Topic: Formation of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Interview Date: November 9, 2003

WILLIAM O. BAKER: Well, there were more than two [separate Mellon programs], but they had a couple that they were thinking about that were relevant. They had the Avalon Foundation that Mrs. Bruce [Mrs. Ailsa Mellon Bruce] was the sponsor of. She was Andrew’s daughter. And then they had Paul Mellon’s own interests and foundation. And those were two of the important ones. Now we had others that we joined in various stages. But these were the ones that formed the nucleus of combined charities and entities so that they probably represent the major trend that you might want to consider, that they being involved.

And we operated those at the request of Paul Mellon largely, although Paul’s sister was actually a major resource for these foundations we are talking about. So it was a rather curious combination that she wanted to proceed. She was very sympathetic to our proposals and concepts that she proceeds with the total resources that she wanted to put into this. And the Avalon Foundation was at the very beginning of that. But see, of course, her resources went far beyond that and therefore were really identified, really shaped more independently of the Avalon Foundation. But she was the designer and pursuer of it. And that decision was to combine that with the Andrew Mellon Foundation as it existed then in Paul Mellon’s mind and interests. But there was this major interest and vision that she had that was intended to take care of much of her special interests in charity: clearly, things like the National Gallery, which was, of course, her special concern, but not restricted to that by any means.

And as time went on she had many conversations, we did, I did with her that she broadened her ideas of what she wanted to support and how she wanted a vision of a larger family foundation, which she would be a particular activator and participant. So it was that combination of things that led to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as it has emerged.

Well, I don’t know if there was any very specific or crucial element in there [the initial contact with the Mellons]. But there were mutual interests. As we talked about the way the family wanted to extend their charities, a further concept of what this actually meant–action—emerged. So that what came about was at first a rather detailed and confined concept of what the Avalon and a couple of smaller foundations would do, along with Paul Mellon’s particular separate interests. She, of course, was very much concerned with the National Gallery and with some of the art and creativity themes, which I simply was an adjunct to but had ideas about education and the art and science and education widely that seemed to interest them, interest her particularly. And that is where that part of it got going.

And the, he, Paul Mellon got particular secondary interests in technology. I got Paul and his son to spend a little time seeing what computers were doing, or could do. He was, they were both interested in that. And the younger Mellon was intrigued. But the work of the foundation that really hadn’t been specified or hadn’t been very precisely described, what that might mean in terms of both education and technology as well as the work in art that we cited. So this was a kind of convergence of ideas which was not very definite or constrained. He became quite interested in the potentials of technology both in finance and government and some degree industry. And they then considered how this would relate to their earlier philanthropies, philanthropic interests. So it was a kind of a coalition of ideas.

I’m with her about how this much larger enterprise that she had in mind could expand and relate to education and learning in the humanities beyond the National Gallery, although it would perfectly well include the National Gallery.

Well, I’ll tell you some things about [the initial contact with Paul Mellon] which I think will interest you and would be little bit more immediate. Namely, those are not—we’re getting close to them but I kind of hate to take all the time—however, this will be appropriate for what you’re interested in. Namely, Paul was very conscientious … about these obligations and charities. Now, the one that really showed a lot of national/international activity, but was also a basic part of Paul’s interests and vigor in sensing how progress in learning and philanthropy was going on, was the Mellon Institute.

… And the Mellon Institute was the first and perhaps the best linkage of private capital and resources with industrial technology and a very intensive structure on that, where the industrial portions were related to very active commercial resources, particularly petroleum, the whole era of petrochemicals. And this had some rather lively civilian quasi-commercial leaders who took the modest resources, although they were pretty active for those times, of the Mellon Institute, a few tens of millions of dollars, and expanded them to commercialization of, what at that time which was way before the electronics era, into technology which was pretty appealing to the period at that time.

… At that time the role of industry, particularly in petrochemicals, was very changeable and very fluid. Now I think you must have run into some of this, I know you are aware of it in one form of another, where these enterprises were hadn’t orders and were contract operators in petrochemistry, which was, as I’ve said before and as you would know, the hot potato, the hot area of technology in those days. That was before we had much electronics. But Paul Mellon became very interested in how that was going. At the time when we more or less agreed (Killian was an important part of this, Paul Mellon asked Killian to work on it too) that the economics were unstable. That is, there simply wasn’t enough firm future capital or funding to make the academic and resource activity viable.

In the meantime, Paul Mellon’s father had committed, what was at that time, a substantial amount, twenty million or something like that … to finance both in the technology and the industry and hopefully to expand the resources of the foundation of the Mellon Institute. Now that is, of course, where the certain amount of glamour (or whatever you want to call it) came in, and senior Mellon built the Mellon Institute. … It was a huge building for those days, beautifully equipped. And that was where they went churning along.

But it became evident to Paul Mellon and others of us that Paul Mellon brought in that is was unstable, there wasn’t going to be enough new money to really keep it at top research levels. And so we had a very detailed examination of this. And Killian and I in particular wrote a detailed account what we thought was necessary to provide a future for the Mellon Institute. It would involve liquidating its commercial activities and finding some way to maintain the best momentum. Now this, of course, was regarded like measles with the staff that was very loyal and very diligent, quite creative in the older pattern of the Mellon Institute being a quasi charitable, quasi commercial application of technology, of science and technology.

And this caused a terrific stir, because they had a lot of people there, several hundred, who were distinguished technologists and quasi scientists; they weren’t really scientists but they acted as though they were or thought they were, sort of glamorizing the Mellon Institute. And the idea of changing, liquidating it was regarded, as I said, with anathema, as a very damaging situation. So we had a big, a lot of arguments and controversies on that. And it was finally agreed that they better give up any idea of a self-sustaining Mellon Institute. But that they would pick out some of the best topics or most lively ones, and see if they would qualify for continuing support. And eventually there had to be some disposition of the Institute itself, of both the big buildings and the operation of it, of course. This took a good while, and the rather strong feelings because some of the people in it were long-term loyal components. And we said: well this won’t last, it had no future that’s adequate to carry it. So we got to figure up something which is more permanent and more enduring or resilient. And the upshot was that we decided to make it part of a university, part of the operation into a university context.

Now I’m condensing and compressing a tremendous amount of effort and detail in this, though summaries are all kinds of infinite complications and complexities that went along with that. So you really should not try to, as we said at the beginning of our discussion this afternoon, try to do more than give the most general outline. But you can see that the interesting point was we had on the one hand a very familiar or almost classical philanthropic pursuit of the Mellon fortune which had a very large component of the arts, and of the National Gallery, and of certain special functions that Paul was interested in, and then had as large or larger component of the Mellon Institute as it was emerging. And so there was a great deal of organization and adjustment and methods of getting people together involved in this.

And that’s, some of that, most of that’s been written up in a book or two that we put together on the Mellon Institute, but which generated, as I say, because of its traditions and size and so on, a lot of stir. But at the same time it led to a position of the Mellon family, including largely Paul Mellon, in a new way, in a new possibility of education and educational research in technology, which was related to actual economics of science and technology. And that was entirely independent of what Mrs. Bruce, Paul Mellon’s sister, was pursuing in the philanthropy that she had considered. And we said: well, you really shouldn’t have these things shattered or fragmented this way.

I undertook to work with Mrs. Bruce on how much philanthropy, scholarship, learning she would favor in addition to the National Gallery. And the first position on that was that we should assign about a hundred million dollars of her funds to the adjustment of the National Gallery pursuit that she wanted to see and some of the new ventures. And a connection, although it wasn’t a very rigid or formal one in the beginning, of that with the residue of the Mellon Institute. But as you can see there’s quite a, it’s quite a complicated venture here which we were glad to be working on.

I spent a lot of time with Mrs. Bruce trying to see if I could be useful in what she wanted to do, and in the midst of that she, her health declined, she died rather suddenly. Well, at that point she had arranged, as she saw fate shaping up, so that the bulk of her estate at that time would go to a foundation which was not really specified very, rigorously, but which lead to a larger combination than existed before, and that we would organize that, taking some parts of the Mellon Institute and having other parts of the Mellon Institute go on independently as science and technology centers in quasi productive centers, but having the beginnings of a combined enterprise.

Now at that point her decision and designation of her holdings, as she had a sudden illness and lived a relatively short time after, came on. But her estate was about a half a billion dollars, which was rather pronounced for those days, which was quite a long time ago. There weren’t many half billion entities at that period. So we were assigned and given the responsibilities of trying to carry out her wishes adequately with respect to the arts and National Gallery. But, at the same time, greatly to expand according to her wishes (which we had these many discussions on during those [days], including those of her illness, during her illness) would involve much more money that would go into a major foundation—the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

So this a sort of a long or rather prolonged summary of it: an enormous amount of work and discussion and consideration that was pursued in those years. And as you can imagine there were many complications on the way, in the sense some of her relatives wanted a bigger hand and they wanted a part in the governance of the foundation that we were working to set up that would have included her half a billion. And we had carefully studied that, and we knew those people fairly well. And we felt is was not what she and, to a certain extent, Paul really intended. So there’s a long history here. Some parts of it were, are, were fairly simple and clear, such as the future of the Mellon Institute, which then became an affiliate of the university and which we then evolved, over a period of time, into the Carnegie-Mellon University.

But then there was also the much larger portion of producing a corpus of resources that would meet her very particular, and very specific, interests, which we knew. We had many private discussions, as well as general conferences, with her on this subject and, at the same time, carry on the general objectives of the Mellon family broadly, and then, as we said several times earlier, would have a useful part of the Mellon science residues of the Mellon Institute.

Well, this is a fairly compact account of what you can imagine was a very long and complicated settlement. She had left authority and purposes in very excellent form, and we pursued that.

The questions that came up: who would control that total resource, was something new to the family although it was independent of the family, was resolved and it was pretty much independent of the family, but with, of course, a very strong cognizance of the family, Paul in particular but also (of course his sister was long gone) but also some of the descendents of Mrs. Bruce. So piece by piece the situation was stabilized. And that’s roughly the way the Mellon, the A. W. Mellon Foundation came into existence.

Now there [were], you could imagine, a very large number of details and controversies and complexities that were involved in all that. But the interesting thing is that unlike some of the estates of comparable size, because this would at this point not only be dominated by Mrs. Bruce’s legacy but also by the intentions of Paul Mellon and some of the others to add resources, that in spite of all that, the situation was not a constant controversy or constant dissension, by any means. In fact, there was very little of that. So those were summaries of what became the Andrew W. Mellon foundation.

… [The initial connection to Paul Mellon] was with respect to the Mellon Foundation. That was before any decision to break it up or do anything like that with it. It was when he took very seriously the concerns, and again there’s a lot of history of individuals pursuing this, people who had high offices, positions in the foundation and so on, so I’m not able to give you the whole story at this point. But the point was, or the point is, that he recognized and sponsored the idea that the foundation had to have modernization and reorientation. And that’s when he got Killian and me, with some other advisors … to see what might be the best use of those resources. But that’s how we got to know Paul.

Well, that [the management philosophy of the Andrew W. Mellon foundation] was part of the philosophy that the Mellons supported. And when we said that we want to get the very best thinking and planning in that whole enterprise, whether it was technology or science or arts or whatever else. And it was, of course, influenced by the fact that, in spite of what I just said, there were certain elements, such as the Mellon Institute, that had a very strong position anyway. They were very prominent, world famous research and development people. They had these big facilities, of course this huge building, and all that. And that’s the way that worked out. They got a great deal of support on independence and quality and other things which a traditional charity, philanthropy never quite got around to.

… Now you see it was a particular irony, or in the sense drama, that when this thing started, as I described earlier, the operations of the Mellon Institute were the dominant factors, were the quality and the resources, and the international personnel connections, etcetera. Whereas the independent guidance of other parts of the foundation, of course what particularly later became Mrs. Bruce’s part, but the guidance of other parts, including Paul’s early foundation, were much more independent, were much more quality guided than was typical of foundations of that time. Which, of course, foundations of that time often had family celebrations or some kind of special assignments whatever. This thing had much broader objectives.

… And of course from our point of view, our point of view I mean what we specifically, individuals learned to do. The Mellon family in the presence of the Mellon Institute and various related bodies had a creative and extraordinary blend of science and technology and charity, economics, and a variety of similar things that just happened to all converge.

… See they, of course, went down some of the more typical pathways in that they said: well, of course, this huge legacy obviously got to go to universities. The universities are the ones that are able to handle that. And we just got to work out some kind of a forum so that they will get distributed in universities. Well, I wasn’t in a position, although I could have argued, I did argue a fair amount, they better be very cautious about it. But I wasn’t in a very good position to say: well, we just won’t do that. What we did instead was say: well, OK, we’ll take somebody in the university or educational field and see what happens, see whether our concerns are justified or not.

And the one we picked was Nate Pusey. And Nate had just retired, and was just retiring then as president of Harvard. And we elected him as president, the operating president of the Foundation. And Nate worked like a beaver and he had wonderful character, and he worked very hard at it. And he demonstrated that it wouldn’t work. It wasn’t the kind of depth and vision that we needed. So we had that background, you see, experience. Nate was a character. We had, I had a lot of fun working with him. And he, of course, had a lot of dignity and history as president of Harvard and of other educational ventures, which at that time were exceedingly prominent.

And more recently, of course, presidents of all universities have been pretty well jumbled. But at that time of his tenure, even though he had some complications all right, he had, you may remember, times when some of the students went on protest against Pusey. But actually on the whole he was about as highly respected a figure as there was. So that all the people in the enterprise that might have said: well, you’re not, you do not understand universities and you’re not giving it universities an appropriate role in the Mellon Foundation, that didn’t hold, you see. We got rid of that pretty soon, much to the amazement of the university population.

… See I had recruited Bill Bowen as the president of Princeton after, and Shapiro was also very prominent in this. And then, of course, the Mellon situation came up, because then Mrs. Bruce said that the tides song, the feasting of the locusts, or whatever they were, clothes maybe, or something, on the possibilities of getting their fingers on that whole venture was something to behold. And they thought that the academic world would just be able to take it over and distribute it as they wanted to.

Well, of course, as I said, I recruited Bill Bowen and he had done a wonderful job at Princeton. And among other things, it was perfectly obvious he wasn’t about to be led around by the nose. And, of course, you’ve seen many examples since then, his books on athletics and things of that sort. But he had already demonstrated at that point that he wasn’t going to be pushed around by the academic world or by the academic traditions or the great prestige of that outfit. But he was going to try to do something creative, which from our point of view, he has done systematically and steadily.

… The academic world was still disappointed that they couldn’t push or run or otherwise harangue the traditional academic world to get their expected results. A lot of them, I think, don’t realize yet what hit them. But they’re not getting it anyhow. And in the meantime Bowen is doing just what we hoped and created a whole new era of higher education. It’s kind of amusing that, as you know, this was recognized by people worldwide, particularly the British or the population outside of the US system. And, as you probably noticed a year or two ago, they had a splurge of recognizing Bill’s role in this. And Oxford gave him an honorary degree, and then Cambridge gave him a lot of special honors. And the whole enterprise sort of acted like, well this was a fellow who understood what progress in higher education should be. And he still does, of course. But this was not what the education establishment had expected.