On today’s bike ride I stopped in Lafayette Square Park (MAP) to eat my lunch. And as I was sitting on a bench near the Andrew Jackson statue in the middle of the park, I noticed a bronze plaque on a granite base next to the bench. The plaque reads: “The Bernard Baruch Bench of Inspiration; Dedicated in Honor of Mr. Baruch’s 90th Birthday – August 19, 1960 For His Inspiring Devotion to Country And Distinguished Service to Boyhood; By Both The National Capital Area Council and The Boy Scouts Of America; The Boy Scout Motto — Mr. Baruch’s Philosophy; ‘Be Prepared’.” So naturally, I had to look into who Bernard Baruch was, and why he had a bench in the park dedicated to him.
Bernard Mannes Baruch was born in August of 1870, in Camden, South Carolina. He grew up in New York City, where his family moved when he was eleven years old, and graduated from the City College of New York. After graduating in 1889, Baruch initially worked as an office boy in a linen business before later starting work as a broker and then a partner at A.A. Housman & Company. With his earnings and commissions, he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, where he amassed a fortune while he was still in his twenties.
After his success in business, Baruch left Wall Street in 1916 to become an adviser President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Three years later President Wilson asked him to serve as a staff member at the Paris Peace Conference, where Baruch supported Wilson’s view pertaining to the creation of the League of Nations. In the 1920s and 30s, Baruch remained a prominent government adviser, and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s domestic and foreign policy initiatives after his election, which included being part of the President’s “Brain Trust” during the New Deal. During this time he also expressed his concern that the United States needed to be prepared for the possibility of another world war. Then when the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt appointed Baruch a special adviser. And after World War II, President Harry S. Truman appointed Baruch as the United States representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, where he played an instrumental role in formulating policy regarding the international control of atomic energy. The designation of “elder statesman” was applied to him perhaps more often than to any other American of his time, and he continued to be active until his death in June of 1965 at the age of 94.
While I found the information about this successful American investor, financier, philanthropist, statesman, and political advisor interesting, I was still curious about why there was a “bench of inspiration” dedicated to him. It turns out that Baruch was well-known, and often walked or sat in Lafayette Square Park across from the White House. And it was not uncommon for him to passionately discuss politics and government affairs with other people and passersby while sitting on his favorite bench in the park. He even preferred to meet with Presidents and other important people in the park as well. In fact, this became one of his most famous characteristics, resulting in him coming to be known as the “the Park Bench Statesman.”
So in 1960, within days of his ninetieth birthday, a commemorative park bench in the his favorite spot across from the White House was dedicated to him by the Boy Scouts. When told of the bench and the planned ceremony to dedicate it, “Baruch said he hoped ‘the young people, who are the future of our country’ might receive inspiration from sitting on this bench in the future, as he had over the years.” So maybe I have some things I need to think through or a big decision to make, I’ll head over to Lafayette Square Park, sit on the bench and hope for a little inspiration.
NOTE: Some of the quotes attributed to Bernard Baruch gives us some insight into the advice he provided to Presidents and others. It who Baruch who is quoted as having said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” He also said, “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”
More of Baruch’s wisdom is evident by what he said the bench. Baruch said,”In this hectic Age of Distraction, all of us need to pause every now and then in what we are doing to examine where the rush of the world and of our own activities is taking us. Even an hour or two spent in such detached contemplation on a park bench will prove rewarding.”