George B. Cortelyou

From Academic Kids

G.B. Cortelyou
G.B. Cortelyou

George Bruce Cortelyou (July 26, 1862October 23, 1940) was an American Presidential Cabinet secretary of the early 20th century.

Born to Peter and Rose Cortelyou, and part of an old New Netherlands family whose immigrant ancestor arrived in 1652, he was educated at public schools in Brooklyn, Nazareth Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and the Hempstead Institute on Long Island. At the age of 20, he received a BA degree from Massachusetts State Normal School, a teacher's college in Westfield, Massachusetts. He then studied at and graduated from law schools of Georgetown University and Columbian University (the latter now being George Washington University). After teaching for a while, Cortelyou took a stenography course and mastered shorthand.

In 1891, he obtained a position as secretary to the chief postal inspector of New York. The following year a promotion led to a job as the secretary to the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. In 1895 President Grover Cleveland hired Cortelyou as his chief clerk on the recommendation of Postmaster General Wilson Bissell. President Cleveland recommended him as secretary to his successor, William McKinley. Cortelyou was working on improvements in office efficiency in 1901 when President McKinley was assassinated.

Roosevelt charged Cortelyou with transforming the White House into a more professional organization. Cortelyou developed procedures and rules that guided White House protocol and established process where there had been only personal prerogative. Cortelyou is also credited with establishing a coherent between the President's office and the press: He provided reporters with their own workspace, briefed journalists on notable news, handed out press releases and selected news items to bring to the President's attention.

During this time, Cortelyou served as the first United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor from February 18, 1903 to June 30, 1904; as United States Postmaster General from 1905 to 1907; and as United States Secretary of the Treasury from March 4, 1907 to March 7, 1909; all under President Theodore Roosevelt.

Cortelyou also served as chairman of Republican National Committee from 1904 through 1907, working for the successful re-election of Roosevelt.

Cortelyou was Secretary of the Treasury during the devastating Panic of 1907. Like his predecessor, Treasury Secretary Leslie M. Shaw, Cortelyou believed it was Treasury's duty to protect the banking system, but he realized that the Treasury was not equipped to maintain economic stability.


He eased the crisis by depositing large amounts of government funds in national banks and buying government bonds. To prevent further crises, Cortelyou advocated a more elastic currency and recommended the creation of a central banking system. In 1907, the Aldridh-Vreeland Act was passed, providing special currency to be issued in times of panic, and creating a commission, which led to the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

He returned to private enterprise as the president of the Consolidated Gas Company, later New York Gas Company.

He died in Long Island City, New York in 1940. He is buried in the Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

Preceded by:
United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor
Succeeded by:
Victor H. Metcalf
Preceded by:
Robert J. Wynne
United States Postmaster General
Succeeded by:
George von L. Meyer
Preceded by:
L.M. Shaw
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Succeeded by:
Franklin MacVeagh

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