Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888 in Boston, Massachusetts to Patrick Joseph Kennedy and Mary Augusta Hickey. He was the eldest son and had a younger brother Francis (who died young), and two younger sisters, Mary and Margaret. All four of Joe's grandparents had immigrated to Massachusetts in the 1840s to escape the Irish famine.

Joe Kennedy Sr.
Basic Information
Birth September 6, 1888

Boston, Massachusetts

Death 1969
Occupation Businessman & Politican
Marriage & Children Unknown
Parents Businessman & Politican
Siblings Businessman & Politican

Early Life and EducationEdit

Joe was born into a highly sectarian society, where Irish Catholics were excluded by upper-class Boston Brahmins. Because of this Boston Irish became active in the Democratic Party, including Joe's father, P. J. and other numerous relatives. Joe's childhood home was comfortable, thanks to his father's successful saloon business, investments, and an influential role in local politics around Boston. Joe grew up in East Boston and attended Catholic schools until the eighth grade when his mother encouraged him to attend the Boston Latin School, where he was a below average scholar but was popular among his classmates, winning election as class president and playing on the school baseball team. Joe followed in the footsteps of older cousins by attending Harvard University. While attending Harvard he joined the Delta Upsilon International fraternity and played on the baseball team.

Marriage, Family, and Business BeginningsEdit

In his last years at Harvard Joe began dating Rose Fitzgerald, daughter of Boston Mayor John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. The two families had grown up in the same circles, and had even spent a summer vacation together when they were children. In their adolescent years, Joe started accompanying Rose to dances and parties; he would later say that he was "never seriously interested in anyone else." But after Rose Fitzgerald's debut in society and Joe's graduation, the relationship became more firmly established and they were married on October 7, 1914. After a two-week honeymoon, they settled in the Boston suburb of Brookline. Their first son, Joseph "Joe" Patrick Kennedy, Jr., was born on July 28, 1915 while Rose Kennedy was staying at a summer cottage in Hull, Massachusetts.


Joe and Rose Kennedy's Wedding-October 7, 1914

In the meantime, Joe had taken a significant business step. The bank his father had helped start, Columbia Trust, had stockholders who were on the verge of selling out. Joe sensed an opportunity and sought and obtained the backing to purchase a controlling interest, becoming the youngest bank president in the country, at twenty-five. As head of Columbia Trust, Joe worked hard to obtain connections both high and low, maintaining good relations with his working class client base but always seeking new links to Boston's business elite. His entry into that circle was confirmed by his election to the Board of Trustees of the Massachusetts Electric Company which was New England's leading public utility at the time. He was named to the Board on May 29, 1917, the same day his second child, John Fitzgerald "Jack", was born.


Joe's connections were beginning to pay off and in 1917, fellow Board member Guy Currier, recommended Joe to Bethlehem chief executive Charles M. Schwab for the position of assistant general manager at the company's Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. Already one of the largest shipyards in the country, Fore River was booming with orders as a result of the United States' entry into World War I. Joe's very close supervision would keep this work under control. It was during his tenure at Fore River that Joe would first meet – and sometimes clash with – Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

By the time the War entered its final months, the work at Fore River had pushed Joe to exhaustion, which was compounded by worry over Rose who was pregnant in the midst of the deadly Spanish flu epidemic that was proving a particular threat, especially to pregnant women. But Rose safely gave birth to her first daughter Rose Marie "Rosemary" on September 13, 1918, and within a couple of months the war and flu were over.

After the end of the war Joe realized that there would not be the same challenges and prospects with the company, so he decided to return to finance. He looked for the best option and found it in the person of Galen Stone, an associate from the Massachusetts Electric Company Board. With Stone as mentor, Joe absorbed the precepts and practicalities of the stock market. Setbacks occurred, but Joe's progress and success were notable. When Stone retired at the beginning of 1923, Joe decided to move on. He left the firm of Hayden, Stone and established himself in his own right as "Joseph P. Kennedy, Banker," offering a range of financial services based on the knowledge and skills he had developed working with Galen Stone. For the next three years, on his own behalf and that of others, Joe would undertake a series of business ventures that would make him a wealthy man, with a net worth of 2 million dollars.

Hollywood YearsEdit

Facing Facts The Myths and Truths About Joseph Kennedy04:44

Facing Facts The Myths and Truths About Joseph Kennedy

Joe's next career step began in 1926, when he bought the company Film Booking Office and stepped fully into the still-new and burgeoning movie industry. But as with most of his business moves, Joe's decision had long roots and was the result of careful observation. As early as 1919, Joe had purchased the Maine and New Hampshire Theatres Company, a small chain of New England movie houses. HIs experience showed him the promise of the movie business but also that the real money was being made in production rather than distribution. His first connection with FBO was through Hayden, Stone, which had been approached by a British firm that held a controlling interest in the Robertson-Cole Company, the parent organization for FBO. Dissatisfied with the money-losing habits of Robertson-Cole/FBO, its British owners looked to Hayden, Stone for help in finding a buyer in the United States. Because of his interest in the film industry, the project was assigned to Joe, who was also retained as a financial advisor to Robertson-Cole. Although he was unsuccessful in finding a buyer, Joe's position with Robertson-Cole/FBO gave him further insight into the movie business and fueled in him the ambition to purchase the company himself. But it was not until the summer of 1925 that Joe could put together the million-dollar offer that was turned down flatly as insufficient; yet a little more than six months later, the British owners, perhaps finally discouraged by the many ways FBO found to lose money, suddenly chose to accept the bid.


Joe represented a new and coming thing for Hollywood. Moviemaking had always been a business, but its newness had worked against it, encouraging lax business practices and deterring stable investment. When he took over FBO, Joe brought both the stability and the expertise of an established businessman. With the creation of a finance company, Cinema Credits Corporation, Joe could tap into his many contacts in the financial world. At the same time he enforced a fiscal discipline on FBO that was new to the company and Hollywood in general.

Marking his new position as movie mogul, Joe also made a major move personally, taking his family from Boston to the New York suburb of Riverdale. The family had doubled in size. Three more girls had followed Rosemary – Kathleen Agnes "Kick" (February 20, 1920), Eunice Mary (July 10 1921), and Patricia Helen "Pat" (May 6, 1924) – before a third boy, Robert Francis "Bobby", was born on November 20, 1925. Another girl, Jean Ann (February 20, 1928) would be born not long after the family settled in New York. In later years, Joe would state that the social constraints on his Irish Catholic family in Yankee-dominated Boston had motivated the move, but another factor was Joe's need to enter a broader business arena now that his own interests had widened.


For the most part, Joe spent 1926, his first year as a studio owner, getting FBO on a sound business footing. He did undertake an advantageous side venture, arranging for a series of lectures at Harvard, subsequently turned into a book, on the history of film, to be given by some of the most notable names in Hollywood. These men, many of whom had little organized education, were flattered by the invitation to speak at one of the great universities. Despite Harvardites who grumbled at a connection with anything like movies, the university also benefited, not least from a sizable donation by Joe to help set up a film library. As the recipient of gratitude from all sides, Joe profited the most, gaining an introduction to some of the most powerful men in the film industry.

In the fall of 1927, Joe began efforts to advance his position in Hollywood by approaching David Sarnoff, head of Radio Corporation of America. As the developer of Photophone, a sound system for the new "talkies," RCA needed to forge a connection with Hollywood to sell its product. At the same time Joe knew that he needed to compete in the new market of sound films and to do so he would have to have access to a technology that was not proprietary, which was the case with Warner Brothers' Vitaphone, the most successful sound process then. The corporate alliance between FBO and RCA was cemented with the purchase by FBO of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater chain, which would provide the venues for Photophone process pictures. In the meantime, Joe's success with FBO had been noticed, and he was invited in to perform the same kind of corporate turnaround, first for a production company called Pathé-DeMille and then with First National. As a condition of his work, Joe demanded absolute power in the companies, and in fact wound up in control of Pathé, but the requirement did not sit well with the board of First National, which ultimately dispensed with his services. Still, for a brief period of time in 1928, Joe was the de facto head of four different companies.

The degree of vertical integration represented by the FBO-KAO combination suggested to observers an imminent merger, especially because of the connection KAO already had with the production company Pathé-DeMille. The deal that eventually developed involved the purchase by RCA of a major stakeholding in KAO. Pathé for the moment remained outside of the compact, and Joe continued to run that company. What emerged in late 1928 was the holding company Radio-Keith-Orpheum, which became a subsidiary of RCA. The prime movers in the merger, Joe and Sarnoff and their investors, profited well although there were complaints from smaller and less connected shareholders.

Despite these abundant and complex business interests, Joe did not ignore opportunities to engage in independent production. As early as 1923 he had arranged a personal corporation to manage the film career of FBO cowboy star Fred Thomson. But his most important independent work was with Gloria Swanson, one of the biggest stars of the silent era. Joe met Swanson in late 1927 when the actor was in considerable financial difficulties because of a disastrous attempt at self production. Joe took over Swanson's personal and professional finances, creating Gloria Productions to oversee her filmmaking opportunities. In early 1928, Joe hired director Erich von Stroheim to direct Swanson in a lavish film designed to restore her somewhat dimmed star power. Although the film, Queen Kelly, was never completed, Joe and Swanson produced two other films, including Swanson's first talking feature, “The Trespasser” before ending their business relationship in 1930.

Joe had divested himself of virtually all of his stock holdings by 1930, including the stock he held in Pathé, before the October 1929 crash. He spent the next year sounding out potential buyers for the company, culminating in a sale to RKO, which already had business connections to Pathé that it had inherited from KAO. And on February 22, 1932, Joe's fourth son and last child, Edward Moore "Ted" was born.

Government and PoliticsEdit

Joe’s long career in Hollywood had brought him a large and significantly liquid fortune that allowed him to continue his investments in real estate, most notably his personal homes in Hyannis Port and Palm Beach, as well as a share in the Hialeah race track in Miami, even as he was scaling back his activities in Hollywood and the stock market. But at the beginning of the 1930s, the real focus Joe had became politics. As a successful businessman, Joe’s expected allegiance would have been to Hoover and the Republicans in the 1932 election, but the depth of the Depression had shaken Joe’s faith in Republican solutions. Believing that a change to the system was necessary to preserve it, and willing to accept the toll on his own personal wealth that might be involved, Joe threw his personal and financial support behind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential campaign and he even rode on Roosevelt’s campaign train.


Joe with his youngest son, Ted

In 1933, with the election won and Roosevelt inaugurated, Joe took a trip to Europe with James Roosevelt, the new President’s son. The end of Prohibition had been implicit in Roosevelt’s election, and Joe saw in it a new business possibility. While in England he obtained rights to become the U.S. agent for Haig & Haig Ltd., John Dewar and Sons, Ltd. and Gordon's Dry Gin Company Ltd. When Prohibition officially ended, with the ratification of the 21st amendment, Joe and his company, Somerset Importers, were poised to take advantage of the country’s rehabilitated thirst with an enormous stockpile of liquor imports. But Joe was not satisfied with business success; his work on the campaign had sharpened his political ambitions and it was a disappointment that Roosevelt had not yet found a place for him in his administration. But that changed in July 1934, when Roosevelt appointed Joe chair of the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Despite widespread qualms about the appointment of an ex-speculator to an influential regulatory position, Joe’s tenure proved to be just the start necessary for the new agency. Joe knew the business community and understood the business practices he was charged with policing. Though he had been appointed for a five-year term, Joe resigned from the SEC in September 1935, because he believed that he had accomplished what he needed to do. From the end of 1935 through 1936, Joe acted as a consultant in business and government. After a six-week tour of Europe in the fall of 1935, he reported to Roosevelt on the European economic situation.


For the 1936 presidential campaign, Roosevelt sought his help on the campaign, and Joe responded with his book I'm for Roosevelt, which he had published and made sure was widely distributed. Written with the help of his friend, Arthur Krock, the book presented arguments for why businessmen should support Roosevelt and the New Deal, told from the perspective of Joe’s own personal endorsement. The book had significant impact in the business community and after his re-election, Roosevelt appointed Joe chair of the United States Maritime Commission. Created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, the Commission was expected to rejuvenate America's merchant shipping industry. Joe spent only ten months at the Commission. In early December 1937, Roosevelt named him the new ambassador to the Court of St. James, the United States' representative to Great Britain. Joe officially resigned from the Maritime Commission in February 1938.

In many respects the ambassadorship represented the pinnacle of Joe's personal success. Accompanied by his wife and children, now numbering nine, Joe was greeted with enthusiasm by the British public, and for a while the Kennedy family were popular celebrities in England. But Joe’s tenure as ambassador soon ran into difficulty. European tensions were already running high when he arrived in 1938, and his personal aversion to war put him firmly in the appeasement camp, a position that was losing favor in Britain. When war broke out in 1939, Joe’s firm and outspoken commitment to U.S. neutrality put him increasingly at odds with the British Government, and eventually his own. Joe ultimately resigned in November 1940.

Later Years and DeathEdit

The advent of war brought much grief and tragic loss to the family of which Joe was very proud of building. His two eldest sons served in the Navy, Joe, Jr. as a pilot and John "Jack" as the commander of torpedo boat PT-109. In August 1943, Jack was badly injured and narrowly escaped death in an attack on his boat by a Japanese destroyer. A little more than a year later, on August 12, 1944, Joe Jr. was killed when his plane, packed with explosives for a top-secret bombing raid, exploded over southeast England. Only a month afterwards, the second Kennedy daughter Kathleen "Kick" lost her husband of just four months, William John Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, when he was killed in action in Belgium. Kathleen herself would die a few years later in a plane crash near Sainte-Bauzille, France while traveling with her intended second husband.

As the war ended, Joe continued with his business interests, but became more focused on real estate; even as he was divesting himself of Somerset Importers, in one of his most inspired investments, he purchased and renovated the enormous Merchandise Mart building in Chicago, which grew to become a cornerstone of his wealth. In addition he began serious, organized philanthropic activities, largely through the recently founded Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation. Most importantly, Joe turned his energies to the careers of his remaining sons, especially his second son, Jack, convincing him to run in 1946 for the Massachusetts’ eleventh congressional district. John F. Kennedy won that election and went on to serve three terms (1947-1952) in the House of Representatives and two terms (1952-1960) in the U.S. Senate before his election as President of the United States in 1960. Joe also worked to advance the political careers of his younger sons, Robert and Edward, who would both become U.S. Senators.

On December 19, 1961, Joe suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and left him barely able to communicate, although his intellect was unimpaired. In this condition he lived another eight years, enduring through the assassinations of two of his sons. Joe's health deteriorated from further strokes and heart attacks, until on November 18, 1969, he died in his Hyannis Port home at the age of 81.

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