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Myron C. Taylor “A Useful Life”

When Myron Charles Taylor gave Cornell $1,500,000 in 1928 for the construction of a new building for the Law School, the national media called him “the man nobody knows.” Yet he had spent ten years dominating the affairs of U.S. Steel, and another twelve as a diplomat and ambassador. When he finally retired in 1950, his was a household name.

Taylor grew up in Lyons, New York, and attended the Cornell Law School from 1893 to 1894. After struggling to establish a practice in Lyons, he first joined his brother on Wall Street; then turned his attention to the manufacture of textiles. He came to dominate the industry, building a fortune. He was contemplating retirement when, in 1927, J. P. Morgan asked him to help turn around the fortunes of U. S. Steel Corporation. Taylor first served as chairman of the corporation’s finance committee, then as chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

Taylor’s timing was impeccable; he retired U.S. Steel’s debt just before the stock market’s 1929 collapse, and was able to spend the Depression reorganizing and modernizing the company. He inaugurated a plan to divide the available work among the company’s current employees so no workers would lose their jobs. Although not a supporter of unionization or collective bargaining, Mr. Taylor shocked the country in 1937 by agreeing to unionize U.S. Steel. It was the first major industrial company in America to unionize. While other companies struggled with bloody strikes, U. S. Steel prospered.

In 1938, Taylor resigned from the corporation, hoping to enter a “sabbatical period.” Instead, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Taylor to serve as head of the American delegation to a conference in France that was trying to aid the refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, and he accepted. When the Vatican requested the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S., President Roosevelt sent Taylor. He took up his post in Rome in 1940, and was reappointed by Harry S. Truman after the war was over. Later he served on other special missions with the rank of ambassador.

Upon his death in 1959, the New York Times’ lengthy obituary ended with a straightforward observation Taylor himself would have approved: “His was, indeed, a useful life.”

See selections from a biography of Myron Taylor's life, written by W. David Curtiss '40 and C. Evan Stewart '77, as it appeared in the Cornell Law Forum.