Merriam, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1918-

Alternative names
Birth 1918
Death 1984

Biographical notes:

Business executive.

From the description of Reminiscences of Robert Edward Merriam : oral history, 1969. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122597719

Robert E. Merriam was a Chicago alderman (1947-1955). Merriam was a Chicago mayoral candidate in 1955.

From the description of Robert E. Merriam papers, 1947-1955. (Chicago History Museum). WorldCat record id: 713361013

Chicago politician, public administrator, author, and businessman.

From the description of Papers, 1947-1977 (inclusive). (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 52246425

Robert Edward Merriam, historian and politician, was born October 2, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois to University of Chicago political science professor and onetime Chicago alderman and mayoral candidate, Charles E. Merriam. He attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School, University High School, and the University of Chicago where he completed his bachelor's degree in 1939 and received a Master's degree in public administration in 1940. During his undergraduate and graduate years, he was active in the Youth For Roosevelt as well as many other political organizations. He married his classmate, Jane Jungkunz. After finishing his degree and working for several months for the American Society of Planning Officials, Merriam spent the first half of 1941 as the assistant to the State Personnel Officer of the National Youth Administration. Then, between July 1941 and May 1942, Merriam held positions as field representative, liaison officer to the armed forces, and deputy administrator at the National Housing Agency.

In 1942 Merriam joined the Army as a private and became a second lieutenant in 1943 after Infantry Officers Candidate School. In late 1944, shortly after he was sent to the European theatre, Merriam became a combat reporter during the Battle of the Bulge. He remained in Europe after the end of the war, in the capacity of Army historian. His interviews with hundreds of participants and planners of the battle for the Ardennes, together with his own combat experience there, inspired him to write Dark December, a bestseller account of the Battle published in 1946. His book was a critical success, praised by General Eisenhower, but was faulted for its lack of emotional distance.

Merriam's first job after returning to civilian life in 1946 was as a project planner for the Federal Public Housing Authority. After a few months, he returned to Chicago as Director of the Metropolitan Housing Council and began campaigning for the Fifth Ward alderman seat. Running as a Democrat against the Democratic machine incumbent, Bertram Moss, he touted independent politics in his efficiency and decency in government platform. After winning the most hotly contested City Council seat in the 1946 election, Merriam became known as a reform politician and a member of the "economy bloc" for eliminating waste in city government. He quickly became Chairman of the housing committee, as well as serving on the budget and health committees. His most publicized role came after his 1951 re-election. As Chairman of the Emergency Commission on Crime, Merriam received national coverage on his fight against Chicago's infamous and firmly entrenched corruption.

During his aldermanic terms, Merriam married his constituent, Marguerite de Ternova in 1950 and became a stepfather to her two children, Aimee and Oliver. In 1954, their daughter, Monique, was born. Merriam supplemented his City Council salary through extensive lecturing, writing, and planning and hosting a documentary style television program. Merriam later used his television experience for weekly half-hour mayoral campaign shows.

Despite his accomplishments as an alderman, Merriam was unable to win the 1955 mayoral election against then Cook County Democratic Committee Chairman Richard J. Daley. Running as a Republican, after frustration with Democratic stonewalling on reform, Merriam easily won his primary. After the primary, Merriam claimed the strategy of a "Fusion" candidate in the spirit of Fiorello LaGuardia. However, the only significant difference between the respective platforms of the two candidates was Merriam's assertion that a vote for Daley was a vote for continued machine corruption. Their professed goals were barely differentiable. Merriam drew wide support as a fusion candidate, but lost with forty-five percent of the vote in a controversial election. The evidence from investigations Merriam conducted on vote fraud and corruption in the polling place were dismissed by the Election Committee and the Democratic County Judge.

In August 1955, Merriam moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as the assistant to the Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget. One year later he was promoted to Assistant Director and, finally, Deputy Director in March 1958. After holding his new position for six months, Merriam became President Dwight D. Eisenhower's aide on intergovernmental relations. Following his White House service, Merriam returned to Illinois and worked in the private sector, but became National Coordinator for the Republican Party-to-People Forum as part of the 1964 Presidential campaign.

With the return of a Republican administration in 1969, Merriam resumed his advisory role in intergovernmental affairs as Chairman of the President's Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs. He was appointed by Nixon and held the chairmanship until the beginning of the Carter Administration in 1978. Merriam received a letter of commendation for his contribution to federalism from the Canadian government. After the chairmanship, Merriam continued to participate in the national debate on federalism into the 1980s. Robert Merriam died in 1988.

From the guide to the Merriam, Robert E. Papers, 1918-1984, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)


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  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Urban renewal--20th century
  • City council members--20th century
  • Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945
  • Politicians--20th century
  • Municipal government--20th century
  • City planning--20th century
  • Public utilities--20th century
  • Executives--Interviews


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  • Illinois--Chicago (as recorded)
  • Chicago (Ill.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Illinois (as recorded)
  • Chicago (Ill.) (as recorded)