From War to Wall Street: A Brief Primer on the Bush Family Fortune
By design, America has no kings and no queens. One Revolutionary War later, there is no royal family, there are no decrees, and there is no line of succession. It remains undeniable, however, that America is host to some families so well-known and influential, that they might as well be royalty.
Why is Bush now a household name? How did all of this begin? A good starting point would be Samuel P. Bush.
Samuel P. Bush was as influential as any man could be in the burgeoning industrial state of Ohio. He was on the Board of Directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and pushed and pulled those levers to help create the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Samuel Bush then recast himself as a wartime industrialist during World War I, serving as Chief of the Ordnance, Small Arms and Ammunition division of the War Industries Board. It was from this powerful post that he was able to shape America’s military needs and outlay–and indeed the rest of the world’s–to exactly match the Bush family’s own investments. Honoring the precept that finance transcends mere nationality, Bush sold weapons made by his own Remington Arms Company to over three quarters of all combatants on both sides of war. It made him one of the richest men in the world, and became the foundation of the Bush family fortune.
George Herbert Walker Runs Wall Street
While Samuel Bush controlled the ebb and flow of all military might in the world, George Walker was separately creating his own fortune in the financial sector. He founded G.H. Walker & Co. in 1900, a successful investment bank that would eventually become a part of Merrill Lynch in 1978. By 1903, Walker had done so well that he was able to build the luxurious Walker-Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, becoming the family’s foremost link to the area.
Walker did not stop there. He went on to helm an investment firm called W.A. Harriman & Co. in 1920, leveraging his network of banking contacts to create profitable investment opportunities in Germany and Russia. Walker’s first son, George Herbert Walker Jr., was an original owner of the New York Mets, and leveraged his family’s money and connections to create the Bush-Overby Oil Development Company. However, it was the famous marriage of George Herbert Walker’s daughter, Dorothy, to Samuel Bush’s son, Prescott, that combined Wall Street money and connections with industrialist network. The marriage gave form to the Bush family as we know it today, turning them into the world’s premiere power brokers.
Prescott Bush Runs World War II
Prescott Bush served as VP of Harriman before redirecting the family fortune to Union Banking Corp. Following in his father Samuel’s footsteps, and with the world involved in a fresh global conflict, Prescott Bush viewed war as a rich financial opportunity. Union Banking Corp. thus became a major trading post for war assets like gold, steel and coal. While the universality of the business created complications due to the possibility of aiding America’s enemies as well as her allies, Bush himself was never convicted of any wrongdoing. During WWII, Prescott Bush sat on the board of Dresser Industries, an oil equipment company that would eventually merge with Halliburton decades later. This represented the Bush family’s first significant connection to the oil industry.
The most well-known son of Prescott Bush was of course George H.W. Bush, a man who would himself invest in oil and founded what would eventually become Pennzoil. Then, he parlayed financial influence into political influence and went on to become the forty-first President of the United States.
George W. Bush’s Rise to Prominence
Many know George W. Bush as George H.W. Bush’s son, and as a man who would himself go on to serve two terms as President. It is in the wake of those terms that we are most contemplative or even critical of the Bush dynasty. We reassess, we reevaluate. In surveying the political landscape, we tend to miss the important financial details. For as much as we prefer to view the Bush family through the prism of those presidential terms, it is still an undeniable fact that the Bushes are no poorer today than they were before George W. Bush become their most recognizable new patriarch.
We forget, for instance, that George W. Bush received a top-tier education at both Harvard and Yale. Here was a man groomed specifically to manage his family’s money, as generations of other Walkers and other Bushes had done before him. This is exactly what he did. It is tempting to point to George W. Bush’s numerous business failures as evidence that Wall Street had finally turned an unkind eye towards one of its most favored families. For example, Bush’s infamous management of Arbusto Energy was–as pundits gleefully pointed out–”a busto,” with the embattled energy firm surviving merger after merger to still only return just 45 cents on the dollar to investors. The firm would also cultivate some infamous ties with the Bin Laden family. Though it represented vast Arabian largesse at the time, the name Bin Laden would later come to mean something far different to Americans in the 21st century. This original financial connection would go on to haunt the Bushes for decades.
Yet if there is a story to be told here, it is one of perseverance and enduring financial savvy finally finding purchase. Bush would go on to sell his shares in the energy company and buy the Texas Rangers baseball team. The Rangers did what most sports teams inevitably do, which is appreciate in value, and George W. Bush was at last on the right track.
Other Bushes in Finance
There are other Bushes out there, doing other Bush things, for surely any family consists of more than just one or two men. For example, William H.T. Bush owned a defense contract company, selling its stock to become a millionaire. For his part, George Herbert Walker IV is a very successful money manager who is mostly unknown outside of high-end financial circles. Walker IV was a partner with Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and now the Neuberger Berman Group. The influence of the Bush family in the financial sector is ubiquitous, even if it is less noticeable than a few terms in the Oval Office.
Through a storied history of success built upon success, the Bush family remains the closest thing to royalty in America. Whether they are at times loved or at times hated, the Bushes have always been rich and powerful enough to warrant at least our enduring curiosity.