegie-Mellon University in 1966 (Wooster 2002).

Andrew Mellon was appointed the Secretary of the Treasury in 1921 and so served until 1932. Mellon’s financial history enabled him to construct a plan to cut taxes, tariffs and the national debt from $26 billion in 1921 to around $16 billion in 1930 (United States Department of the Treasury). A.W. authored the book Taxation: The People’s Business in 1924 outlining his thoughts on taxes and governmental action. He was also a large supporter of “trickle down” government (Spartacus Educational). Mr. Mellon resigned in 1932 partly in response to negative public opinion due to the stock market crash.

The National Gallery of Art stands in Washington D.C. near the Washington Monument. The Gallery was formally announced by the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, formed by Andrew Mellon, in 1937 after careful planning beginning in 1934 (Hersh 1978). The Gallery included 121 paintings and twenty-one sculptures from Mellon’s personal collection. The grand opening occurred in 1941 after Andrew Mellon’s death. The Gallery was a culmination of a lifetime of art collection and a large philanthropic donation from an expansive financial holding.

Historic Roots

Andrew W. Mellon was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on March 24, 1855 to an established business family. Andrew’s father, Judge Thomas Mellon, founded a private bank where his sons later served. This financial success provided a monetary cushion for A.W. to begin his business and philanthropic career. Mellon started an educational program at Western University of Pennsylvania but left without graduating to work at his father’s bank that he later developed into the Mellon National Bank.

A.W. was a brilliant investor and was involved in many important businesses in American industrial development including the Mellon National Bank, Gulf Oil, the Aluminum Company of America, Koppers (a mining company), and Carborundum (Wooster 2002). Other well-known businesses include the Union Trust and Union Savings Bank. These advancements were solidified through savvy investing and participation on boards and management. Mellon was a private man and wished to keep his early philanthropy quiet. He did such things as canceling small debts for Christmas and purchasing food and clothing for people in Pittsburg.

When Andrew Mellon was named Secretary of the Treasury in 1921, he was obligated to resign from fifty-one boards of differing corporations (O’Conner 1933). He then served as Secretary for Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover where he worked to cut the national debt with what was known as the “Mellon Plan” and authored the book Taxation: The People’s Business (United States Department of the Treasury). When he resigned in 1932, he accepted the position of U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain for one year and subsequently retired.

After retirement, Andrew Mellon began his largest philanthropic quest, the National Gallery of Art. Mellon collected works throughout his years as Secretary but solidified his plans with the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust in 1930. Mr. Mellon was indicted for tax fraud in 1934 concerning an amount over $3 million dollars in works of art (Wooster 2002).

Andrew Mellon died on August 26, 1937. He never saw the opening of the Gallery or his acquittal of all fraud charges (Wooster 2003). His children continued his work with the Gallery and other educational and art-centered philanthropic activities.

Importance

Andrew W. Mellon’s influence in American society was felt in the areas of business innovation and financial investment, government policy, and philanthropy in education, business research, and the arts.

Mr. Mellon expertly invested money into multiple industrial and financial ventures including steel, aluminum, coal, utilities, railroads, banks, and countless other endeavors. He developed his father’s bank into Mellon National Bank which aided in the formation of Pittsburg into an industrial giant (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation). Mellon also served as manager or board member for as many as fifty-one companies in 1921 (O’Connor 1933). This business presence not only earned a personal fortune for the Mellon family but also aided in the further development of industrial business in America.

Andrew Mellon also served as the Secretary of the Treasury for three Presidents from 1921 until 1932. Mellon had the opportunity to bring his personal business ideas to the governmental level in tax laws. During his appointment, he succeeded in cutting the national debt substantially as well as initiating high bracket tax cuts until the stock market crash. Mellon’s ideas were labeled as the “Mellon plan” and outlined in his book Taxation: The People’s Business (United States Department of the Treasury).

Andrew Mellon’s largest contribution was the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Mellon began collecting art early in his business career as a connection to something eternal (Hersh 1978). This hobby began to get serious late in his days as Secretary of the Treasury and Ambassador in Great Britain where he hired British art dealer Baron Joseph Duveen out of necessity.

Duveen aided Mr. Mellon in acquiring twenty-one pieces from the Hermitage collection in Leningrad, Russia totaling nearly $6.5 million including a Raphael and Titian (Hersh 1978). Following the announcement of the Gallery, his personal collection neared 350 pieces and from which 121 paintings and twenty-one sculptures were added to the National Gallery of Art. Mellon also established a trust to fund the Gallery, donating $10 million, as well as giving an estimated 21 million dollars of art to the trust and $15 million for the construction of the Gallery building. Mr. Mellon was personally involved in the building plans even down to decisions on the color of the building stone pieces (Hersh 1978).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Andrew Mellon’s efforts in the philanthropic sector helped to further shape not only the means but also the generosity of large donors. Mellon’s generation saw the collection of wealth by men such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan. Each of these men had their personal views of giving and their preferred methods.

Mellon stood out from the rest with two distinctions. One, he wished to keep his giving quiet without fanfare or personal attention. His early philanthropy was done anonymously and he later refused to have his name on the National Gallery of Art to aid in the acceptance of other art collections (Wooster 2002). The second distinction was one large philanthropic effort. Surely, Mr. Mellon contributed in many places, but he reserved his full effort, a large donation, and his personal touch to the National Gallery of Art. Mr. Mellon used endowment and foundation just as the great barons of the time. He connected this way of giving to one large effort to subsidize the future of the National Gallery.

Andrew Mellon’s work in the nonprofit sector has lived on through each decade of the 20th century. Namely, the National Gallery of Art is alive and continuing its mission of enlightenment; the Mellon Institute has developed into Carnegie-Mellon University; and Andrew’s funding of industrial research aided in the development of processes still used or further developed today. Just as important, Mellon’s children were instilled with the significance of philanthropic efforts and each continued the legacy.

Key Related Ideas

Taxation: The People’s Business, 1924, was Andrew W. Mellon’s only published work. This book outlined his theories on taxation and the government’s realm of responsibility. Mellon was a conservative Republican whose work follows the ideas of “trickle down” government and tax cuts for the high bracket individuals (Spartacus Educational). He believed the government should not only fill the treasury but also relieve those that can’t handle the tax burden and allow the promotion of business development and expansion (Spartacus Educational).

Investment and research to advance science was an idea highly supported by Andrew W. Mellon in his business practices (Wooster 2002). Mellon funded many researchers and entrepreneurs in an effort to establish a diverse and developing industrial scene in Pittsburg and other areas. This investment not only secured new avenues in business operations but also guaranteed a fortune in stock for A.W. himself. The Mellon Institute for Industrial Research grew from this idea. Mellon received a paper from a professor proposing the idea of research for science advancement. This sparked Mellon’s interest in research donations and the formation of the Institute (Wooster 2002).

Cultural enlightenment was an escape from the mundane details of life for Andrew Mellon. He found that the collection and viewing of art gave him an avenue of beauty and education that all people should enjoy for eternity (Hersh 1978). For years, Mellon kept his work to only himself and close friends, choosing to hide his ambitions for a National Gallery until the appropriate time (Wooster 2002). Once revealed and funded, this Gallery has grown to promote enlightenment through art not only in Washington D.C. but across the country with touring collections and educational programs.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Ailsa Mellon Bruce (1901-1969): Ailsa was born to Andrew Mellon and Nora McMullen Mellon in 1901. She formed the Avalon Foundation and also purchased many paintings for the National Gallery along with large donations to the endowment furthering her father’s legacy. She also was a large donor of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburg. When she died in 1969, Avalon took control of Old Dominion Foundation and A.W. Mellon’s Educational and Charitable Trust to form the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Wooster 2002).

  • Baron Joseph Duveen (1869-1939): Joseph Duveen was an English art dealer who began his career in his father’s firm. He extended his influence and dealings in both Britain and America. He helped create the collections of Andrew W. Mellon, Henry Clay Frick, William Randolph Hearst, John D. Rockefeller and others. Duveen owned an apartment below Andrew Mellon in Washington to aid in Mr. Mellon’s selection for the National Gallery (O’Conner 1933). He was named Baron in 1933.
  • Warren G. Harding (1865-1923): Warren Harding served as the twenty-ninth President of the United States from 1921-1923. Mr. Harding named Andrew Mellon his Secretary of the Treasury after Mr. Mellon donated a large sum to the Republican Committee along with local committee support (Wooster 2002). This appointment was in honor of his overwhelming financial success in investment and the Mellon National Bank.
  • Paul Mellon (1907-1999): Paul was the second child of Andrew and Nora McMullen Mellon. Paul Mellon truly embraced his father’s philanthropic gift and served in a management role of the National Gallery of Art for the majority of his life. He was the Gallery’s most generous donor including countless pieces of art (Wooster 2002). His Old Dominion Foundation was later part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Mellon Institute for Industrial Research was created by Andrew Mellon and his brother Richard in 1909 in an effort to fund research in promotion of better business and scientific practices. The institute opened in 1911 and was further funded by Mellon for a new building in 1913 (Wooster 2002). The advancements of this educational organization were implemented in a selection of Mr. Mellon’s businesses. The Institute later formed an alliance with Carnegie Tech and became Carnegie-Mellon University in 1966 (Wooster 2002). (www.cmu.edu)

  • A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust was formed by Andrew Mellon on December 30, 1930 (Hersh 1978). This trust served as the funding endowment for the future National Gallery of Art. Mellon donated nearly 21 million dollars of art, $10 million to the trust and $15 million for the gallery building itself (Wooster 2002). This trust was absorbed by the Avalon Foundation along with Old Dominion Foundation and is now named the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Wooster 2002).
  • The National Gallery of Art stands in Washington D.C. near the Washington Monument. The Gallery was formally announced by the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust in 1937 after careful planning beginning in 1934 (Hersh 1978). The Gallery included 121 paintings and twenty-one sculptures from Mellon’s collection. The grand opening occurred in 1941 after Andrew Mellon’s death. (www.nga.gov)  
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was formed in 1969 with the consolidation of Old Dominion Foundation and the Avalon Foundation in honor of Andrew W. Mellon. Paul Mellon, Andrew’s son, served as an excellent trustee and continued to encourage development and high standards of giving in the Foundation. Today the Foundation gives grants in higher education, museums, art conservation, performing arts, conservation and the environment, and public affairs. (www.mellon.org)

Related Web Sites

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Website can be found at www.mellon.org. This site outlines the current activity of the Foundation as well as history, biographies and granting information.

National Gallery of Art Website at www.nga.gov contains up-to-date information on the National Gallery of Art. Here one can find current and upcoming displays, touring collections, gallery history, and other related art information including educational resources.

The United States Department of the Treasury Website at www.ustreas.gov can be used as a resource for information concerning Andrew Mellon’s years as Secretary of the Treasury including his book Taxation: The People’s Business and other financial policies such as the Mellon Plan.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Cannadine, David. “About Andrew W. Mellon”. Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. [Accessed 12 October 2004]. http://www.mellon.org/MellonAWMellon.htm.

Hersh, Burton. The Mellon Family: A Fortune in History. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1978. ISBN: 0688032974.

Morse Wooster, Martin. “Mellon Family” In Notable American Philanthropists: Biographies of Giving and Volunteering, edited by Robert T. Grimm, Jr. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2002. ISBN: 1573563404

O’Connor, Harvey. Mellon’s Millions, The Biography of a Fortune: The Life and Times of Andrew W. Mellon. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1933. ASIN: B0006D7UJU

Spartacus Educational. “Andrew Mellon”. [Updated 28 March 2002; accessed 12 October 2004]. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmellonA.htm.

The National Gallery of Art. “From the Tour: Founding Benefactors of the National Gallery of Art”. [Accessed 12 October 2004]. http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/ggfound/ggfound-987.0.html.

United States Department of the Treasury. “Secretaries of the Treasury: Andrew W. Mellon”. [Accessed 12 October 2004]. http://www.ustreas.gov/education/history/secretaries/awmellon.html.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.