William Martin; Ex-Federal Reserve Chief
William McChesney Martin, the longest-tenured chairman of the Federal Reserve, who presided over two decades of phenomenal U.S. economic growth, has died. He was 91.
Martin, who served under five presidents from 1951 to 1970, died Monday of respiratory failure in his Washington home.
During his service, the nation enjoyed strong economic growth, low unemployment, low inflation and the biggest gains in living standards of any time in the post-World War II period.
Martin’s tenure also covered the longest span of economic expansion in the nation’s history, from 1961 to 1969. That period of uninterrupted growth ended when the central bank was forced to begin raising interest rates to fight rising inflation caused by government spending during the Vietnam War.
Alan Greenspan, current Federal Reserve chairman, praised Martin on Tuesday for his efforts to establish the Fed’s independence from the Treasury Department and from political pressures.
A few months before Martin’s final term ended on Jan. 31, 1970, Times columnist Murray Seeger commented:
“Martin has been with the Federal Reserve so long that the man and the institution have become synonymous, just as Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey has been the draft and J. Edgar Hoover the FBI.
“The Fed board under Martin has had an immense impact on the country, comparable to that of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren,” Seeger wrote.
Nominated by President Harry S. Truman to become the eighth chairman of the Fed, Martin began his 19-year chairmanship on April 2, 1951.
Born in St. Louis on Dec. 17, 1906, Martin had been dubbed the “Boy Wonder” of Wall Street when he became the first paid president of the New York Stock Exchange at the age of 31.
A Democrat and anti-inflation hawk, Martin in some ways was born to be in charge of the nation’s monetary policy. His father, a prominent St. Louis banker, helped President Woodrow Wilson and Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia draft the Federal Reserve Act that created the central bank in 1913. Martin’s father later served as a president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Martin’s own career began as a bank examiner in his native St. Louis and included appointments as head of the Export-Import Bank in Washington and as an assistant treasury secretary during the Truman administration. He studied economics at Yale.
Drafted into the Army in 1941 as a private, he was sent from his heady Wall Street office directly to boot camp. But he gamely told newsmen at the time that his priority was to become “a good soldier.” At the end of basic training, Martin’s corporal rated him “the best soldier in my squad,” and by the time Martin was discharged in 1945 he was a colonel.
Throughout his career, Martin was known for honesty and integrity. A national columnist once dubbed him “almost the last of the Puritans in Washington.”
One of the Fed’s two headquarters buildings in Washington is named for Martin. The other is the Marriner S. Eccles building, named for a predecessor.
After leaving the Fed, Martin was hired to conduct a study of rules and regulations of the New York Stock Exchange. He also served on corporate boards and foundation panels, including the National Geographic Society.
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Cynthia Davis Martin, and their three children, William M. Martin III of Cambridge, Mass., Cynthia Martin Ghenea of Portland, Maine, and Diana Martin of Washington; and a brother, Malcolm Martin of St. Louis.