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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Owen D. Young

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 8-14 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Portrait of Owen D. Young

Portrait: Owen D. Young

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It is a remarkable historical fact that a region so comparatively small as the Mohawk valley has furnished five citizens who have had a great influence on the course of World events. In their historical order, these valley world leaders are: Sir William Johnson, General Nicholas Herkimer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elihu Root and Owen D. Young. The influence of these five distinguished sons and daughters of our valley upon the history of the world has been along constructive and uplifting lines, which have combined to form a marked contribution to the progress of humanity. Of these five noted valley citizens all but one — Johnson — were born in the Valley of the Mohawk. The life story of Johnson is so closely interwoven with that of our Colonial history that it must be studied in the chapters of this work covering the Colonial period. This is also the case with General Herkimer with reference to the early years of the Revolution. The life stories of Elihu Root, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Owen D. Young belong in this biographical section, where the reader will find the life sketches of these three notable citizens of the Mohawk valley who were born in the nineteenth century.

Owen D. Young is a native of Van Hornesville, in the township of Stark, Herkimer county. This little village sets on the Mohawk side of the Mohawk-Susquehanna divide, close to the source of the Otsquago creek, the north and south headwater branches of which unite at the town's western limits. The Otsquago valley forms a natural gateway leading from the Mohawk to the Susquehanna valley and the Otsquago Trail is one of the most popular and picturesque automobile touring routes of central New York. The region about Van Hornesville is a fertile farming and dairying country and Mr. Young was born on a farm near the village. Here he lived the life of a farmer boy on a Mohawk valley farm until he left home to attend school and make his way in the world. Mr. Young eventually became a noted lawyer, dealing with the affairs of large corporations. Owen D. Young organized the Radio Corporation of America. He is chairman of the board of directors of that organization and of the General Electric Company.

In December, 1923, Mr. Young was invited by the Reparation Commission to come to Paris as a member of a special committee of experts, of which General Charles G. Dawes was chairman, to work with two representatives from England, France, Italy and Belgium, respectively. This committee of business men was requested by the Reparation Commission to investigate and report as to the possibility and best methods of balancing the German budget and stabilizing German currency. The committee went to Berlin in January, 1924, to interview representatives of the German government and different industries and study data submitted to it. Upon its return to Paris in April, it prepared and submitted a plan to the Reparation Commission designed to bring about the rehabilitation of the German government finances.

The American members of the commission were General Charles G. Dawes, Mr. Owen D. Young and Mr. Henry M. Robinson. General Dawes was elected vice president on the republican ticket with President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Mr. Robinson is president of the First National Bank of Los Angeles.

In August, 1924, Owen D. Young was appointed the first agent general for reparation. Mr. Young accepted the position for a period of three months in order to get the important machinery of operation under way. In the days preceding and during the democratic presidential campaign of 1924, the name of Owen D. Young was frequently mentioned as the democratic candidate for president of the United States.

It is generally acknowledged that the Dawes plan was largely the work of the constructive genius of Mr. Young, who was particularly fitted for this gigantic international task by his experience in connection with the organization of the Radio Corporation of America. and with that great industrial enterprise — the General Electric Company, the chief works of which are located in the Mohawk valley at Schenectady. Hence a native son of the Mohawk valley, through experience largely gained in his work in connection with a great valley industry, has been able to perform a service of inestimable value for a world in a state of business chaos. Truly, Mr. Young has set the world's house in order and his service to humanity will be increasingly appreciated as the years roll by and we attain the larger, more informing view of World war conditions, seen from the greater distance of intervening years.

The following essential features of the Dawes-Young plan are taken from the "New York Times" of August 24, 1924. This synopsis is of great interest, inasmuch as it is a condensed version of a great international accomplishment which is largely the work of a Mohawk valley man:

The chief features of the Dawes plan:

"Purpose — To provide for reparation payments and at the same time to balance the German budget and stabilize German currency.

"Method — This is to be accomplished through cooperation between the Allies and Germany based on mutual interest.

"Foreign Loan — The plan provides for an international loan of 800,000,000 gold marks ($200,000,000) to establish a new bank of issue, to stabilize the currency and to meet the first year's reparation payments.

"Bank of Issue — This is to be established with a capital of 400,000,000 gold marks, in shares of 100 marks each, 1,000,000 shares to represent assets of the Reichsbank and 3,000,000 shares to be subscribed in Germany and abroad. The bank will be the fiscal agent and depository of the German Government, but will be free of Government control. It will be administered by a German President and managing board, but will be supervised in matters affecting the creditor nations by a general board of seven Germans and seven foreigners, one of the foreigners ,being the Bank Commissioner.

"Currency Stabilization — The bank of issue is to have the exclusive right to issue and circulate banknotes in Germany during the period of its charter, which is fifty years. Neither the German Government nor any German State bank is to have the power to issue paper money, with the exception, to a limited extent, of the Banks of Baden, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg. The Government is not to issue any coins for circulation, except gold coins containing approximately their full value in gold metal. All coins other than gold are to be issued through the bank of issue. The bank may issue notes for circulation against gold coin or bullion. A gold reserve of 33 1/3 per cent is to be maintained.

"Reparation Payments — All reparation payments are to be made through the bank of issue. The sources of revenue of these payments are: The $200,000,000 international loan (part of the first year's payment); a mortgage on German railways; a mortgage on German industries; a transport tax, and revenues from the general budget, guaranteed by certain 'controlled revenues'. The experts estimate the plan will produce for reparation payments 1,000,000,000 marks the first year, 1,220,000,000 the second year, 1,200,000,000 the third year, 1,750,000,000 the fourth year 2,500,000,000 (the maximum payment to be required from Germany annually) the fifth year. Thereafter payments are fixed on a sliding scale and subject to addition or reduction in certain contingencies. In order to prevent these payments from affecting Germany's financial stability adversely, an index of prosperity has been fixed.

"Transfer of Payments Out of Germany — The plan differentiates between the amount that can be raised in Germany and the amount that can be transferred abroad. It provides that Germany's payments abroad shall not exceed its earnings abroad. All payments for the account of reparations are to be deposited in the bank of issue to the credit of the Agent General for Reparation Payments. The Agent General and five experts in foreign exchange and finance will control the use and withdrawals of these deposits. This committee will regulate deliveries in kind and payments so as to prevent foreign exchange difficulties; will control the transfer of cash to the Allies by purchase of foreign exchange, and in general will try to obtain the maximum transfers without unstabilizing the currency. If reparation payments by Germany exceed the sums that can be transferred without causing difficulties, the excess payments will be allowed to accumulate in the bank of issue, but these accumulations are not to exceed 2,000,000,000 gold marks. When they pass that figure they are to be used in bonds and loans in Germany. The total accumulation in Germany is not to exceed 5,000,000,000 gold marks. If this figure is reached, further reparation payments by Germany cease until the transfer of the accumulated fund becomes possible.

"Default — In case of default of payment of interest, sinking fund or principal upon either railroad or industrial bonds, the plan provides for the collection of the deficiency from the German Government through the Commissioner of Controlled Revenues.

"Controlled Revenues — Revenues from customs, alcohol, tobacco, beer and sugar are to be assigned to and put under the control of Germany's creditors, and are to guarantee the reparation payments from the budget after 1925-26.

"Execution — The plan provides for a Commissioner of the Bank of Issue, a Commissioner of Railways, a Commissioner of Industrial Debentures, an Agent General for Reparation Payments, who is to act as the agency between the Reparation Commission and the various Commissioners, and a trustee to receive and administer the railway and industrial bonds, accountable to the Reparation Commission."

On August 27, 1924, General Dawes sailed for France to aid Owen D. Young, general agent of reparations, in effecting an organization for putting the Dawes-Young plan into operation.

"Square and Compass", issue of October, 1924, published in Utica, had the following regarding Mr. Young, one of the chief citizens not only of his native Mohawk valley but of the world:

"Owen D. Young, agent general of reparations ad interim, who is giving his efforts in putting the Dawes plan into action before turning that office over to Seymour Parker Gilbert, Jr., is a member of the Masonic fraternity, having been raised in Evergreen Lodge, No. 363, of Springfield Center, New York.

"His is one of the most important jobs in the world today, for he has the destiny of practically the whole world in his hands. His are extraordinary responsibilities. His decisions are likely at times to be the subject of intense discussion in Germany and in the allied nations.

"Europe is on the right track, however, and Owen D. Young, who helped build the locomotive, is in the cab, holding the throttle for three months until he turns it over to another member of the brotherhood of racial service. The nations have confidence not only in his wisdom and ability, but his impartial, kindly and just spirit. Everywhere people appear eager to cooperate with him and his associates. Through his efforts, an era of prosperity and good will seems nigh.

"Essentially a self-made man, Mr. Young rose from a farm lad in the town of Stark, near Van Hornesville, New York, where he was born forty-nine years ago, to a position of international importance. In Van Hornesville, where his mother resides, Mr. Young conducts a fine home, which is now being improved extensively.

One day, when he was a boy, Young went to Cooperstown, New York, with his father, and attended a trial in progress at the courthouse. He determined to become a lawyer. After being graduated from St. Lawrence University at Canton, New York, he worked his way through Boston University and was graduated in law. He practiced that profession for several years.

He became associated with the General Electric Company at Schenectady, and made rapid climb up the ladder of success. He is now chairman of the board of directors. He is also president of the Radio Corporation of America.

He retains his voting residence in the town of Stark, Herkimer county. He is a democrat. During the last campaign there was much talk of nominating him for the presidency. He will celebrate his fiftieth birthday October 27."

The following London dispatch is reprinted from the Little Falls Times of November 7, 1924:

"London, Nov. 7. — Owen D. Young of New York, who had a prominent part in bringing the Dawes-Young plan into operation, and who was temporary agent general for reparations under the plan, was guest of honor last night at a dinner given by Sir Robert Kindersley, his British colleague in the reparations work.

"Many prominent personages attended, among them the Earl of Balfour, who paid tribute to the help given by the United States in settling the war's aftermath.

"Lord Balfour said he hoped that American cooperation would be more formal and intimate, but he accepted the fact that the United States would do nothing with respect to the League of Nations, although in his opinion this did not mean Americans were indifferent to the fate of that civilization from which they themselves sprang and of which they are one of the great pillars.

"The presence of Mr. Young, he declared, was tangible proof that they had not separated themselves from the fate of other nations. Everybody was grateful for the service America was doing to help repair the damages of war, he said.

"Referring to the prevalent attacks upon capital, Lord Balfour said:

"'If capital is never worse used than it is being used under the machinery Mr. Young has done so much to perfect, it is incredible that even the greatest crank or wildest theorist could really suggest that capital is a curse under which the majority of the population of civilized countries groan in helpless servitude.'

"He finished by praising the resolution, tact, courage and disinterestedness Mr. Young had shown in the reparations work.

"Mr. Young was received by the Prince of Wales, yesterday."

Owen D. Young was born in Van Hornesville, Herkimer county, New York on October 27, 1874. His father, Jacob Smith Young (born December 10, 1831, died January 16, 1906), was a farmer whose ancestors settled in Herkimer county about 1750. His mother, Ida (Brandow) Young, is still living in Van Hornesville, and is in her eighty-sixth year. It is one of Mr. Young's recreations to visit his mother at the old home as often as possible. At an early age he left the district school and attended the East Springfield, New York Academy. He was the first of many generations to abandon farming and determine to give himself an education that would fit himself to meet any and all emergencies in life, therefore, he applied himself to study and next entered St. Lawrence University at Canton, New York, graduating therefrom in 1894 with an A. B. degree. After completing his academic course he went to Boston, where he studied law at the Boston University Law School and graduated with degree of LL.B. in 1896. In the same year he took up the practice of law in Boston with Charles H. Tyler, and shortly after the firm of Tyler & Young was formed. From 1896 until 1903 he continued his connection with the Boston University Law School as lecturer in common pleadings. His firm's law work was largely confined to corporation affairs, especially to questions relating to organization, financing and the operation of electrical utilities.

In 1913 he retired from the practice of law in Boston and accepted the position of vice president and general counsel of the General Electric Company in New York. In 1919 he organized the Radio Corporation of America and still remains chairman of the board of directors of that corporation. In 1922 upon the retirement of Mr. Charles A. Coffin as chairman of the board of directors of the General Electric Company, Mr. Young succeeded him in that position, which he now so ably fills.

He is a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the International Chamber of Commerce, and numerous electrical utility corporations, economic and philanthropic associations. He is a trustee of St. Lawrence University, in which he takes an active interest. He was a member of President Wilson's Second Industrial Conference Board, chairman of Secretary Hoover's Committee on Business Cycles and Unemployment. He has constantly been an advocate of arbitration as distinguished from litigation.

Mr. Young is a director in the following corporations: Electric Bond and Share Company of New York city, International General Electric Company, Buffalo General Electric Company, National Power & Light Corporation, General Motors Corporation, Adirondack Light and Power Corporation, and many others.

His club affiliations include the following: Metropolitan, Lotus, India House and the Bankers of New York city; Mohawk and the Mohawk Country Club of Schenectady, New York; Union Club of Boston, Greenwich Country Club of Greenwich, Connecticut. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, also the Beta Theta Pi, Phi Delta Phi and Theta Beta Kappa fraternities. Member of the American Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and Bar Association of the City of Boston. Politically, a democrat.

His recreations are fishing and visiting his farms at Van Hornesville, where he has a very fine dairy and herd of blooded cattle.

During the World war he remained at his executive headquarters in New York city, where he took over a great deal of the work of the men who left the General Electric Company to go to Washington to do war work there. He participated in the various drives and campaigns during the war.

Mr. Young was married to Josephine Sheldon Edmonds, a daughter of Charles Sidney Edmonds of Southbridge, Massachusetts, one of the organizers of the American Optical Company of that city. Their children are: Charles J. Young (Harvard, 1921), married to Eleanor Lee Whitman (a Radcliffe graduate, 1922). He is a radio engineer in the Schenectady plant of General Electric Company; second son, John Young, who was a junior at St. Lawrence University, was killed by accident at Hood River, Oregon, in August, 1922; Philip Young and Miss Josephine Young attend school in New York city; and the youngest son, Richard Young, is four years of age.

Mr. Young's residence is in Van Hornesville, but he has an apartment on Park avenue, New York city, and a summer place at Riverside, Connecticut. His executive headquarters are 120 Broadway, New York city.

Owen D. Young takes a great interest and pride in his native village of Van Hornesville. He has been instrumental in beautifying and improving this attractive little village at the summit end of the beautiful Van Hornesville gorge. Among the improvements have been the introduction of electric lights and the development of streets and walks. Mr. Young's handsome old-time residence faces a village park which he has created on the banks of the Otsquago creek. Here Mr. Young has had a little lake excavated and the stream and its shores now form one of the chief beauty spots on the picturesque Otsquago Trail, which runs twenty-six miles from Fort Plain on the Mohawk river to Cooperstown, at the foot of Otsego lake.

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