George B. Cortelyou
George Bruce Cortelyou was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Presidential Cabinet secretary of the early 20th century.

Early life

Born to Rose Seery and Peter Crolius Cortelyou, and part of an old New Netherlands family whose immigrant ancestor arrived in 1652, he was educated at public schools in Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, the Nazareth Military Academy in Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, and the Hempstead Institute on Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

. At the age of 20, he received a BA
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 degree from Massachusetts State Normal School, a teacher's college in Westfield, Massachusetts
Westfield, Massachusetts
Westfield is a city in Hampden County, in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 41,094 at the 2010 census. The ZIP Code is 01085 for homes and businesses, 01086 for Westfield State...

. He then studied at and graduated from law schools of Georgetown University
Georgetown University
Georgetown University is a private, Jesuit, research university whose main campus is in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Founded in 1789, it is the oldest Catholic university in the United States...

 and Columbian University (the latter now being George Washington University
George Washington University
The George Washington University is a private, coeducational comprehensive university located in Washington, D.C. in the United States...

). Courtelyou then began teaching, later taking a stenography course and mastering shorthand
Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed or brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is called stenography, from the Greek stenos and graphē or graphie...


In 1891, he obtained a position as secretary to the chief postal inspector
Postal Inspector
Postal Inspector is a 1936 American film directed by Otto Brower.- Cast :*Ricardo Cortez as Inspector Bill Davis*Patricia Ellis as Connie Larrimore*Michael Loring as Charlie Davis*Bela Lugosi as Gregory Benez*Wallis Clark as Inspector Gil Pottle...

 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.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 In 1895 President Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland
Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents...

 hired Cortelyou as his chief clerk on the recommendation of Postmaster General Wilson S. Bissell
Wilson S. Bissell
Wilson Shannon Bissell was an American politician from New York.He graduated from Yale University in 1869 and was a member of Skull and Bones....

. President Cleveland recommended him as a personal secretary
Secretary to the President of the United States
The Secretary to the President was an old 19th and early 20th century White House position that carried out all the tasks now spread throughout the modern White House Office...

 to his successor, William McKinley
William McKinley
William McKinley, Jr. was the 25th President of the United States . He is best known for winning fiercely fought elections, while supporting the gold standard and high tariffs; he succeeded in forging a Republican coalition that for the most part dominated national politics until the 1930s...

. Cortelyou was working on improvements in office efficiency in 1901 when President McKinley was assassinated.

George Cortelyou was serving as President William McKinley's secretary in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. McKinley was greeting visitors in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition. The president was shot twice by assassin, Leon Czolgosz. President McKinley was caught and supported by his aides, he whispered, " My wife -- be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her -- oh, be careful."

New president Theodore Roosevelt charged Cortelyou with transforming the White House into a more professional organization. Cortelyou developed procedures and rules that guided White House protocol
Protocol (politics)
Protocol can mean any logbook or other artifact of a political meeting between persons from different nations, such as the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. The most notorious example of a forged logbook is "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"....

 and established processes where there had been only personal prerogative. Cortelyou is also credited with establishing a line of communication 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. These "current clippings" were the first attempt by a President to gauge public opinion
Public opinion
Public opinion is the aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population. Public opinion can also be defined as the complex collection of opinions of many different people and the sum of all their views....

 through the media. Cortelyou selected items objectively, a practice that would not be consistently followed by his successors.

Secretary of Commerce & Labor

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
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...

 from 1905 to 1907; and as United States Secretary of the Treasury
United States Secretary of the Treasury
The Secretary of the Treasury of the United States is the head of the United States Department of the Treasury, which is concerned with financial and monetary matters, and, until 2003, also with some issues of national security and defense. This position in the Federal Government of the United...

 from March 4, 1907 to March 7, 1909; all under President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...


Cortelyou also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee
Republican National Committee
The Republican National Committee is an American political committee that provides national leadership for the Republican Party of the United States. It is responsible for developing and promoting the Republican political platform, as well as coordinating fundraising and election strategy. It is...

 from 1904 through 1907, working for the successful re-election of Roosevelt.

He was made an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity on April 9, 1903. He had attended the New England Conservatory of Music
New England Conservatory of Music
The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest independent school of music in the United States.The conservatory is home each year to 750 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies along with 1400 more in its Preparatory School as well as the School of...

, where the fraternity was founded.

Secretary of the Treasury

Cortelyou was Secretary of the Treasury during the devastating Panic of 1907
Panic of 1907
The Panic of 1907, also known as the 1907 Bankers' Panic, was a financial crisis that occurred in the United States when the New York Stock Exchange fell almost 50% from its peak the previous year. Panic occurred, as this was during a time of economic recession, and there were numerous runs on...

. 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 1908, the Aldrich-Vreeland Act
Aldrich-Vreeland Act
The Aldrich–Vreeland Act was passed in response to the Panic of 1907 and established the National Monetary Commission, which recommended the Federal Reserve Act of 1913....

 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
Cold Spring Harbor, New York
Cold Spring Harbor is a hamlet in Suffolk County, New York on the North Shore of Long Island. As of the United States 2000 Census, the CDP population was 4,975.Cold Spring Harbor is in the Town of Huntington.-History:...

. Brooklyn's Cortelyou Road and the Cortelyou Road Station
Cortelyou Road (BMT Brighton Line)
Cortelyou Road is a local station on the BMT Brighton Line of the New York City Subway, located at Cortelyou Road between Marlborough Road and East 16th Street in the neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn. It is served by the Q train at all times. The Cortelyous were an old New Netherlands family...

, in the Flatbush section, are named for him.

External links

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