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Who Is Joseph Kennedy?

Joseph Kennedy was a prominent American businessman, political figure, and patriarch of the Kennedy family. His legacy includes shaping the futures of his children, including President John F. Kennedy. His life story intertwines with key historical events, revealing a complex figure in American history. Discover how Kennedy's influence extends beyond his era and into the fabric of modern America. What impact did he truly have?
M. Kayo
M. Kayo

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 was the father of Robert F. Kennedy.
Joseph Kennedy was the father of Robert F. Kennedy.

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.

Joseph Kennedy lived to see the assassinations of his sons, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
Joseph Kennedy lived to see the assassinations of his sons, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

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.

Joseph Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888 to Irish Catholic parents in Boston, Massachusetts.
Joseph Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888 to Irish Catholic parents in Boston, Massachusetts.

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.

President Franklin D. Kennedy appointed Joseph Kennedy chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission.
President Franklin D. Kennedy appointed Joseph Kennedy chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Joseph Kennedy and what is his significance in American history?

Joseph Kennedy, formally known as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., was a prominent American businessman, investor, and political figure. Born on September 6, 1888, he made his fortune in various industries, including finance, real estate, and the film industry. Kennedy is significant in American history for his political influence, particularly as the patriarch of the Kennedy family, which has become synonymous with American politics. He served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. His children included President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Senator Ted Kennedy, making him an integral figure in the legacy of one of America's most notable political families.

What were Joseph Kennedy's major business achievements?

Joseph Kennedy was a highly successful businessman with a diverse portfolio. He made his initial wealth in the stock market and banking, and later expanded into the film industry, where he played a significant role in the creation of RKO Pictures. Kennedy also delved into the liquor distribution industry after Prohibition, further increasing his wealth. His business acumen was evident in his ability to capitalize on opportunities and navigate the complexities of various industries, which contributed to his reputation as a shrewd investor and financial powerhouse.

How did Joseph Kennedy contribute to the political careers of his sons?

Joseph Kennedy was instrumental in shaping the political careers of his sons. He used his wealth, influence, and connections to support their political ambitions. His own experience in public service and diplomacy provided a strong foundation for his sons' political education. Kennedy was particularly involved in John F. Kennedy's rise to the presidency, financing his campaigns and offering strategic advice. His dedication to his sons' political success helped to establish the Kennedy family as a political dynasty in the United States.

What controversies surrounded Joseph Kennedy during his lifetime?

Joseph Kennedy's life was not without controversy. His tenure as Ambassador to the UK was marked by contentious views on appeasement policies with Nazi Germany, which eventually led to his resignation. Additionally, his business practices, particularly during the stock market boom of the 1920s, were criticized for being unscrupulous and contributing to the market crash of 1929. Allegations of bootlegging during Prohibition and rumored connections with organized crime also marred his reputation, although these claims have been debated by historians.

How did Joseph Kennedy's legacy influence American culture and politics?

Joseph Kennedy's legacy has had a profound impact on American culture and politics. As the father of one president and two senators, his influence extended well beyond his own lifetime. The Kennedy family's commitment to public service, advocacy for civil rights, and charismatic leadership has left an indelible mark on American political life. The "Camelot" mystique that surrounded John F. Kennedy's presidency, the activism of Robert Kennedy, and the long senatorial career of Ted Kennedy all reflect Joseph's ambition and influence. The Kennedy name continues to resonate in American society, representing a blend of idealism, public service, and political prominence.

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    • Joseph Kennedy was the father of Robert F. Kennedy.
      By: Center for Jewish History, NYC
      Joseph Kennedy was the father of Robert F. Kennedy.
    • Joseph Kennedy lived to see the assassinations of his sons, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
      By: City of Boston Archives
      Joseph Kennedy lived to see the assassinations of his sons, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
    • Joseph Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888 to Irish Catholic parents in Boston, Massachusetts.
      By: pavalena
      Joseph Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888 to Irish Catholic parents in Boston, Massachusetts.
    • President Franklin D. Kennedy appointed Joseph Kennedy chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission.
      President Franklin D. Kennedy appointed Joseph Kennedy chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission.