Biography and History

Ferdinand Eberstadt (1890-1969) was a prominent Wall Street investment banker who also served in several government posts throughout his career. During World War II, he organized the production and distribution of supplies to the United States military through his work with the Army-Navy Munitions Board and the War Production Board, and he was subsequently involved in plans for the reorganization of the armed services and in the development of post-war economic policies. He was also involved with the Reparations Conference in Paris in 1929, the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, the National Security Resources Board, and the Hoover Commission on Government Reorganization.

Eberstadt was born in New York City on June 19, 1890 to Edward F. and Elenita Eberstadt. He earned his A.B. degree from Princeton University in 1913 and then studied political economy in Berlin, Munich, and Paris for a year. Eberstadt returned to the United States in 1914, enrolling in Columbia University Law School. He interrupted his studies to serve in the armed forces, first on the Mexican border and once the United States entered World War I, serving in France as a lieutenant. He was later promoted to the rank of captain. After the end of his military service, Eberstadt returned to Columbia University, where he received his LL.B. in 1917. Eberstadt married Mary Van Arsdale Tongue of New York City in 1919 and they had four children: Frances (Unnerstall), Mary (Harper), Ann (Cannell), and Frederick.

Eberstadt was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1919 and began his career at Wall Street that same year with the law firm McAdoo, Cotton & Franklin. He was made a partner when Williams Gibbs McAdoo left and the firm was re-organized as Cotton & Franklin. While at Cotton & Franklin, he was assigned to advise the investment banking firm of Dillon, Read & Company. His advice proved so valuable to the company that they hired him, as a partner, in 1925. While there, he was instrumental in facilitating the 1928 merger of Dodge and Chrysler, and worked successfully with big foreign loans. He sold his partnership in the company in 1928.

Eberstadt entered public service for the first time in 1929, when he was appointed to serve as assistant to Owen D. Young at the Paris Reparations Conference because of his knowledge of German finance. Upon returning to the United States, he was a partner in the investment banking firm of Otis & Company of Cleveland and New York for a brief time before founding his own brokerage firm, F. Eberstadt & Company, in 1931. He achieved success dDuring the dDepression he by specializeding in small stock and bond issues, and h. His company became well respected , known for underwriting the public offerings of carefully selected new companies and for arranging mergers. Eberstadt was also a pioneer in the field of mutual funds, founding the successful Chemical Fund in 1938 and serving as chairman of the board until his death in 1969. Throughout his career on Wall Street, Eberstadt became was highly regarded as both an innovator and a critic, especially of Wall Street's insularity, as well as the practices of its member firms.

During the 1940s, Eberstadt served several key roles in the nation's defense. In 1941, he was asked by James V. Forrestal, who had also been a partner at Dillion, Read & Company, to conduct a study of the machine tool industry and determine how it might be prepared for war. This led to a study of the entire production front, and Eberstadt's subsequent appointment in 1942 as Chairman of the Army and Navy Munitions Board, the agency in charge of the procurement and distribution of supplies to the armed services. In four months, he increased machine tool production, a major bottleneck, by thirty percent. When the Board was merged with the War Production Board later that year, Eberstadt was appointed Vice-Chairman of the War Production Board, in which capacity he had charge of procuring and allocating raw materials to war factories. He resigned in 1943, after five months in the position, when it was determined that the Board would operate more efficiently with one chairman.

In 1945, Eberstadt was asked again by James V. Forrestal to prepare a report, this time on the unification of the armed services. The "Eberstadt Plan" became the basis for the Armed Forces Unification Act, under which Forrestal was appointed Secretary of Defense. Eberstadt also wrote the foundation for the National Security Act of 1947. In 1946, Eberstadt was appointed by Bernard Baruch, the United States Representative on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, to serve as one of his four assistants. In this capacity, Eberstadt wrote much of the Baruch Plan for the control of atomic energy production. In 1948, he returned once again to Washington to work with the National Security Resources Board to develop a general mobilization plan. He served as an advisor to Arthur M. Hill, chairman of the board, to prepare an organization plan to insure the maximum utilization of the nation's industrial and civilian resources in the event of war and to draft legislation to put it into effect. Eberstadt also served as a member of the Hoover Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, becoming Chairman of the Commission's Committee on the National Security Organization in 1949.

For the remainder of his career, Eberstadt was primarily focused on his investment firm, but he often returned to Washington to serve as a consultant on economic and defense matters to various government agencies. Eberstadt died on November 11, 1969 at the age of 79.

Source: From the finding aid for MC021

  • John Foster Dulles Oral History Collection »

    Eberstadt, Ferdinand (1890-1969) - Investment banker. 1965.

    Call Number: 76

  • Ferdinand Eberstadt Papers. 1868-1970 (inclusive), 1935-1965 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC021

    Ferdinand Eberstadt (1890-1969) was a prominent Wall Street investment banker who also served in several government posts throughout his career. During World War II, he organized the production and distribution of supplies to the United States military through his work with the Army-Navy Munitions Board and the War Production Board, and he was subsequently involved in plans for the reorganization of the armed services and in the development of post-war economic policies. The Eberstadt papers primarily document his extensive career in public service to the United States related to defense and the economy, as well as his career as an investment banker and his personal life, and include correspondence, reports, his writings, and his personal papers.

  • Ferdinand Eberstadt Papers. 1868-1970 (inclusive), 1935-1965 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC021

    Ferdinand Eberstadt (1890-1969) was a prominent Wall Street investment banker who also served in several government posts throughout his career. During World War II, he organized the production and distribution of supplies to the United States military through his work with the Army-Navy Munitions Board and the War Production Board, and he was subsequently involved in plans for the reorganization of the armed services and in the development of post-war economic policies. The Eberstadt papers primarily document his extensive career in public service to the United States related to defense and the economy, as well as his career as an investment banker and his personal life, and include correspondence, reports, his writings, and his personal papers.