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Who Is Joseph Kennedy?

By M. Kayo
Updated May 23, 2024
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Joseph Kennedy, or Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., was the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, patriarch of the Kennedy political family, and a prominent political figure and businessman. He was born on September 6, 1888 to Irish Catholic parents in Boston, Massachusetts. Joseph's grandparents had emigrated to the United States to escape the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. Young Joseph attended the best school in Boston received a degree from Harvard, went into banking, acquired movie studios, produced several movies, and made the family fortune on Wall Street. Later, he served as chairman of the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), chairman of the Maritime Commission, and, eventually, as U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.

In the late 1800s, even though Catholics were shunned and excluded from a predominantly Protestant Boston society, Joseph's father was able to provide a comfortable home for his family due to his many investments and a prosperous saloon business. A large number of Irish Catholics, including the Kennedy family, became involved in the Democratic Party. Joseph Kennedy was a below average student at Boston's most prestigious school, Boston Latin high school. Even though his grades were not that good, he was a very popular student and was elected class president. Joseph also played baseball during his school years, maintaining a respectable 0.518 batting average.

Joseph Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 1912 and went on to serve as a bank examiner. As examiner, he became aware of information concerning a local bank takeover plan, borrowed money to buy control in the institution, and at 25 years of age, became the youngest bank president in the history of the U.S. The following year, he married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of Boston's popular mayor. In 1914, Kennedy became a successful real estate businessman, turning a $1,000 United States dollars (USD) investment into $25,000 USD in just three years. After that, he accepted a government position overseeing the production of submarines and battleships used in World War I.

In the early 1920s, Joseph Kennedy acquired two movie studios, personally produced several movies, and then sold the studios to Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Moving to New York City, he built one of the largest fortunes in the U.S. through his investments on Wall Street. He got out of the stock market in 1928, just before the stock market crash of 1929. During Prohibition in the early 1930s, Kennedy became the exclusive agent for several distilleries, stockpiled large inventories of liquor, sold the inventory after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and made millions in profit.

Kennedy was heavily involved in politics and used a great deal of his money to help elect U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt rewarded Kennedy by appointing him chairman of the SEC, where he made substantial reforms in the industry. When Kennedy resigned from the SEC in 1935, Roosevelt asked him to head the U.S. Maritime Commission. Three years later, Kennedy was appointed United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James — the United Kingdom. He resigned in 1940, disagreeing with Roosevelt's desire to involve the U.S. in World War II.

After his eldest son, Joseph Kennedy, Jr., was killed in World War II, Kennedy used his family's position and political influence to help his eldest surviving son, John F. Kennedy, be elected as President of the United States in 1960. In 1961, Joseph Kennedy suffered a stroke. He did partially recover, however, and lived to see the assassinations of his sons John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy before his own death on November 18, 1969.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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