Saturday, March 3, 2007


Andrew W. Mellon
March 24, 1855 – August 27, 1937

Banker, industrialist, philanthropist, art collector and Secretary of the Treasury from March 4, 1921 through February 12, 1932 and U. S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James (1932-1933).

Andrew Mellon’s name is well known; indeed he is one of the triumvirate of luminaries (Carnegie, Frick, Mellon) who make up the most illustrious members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. The bare outlines of his life are offered here; the reader can find many outstanding resources to flesh out the man and his contributions to American life, most notably in the new biography by David Cannadine, which I recommend enthusiastically. Also well worth reading are Judge Thomas Mellon’s autobiography and Paul Mellon’s autobiography, Reflections in a Silver Spoon.

Andrew William Mellon
was born on March 24, 1855, the son of Judge Thomas Mellon and his wife Sarah Jane Negley. The Negleys had been leading citizens of Western Pennsylvania, and the Mellons were becoming influential Pittsburghers at the time of Andrew’s birth; yet no one could have guessed just how influential they would be, thanks primarily to the way that Andrew built upon his father’s wise judgment and success as an investment banker. He rose to become a national leader—the best known Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton. Both celebrated and vilified in that roll (as the Great Depression set in) Mellon was also one of the nation’s great benefactors, in his gift of the National Gallery of Art and his fine paintings that formed the nucleus of its collections.

His was a stern Scots-Irish Presbyterian boyhood as he grew up on what had been the Negley farm. As a young man he formed a strong partnership with his father as they made one successful investment after another. The symbiotic relationship between father and son remained strong throughout the Judge’s life. As Andrew grew older, the guiding question about what enterprise to engage in shift from “What would Father do?” to “What would Andrew do?” One after another giant enterprises such as Alcoa, Koppers, Gulf Oil, and the like, were added to their vast holdings until their wealth could truly be called “incalculable”.

Andrew W. Mellon was a lifelong friend of Henry Clay Frick; yet inexplicably, both men addressed one another formally as “Mr. Mellon” and “Mr. Frick.”

Not as long in proposing as the sluggish Carnegie, Andrew Mellon nonetheless was well into a settled middle age by the time he and the vivacious Nora McMullen became engaged.

In Hertford, England in 1900, Andrew W. Mellon married Nora McMullen (1881-1973). He was 45; she was 19. Then, he brought her home to Pittsburgh.

From the start things were difficult. Nora is described as being appalled by Pittsburgh in general and repulsed by the hulking house that Mellon had bought and furnished for them as a newly married couple. Pittsburgh, which can be so friendly, does not count among its charms a mild climate nor at that time did it offer much in the way of natural beauty for those who were unwilling to go a bit afield in order to find it. Even today many buildings of the city have not yet been stripped of the soot and grime that turned pale limestone into what looks like buildings carved out of anthracite. It must have been depressing for Nora and inexplicable to Andrew, who had grown up in the city and found it congenial.

She was an enchanting young Englishwoman who was no doubt doted upon and spoiled by her family. Andrew was charmed by her loveliness and perhaps blinded by it as well—missing the realities of her personally that would be revealed later. Nora’s affair and their ensuing divorce draped a pall over the remainder of their lives, and the lives of their children.

Among the unsolved mysteries of Mellon’s life is the question of the identity of a certain "M___". Mellon’s day book for the post-divorce years between 1912 and 1917 listed over sixty appointments with this “M____”, and his biographer has not been able to determine who that was.

Andrew W. Mellon and Nora McMullen Mellon had two children:

Ailsa Mellon (June 28, 1901-August 25, 1969); born in Pittsburgh she served as her father’s official hostess during his Secretary of State years. She married David K. Bruce in 1926 (divorced in 1945). One daughter:

Audrey Bruce ( - 1967) married Stephen Currier. Both died in the same plane crash. Their children are:
- Andrea Currier
- Lavinia Currier
- Michael Currier

Paul Mellon (June 11, 1907 – February 1, 1999) married twice:

(1) Mary Conover Brown
Their children:

- Catherine Conover Mellon (now Conover) married John Warner (US Senator from Virginia; they had three children—Virginia, John and Mary; Warner’s second wife was Elizabeth Taylor the actress and his thrid wife is Jeanne Vander Myde)

- Timothy Mellon

(2) Rachel Lambert Lloyd (“Bunny”) of the Lamberts of Warner-Lambert

* * *

Andrew W. Mellon was 34 at the time of the Johnstown Flood.

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