Cortelyou, George Bruce, 1862-1940

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Cortelyou was born in New York City to Rose (née Seary) and Peter Crolius Cortelyou, Jr. He was part of an old New Netherland family whose immigrant ancestor, Jacques Cortelyou, arrived in 1652. He was educated at public schools in Brooklyn, the Nazareth Hall Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and the Hempstead Institute on Long Island.

At 20, Cortelyou received a BA degree from Westfield Normal School, now Westfield State University, a teacher's college in Westfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from the law schools of George Washington University and Georgetown University. He was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity while at George Washington University. Courtelyou then began teaching, later taking a stenography course and mastering shorthand. Cortelyou married the former Lily Morris Hinds on September 15, 1888, with whom he had five children.

In 1891, he obtained a position as secretary to the chief postal inspector of New York. The following year a promotion led to a job as the secretary to the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. In 1895 President Grover Cleveland hired Cortelyou as his chief clerk on the recommendation of Postmaster General Wilson S. Bissell. Cleveland recommended him as a personal secretary to his successor, William McKinley. Cortelyou was working on improvements in office efficiency in 1901, when President McKinley was assassinated.

McKinley was greeting visitors in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901, in Buffalo, New York, when he was shot twice at close range by lone assassin Leon Czolgosz. As McKinley collapsed, he was caught and supported by his aides, among them Cortelyou. As he was held in their arms, he whispered, "My wife... be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her. Oh, be careful."

After succeeding as President, Theodore Roosevelt tasked Cortelyou with transforming the White House into a more professional organization. Cortelyou developed procedures and rules that guided White House protocol and established processes for which there had been only personal prerogative. Cortelyou is also credited with establishing an improved line of communication between the President's office and the press; he provided reporters with their own workspace, briefed journalists on notable news and handed out press releases. Cortelyou is credited with instituting the first systematic gathering of press commentary for a sitting president's perusal. The "current clippings" were the first attempt by a president to gauge public opinion by the media. Cortelyou selected items objectively, a practice that would not be consistently followed by his successors.

Cortelyou served as the first Secretary of Commerce and Labor, from February 18, 1903 to June 30, 1904. He also served as Postmaster General from March 6, 1905 to January 14, 1907 and was the Secretary of the Treasury, all under Theodore Roosevelt. From 1904 through 1907, Cortelyou also served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, working for the successful re-election of Theodore Roosevelt.

He was made an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity on April 9, 1903. He had attended the New England Conservatory of Music, where the fraternity was founded.

Cortelyou served as the Secretary of the Treasury, from March 4, 1907 to March 7, 1909. This was during the devastating Panic of 1907. Like his predecessor, Leslie M. Shaw, Cortelyou believed it was Treasury's duty to protect the banking system, but he realized that the Treasury was not equipped to maintain economic stability. He eased the crisis by depositing large amounts of government funds in national banks and buying government bonds. To prevent further crises, Cortelyou advocated a more elastic currency and recommended the creation of a central banking system.

In 1908, the Aldrich–Vreeland Act was passed, providing special currency to be issued in times of panic, and creating a commission, which led to the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

He returned to private enterprise as the president of the Consolidated Gas Company, later known as the Consolidated Edison. He was also one of the chairmen of the Con Edison Energy Museum, which is now closed. He lived at his home "Harbor Lights" in Halesite, Long Island, until his death in October 1940. Edith Roosevelt attended the wake at his home, as she was a best friend of his wife. He is buried at the Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Cortelyou, an unincorporated community in Washington County, Alabama, changed its name from Richardson to Cortelyou while George Cortelyou was United States Postmaster General.

Archival Resources
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referencedIn Miscellaneous correspondence, 1883-1970. Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
creatorOf Cortelyou, George B. (George Bruce), 1862-1940. [Letter] 1901 Sept. 23, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C. [to] Alexander S. Graham, 212 Hale St., New Brunswick, N.J. / Geo. B. Cortelyou. Dartmouth College Library
referencedIn William McKinley Papers, circa 1847-1935, (bulk 1897-1901) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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referencedIn Theodore Roosevelt correspondence with William Roscoe Thayer, 1884-1919. Houghton Library
referencedIn Gould, Lewis L. Collection of American Political History 93-389; 93-479; 93-485; 94-025; 94-184; 98-052; 99-095., 1870-1920 Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
referencedIn McCrary, George Washington, 1835-1890. George W. McCrary collection, 1824-1936. Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center, Hayes Presidential Center
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creatorOf Creelman, James, 1859-1915. Papers, 1890-1915. Ohio State University Libraries
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referencedIn Clarke, James Freeman, 1810-1888. Additional correspondence, 1787-1886 Houghton Library
referencedIn Letter from Marcus Alonzo Hanna to George B. Cortelyou United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Elihu Root Papers, 1863-1937, (bulk 1899-1937) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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referencedIn Family papers, 1853-1954. Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
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referencedIn Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919. Theodore Roosevelt papers, 1759-1993 (bulk 1878-1919). Library of Congress
referencedIn McCrary, George Washington, 1835-1890. George Washington McCrary collection, 1824-1936. Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center, Hayes Presidential Center
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creatorOf Barber, Ohio Columbus, 1841-1920. Papers, 1880-1913 / Ohio Columbus Barber. Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
referencedIn Lyman J. Gage Papers, 1897-1906 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Oregon Methodist Episcopal Church Administrative papers, 1851-1945 Willamette University Archives and Special Collections
referencedIn William R. Day Papers, 1820-1923, (bulk 1897-1917) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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creatorOf Cortelyou, George B. (George Bruce), 1862-1940. [Letter] 1900 December 24, Washington, [D.C. to] Gen. Horatio C. King, Brooklyn, N.Y. / Geo. B. Cortelyou. Texas Tech University Libraries, Academic Library
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referencedIn Autograph File, C, 1554-2002. Houghton Library
referencedIn Hagedorn, Hermann, 1882-1964. Hermann Hagedorn papers, 1912-1933. Library of Congress
referencedIn McKinley, William, 1843-1901. William McKinley papers, circa 1847-1935 (bulk 1897-1901). Library of Congress
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referencedIn Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952. Frances Benjamin Johnston papers, 1855-1956 (bulk 1890-1945). Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Hay, John, 1838-1905. Letters, 1873-1903. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Beer family papers, 1740-1981, 1827-1981 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Nathan Appleton Papers, 1850-1904, (bulk 1876-1902) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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referencedIn Pulitzer, Joseph, 1847-1911. Joseph Pulitzer papers, 1880-1924. Library of Congress
referencedIn Ashley W. Cole Letters, 1882-1916 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Papers, 1879-1938 (inclusive), 1897-1903 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn George Dewey Papers, 1805-1949, (bulk 1885-1931) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
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creatorOf Parsons, Geoffrey, 1879-1956. Papers of Geoffrey Parsons, 1876-1937 (bulk 1929-1937). Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Appleton, Nathan, 1843-1906. Nathan Appleton papers, 1850-1904 (bulk 1876-1902). Library of Congress
referencedIn Hermann Hagedorn Papers, 1912-1933 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Hill, Samuel, 1857-1931. Samuel Hill papers, 1895-1902. Minnesota Historical Society Library
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referencedIn Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949. Papers, 1872-1949 Houghton Library
referencedIn Correspondence and compositions, 1718-1946 (inclusive) 1873-1919 (bulk). Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Franklin MacVeagh Papers, 1799-1934, (bulk 1909-1913) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Jayhawker Party Collection of Materials, 1849-1938 (bulk 1850-1887) The Huntington Library
referencedIn Henry Clark Corbin Papers, 1864-1980, (bulk 1898-1909) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919. Letters, 1896-1914. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf George B. Cortelyou Papers, 1871-1948, (bulk 1897-1908) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Hench, Philip S., 1896-1965. Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection, 1806-1995, bulk 1863-1974 Historical Collections, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia
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Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Adee, Alvey A. (Alvey Augustus), 1842-1924 person
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Place Name Admin Code Country
District of Columbia DC US
Long Island NY US
Boston MA US
Huntington NY US
Pennsylvania PA US
New York City NY US
Brooklyn NY US
Westfield MA US
Subject
Presidents--United States--Election--1904
Spanish--American War, 1898
Republican Party
Exhibitions
Exhibitions--New York (State)
Assassination--History
Presidents--Election--1904
Occupation
Politicians
Civil servants
Public officials
Cabinet officers
Lawyers
Secretaries, Presidential
Activity

Person

Birth 1862-07-26

Death 1940-10-23

Male

Americans

English

Information

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