Joseph Patrick Kennedy
b.6 Sep 1888 Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
d.18 Nov 1969 Hyannis Port, Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States
m. 7 Oct 1914
Facts and Events
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. (September 6, 1888 – November 18, 1969) was a prominent American businessman, investor, and ambassador. Kennedy was an Irish American and was the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, United States Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy, naval officer Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Special Olympics co-founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith; grandfather of U.S. Representatives Joseph P. Kennedy II and Patrick J. Kennedy; and great-grandfather of newly-elected U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III. He was a leading member of the Democratic Party and of the Irish Catholic community. He was the inaugural Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), and later directed the Maritime Commission. Kennedy served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 until late 1940, including the early part of World War II.
Born to a political family in Boston, Massachusetts, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard University, and embarked on a career in finance, making a large fortune as a stock market and commodity investor and by investing in real estate and a wide range of industries.
During World War I, he was an assistant general manager of Bethlehem Steel and developed a friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Kennedy made huge profits from reorganizing and refinancing several Hollywood studios, ultimately merging several acquisitions into Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) studios. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Kennedy consolidated an even larger fortune when he traveled to Scotland with FDR's son, James Roosevelt, to buy distribution rights for Scotch whisky. His company, Somerset Importers, became the exclusive American agent for Gordon's Gin and Dewar's Scotch. In addition, Kennedy purchased spirits-importation rights from Schenley Industries, a firm in Canada. He owned the largest office building in the country, Chicago's Merchandise Mart, giving his family an important base in that city and an alliance with the Irish-American political leadership there.
His term as ambassador and his political ambitions ended abruptly during the Battle of Britain in November 1940, with the publishing of his controversial remarks suggesting that "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here, [in the US]." Kennedy resigned under pressure shortly afterwards. In later years, Kennedy worked behind the scenes to continue building the financial and political fortunes of the Kennedy family. After a disabling stroke on December 19, 1961, at the age of 73, Kennedy lost all power of speech, but remained mentally intact. He used a wheelchair after the stroke. He died on November 18, 1969, two months after his 81st birthday. Kennedy was one of four fathers (the other three being Dr. George Tryon Harding, Sr., Nathaniel Fillmore and George H. W. Bush) to live through the entire presidency of a son. He and Dr. Harding were the only fathers of Presidents to have outlived their sons.
Kennedy allowed surgeons to perform a lobotomy (one of the earliest in the U.S.) on his daughter Rosemary Kennedy in 1941. Various reasons for the operation have been given, but it left her permanently incapacitated.