Prescott Bush is perhaps best remembered as the father and grandfather of two United States presidents: George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively. Yet his contributions to BBH and, later, in public life are no less memorable.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Bush was educated in public schools through the eighth grade, bringing him into contact with Columbus’ diverse population. It was an experience that he later credited with shaping his political views. He went on to private school in Rhode Island and then to Yale. He served two years in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer, seeing combat in fall 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Bush spent the next several years in sales for manufacturing and rubber companies before he found his way to the Harrimans’ bank, W. A. Harriman & Co., in 1927. After the merger with Brown Brothers in 1930, Bush set out to build a new fee-based investment management and advisory business of the new BBH. His first clients were the Harrimans themselves, who had turned over a large part of their private wealth to BBH to manage.
With an easy manner and a gift for storytelling, Bush was a born salesman who soon attracted many more clients to the new business. To those who came to BBH for advice on how to invest their money in the depths of the Great Depression, his pitch was disarmingly simple: “Why don’t you let us manage it for you? We’re doing it for the Harrimans, our own partners, so-and-so’s wife and children...We can do it for you just as we’re doing it for ourselves.”
In 1934, Bush penned a pamphlet titled “Scattered Wealth,” which made the case for the value of the professional investment advice that firms like BBH could offer. “As the gate of the vault closes behind you, you leave with the comfortable feeling that your wealth is safely locked up and cannot get away. Of course, this is an illusion. Perhaps you have not been misled by it, but many investors have.”
By this point Bush had begun dabbling in politics, though his road to national office would be a long one. His partners discouraged him from running for Congress in 1946, and his first run for the Senate, in 1950, ended in defeat. But he kept his political ambitions alive. Two years later, after the death of Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut, Bush won a special election to fill his seat. He was reelected in 1956.
Over his 10 years in the Senate, Bush helped to pass legislation funding the construction of the country’s national system of interstate highways. He also was a strong advocate of urban renewal and redevelopment programs, flood control and hurricane protection work, and the Peace Corps. One of his proudest moments was the leading role he played in the 1954 censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the fierce anti-communist.
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