Young, Owen D.
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Young, Owen D.
Owen D. Young was a prominent corporate lawyer and businessperson who played a major part in negotiating German reparations following World War I. His 1929 proposal to restructure reparations, called the Young Plan, was an attempt to relieve financial pressure on Germany and end active oversight of its economy by the United States, Great Britain, and France.
Young was born on October 27, 1874, in Van Hornesville, New York. He graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1894 and earned a law degree from Boston University in 1896. He later completed a doctorate in Hebrew literature in 1923 from St. Lawrence.
Young practiced law in Boston from 1896 until 1913, when he moved to New York City where he served as general counsel for the General Electric Company. He was chairperson of the board of directors from 1922 to 1939 and again from 1942 to 1944. Young also organized Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919 and was its honorary chairperson from its inception until 1929.
"Managers [are] no longer attorneys for stockholders, they [are] becoming trustees of an institution."
—Owen D. Young
In 1924 Young and Charles G. Dawes represented the United States at the post-World War I reparations conference. The Treaty of Versailles had mandated that a Reparations Commission be formed to determine how much Germany was to pay the Allies for war destruction and to set the terms of payment. The German government complained that the payment schedule was unrealistic. In response, the U.S. representatives helped formulate the Dawes Plan under which Germany was to make billions of dollars of reparations stretching over a period of years.
The German economy prospered from 1924 to 1929 but it still could not make its annual reparations payment. The Reparations Commission, seeking to resolve the issue, appointed Young in 1929 to head a committee to develop a workable reparations plan. Young played a major role in creating the proposal, which reduced German reparations to approximately $26 billion, one-third the amount originally assessed in 1921. Payments were spread out over 58 years, ending in 1988, and were to be made to the new Bank for International Settlements. The Young plan also called for the dissolution of the Reparations Commission and an end to Allied occupation of the Rhineland. The German government quickly agreed to these terms.
Despite the more favorable terms, right-wing German opposition leaders campaigned against the Young Plan, seeing it as another attempt to humiliate Germany. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party demanded the government repudiate the war debt and the war-guilt clause of Versailles upon which the debt was based. Nevertheless, the plan was approved by the German Reichstag. When Hitler came to power in 1933, however, he refused to recognize the plan and repudiated all war debts, making the Young Plan a dead letter.
Young died on July 11, 1962, in St. Augustine, Florida.
Case, Josephine Young, and Everett Needham. 1984. Owen D. Young and American Enterprise: A Biography. Boston: David R. Godine.
Marks, Sally. 2003. The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918–1933. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.