Pioneer Historical Society

Subtitle

 

 [Editor’s Note: This essay was used in application for a Georgia Historical Society Historical marker in 2012]

Marion B. Folsom: Small Town Enigma

By Robert E. Herndon

 

     There are many small communities across the United States and Georgia that can boast of famous citizens. Some, like McRae, Georgia, have the opportunity to be the home of more than one. McRae and Telfair County have the distinct honor of being the home of several great Americans. At one time, McRae was the home of a governor, Eugene Talmadge, and a U. S. Senator, Herman Talmadge. By all rights, this community was blessed by having two outstanding citizens, a feat that most cities and counties across the country cannot claim. But these two individuals were not the only notable citizens to call McRae and Telfair County home. Another lesser known, but equally notable citizen was Marion B. Folsom. Both Talmadges have received their fair share of notoriety while the latter still languishes in a certain about of obscurity.

     Marion Bayard Folsom was born in McRae, Georgia, on November 23, 1893, to William Bryant Folsom and Margaret Jane McRae Folsom.[1] The Folsom’s were a prominent family in McRae at the time. William was a respected merchant in the city, and they were active members of the Presbyterian Church. They were very civic minded family. Marion’s father donated a lot next to the McRae Methodist Church to be used for a parsonage for the minister and his family.[2] Marion received his early education in the Telfair County Public Schools and attended the University of Georgia where he graduated with honors in 1912. He received his Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1914.[3]

     While awaiting graduation from the Harvard Business School, in May 1914, Folsom was occupying his time in the school’s library. It was there that he received a summons to the Dean’s Office. There he was told that he had been recommended for an interview with George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. The meeting was scheduled for the following day. When he returned to the library, he began researching the company and was surprised to learn that Eastman was not listed as its president, even though he had founded the company.[4]

     Eastman employed Folsom to do the mundane tasks of the business: to summarize reports for the boss, to develop graphics comparing sales and trends of the company, to develop an organizational chart of the company and its employees, and to chart the attendance of the Eastman Theater.[5] Soon Folsom realized that many seasoned employees were actually afraid of Eastman. For example, when Folsom suggested that the normal annual report of four or five pages be replaced with a more complete report, his superiors, Frank Lovejoy, VP of Manufacturing and Louis B. Jones, VP of Sales Promotion, approved the revised report but refused to present it to Eastman. This job they delegated to Folsom. When he presented the report which included glossy pictures of the various plants and a colored one of the new Eastman Kodak store in Paris, Eastman approved it with one minor suggestion—changing the word “agriculture” to “horticulture”.[6] With this show of business savvy, Folsom’s long career with Eastman Kodak was launched.

     After working for three years with Eastman Kodak, Folsom took a leave of absence to serve in France with the U. S. Army in World War I.[7] Afterwards, he returned to Eastman Kodak as the personal assistant to Eastman himself.

     With his employment with Eastman Kodak, Folsom soon was introduced to the company’s private pension plan. From that point on, Folsom became an exponent of personal security for aged workers. Long before the enactment of Social Security legislation, many companies, established in the 1880s and 1890s, were beginning to realize the need for private insurance.[8] The Eastman Kodak Company, for example, had a sickness benefit plan, a disability benefit plan, retirement annuities, life insurance and unemployment benefits, as well as a wage dividend plan.[9]

      In his speech before the National Industrial Conference Board on November 22, 1949, Folsom espoused his reasons for a company adopting pension plans.

             

    After a company has been in business for a number of years and employees begin

            to approach the point where because of advanced age they are no longer efficient,

            the employer has three choices. He can keep the worker on the payroll as long as he

            lives; second, he can release him without retirement provision; or, third, he can retire

            him on a pension.  If the first choice is taken, the efficiency of the organization

            suffers and there is a pension cost but it is buried among other costs and the morale

            of his organization is affected. Modern management does not think it is fair to

            release a long-serving worker if it is known that he will have to take too sharp a

            drop in his living standard. The third choice has been taken by thousands of businesses.

            If the second choice is made, the employer’s standing in the community is impaired.

            [but companies adopting the third] has distinct advantages over the first two.[10]

 

     The Great Depression of the 1930s went a massive shock wave through the nation’s fragile private pension system.[11] Early on during the Great Depression, a considerable number of “corporate liberals” from large “welfare Capitalist” firms, most notably General Swope of G.E., Walter Teagle of Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Marion Folsom of Eastman Kodak, gave clear signals that various aspects of the New Deal, especially elements of the Social Security Act (SSA), would help stabilize competition for better employers being undercut in the depression economy by low-wage, low-benefit producers. Kodak’s Folsom, which weathered the blows of the depression better than most corporations, according to Sanford Jocoby, was so liberal ideologue. Instead, he was “a pragmatic businessman eager to level the playing field” for Kodak as well as other progressive firms, and through social security, even “profit from the situation”.[12]

      On June 29, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an Executive Order established the Committee On Economic Security and The Advisory Council On Economic Security. The Executive Order directed the Committee to study problems relating to the economic security of individuals and report to the President no later than December 1, 1934, its recommendations concerning proposals which in its judgment will promote greater economic security. The Advisory Council was to assist the Committee in the consideration of all matters coming within the scope of its investigation.[13] Marion Folsom was appointed to sit on the Council.

       Members of this committee did much more than lend their names to a window dressing operation. Folsom, for example, spent several weeks in Washington on the task. In his testimony on the proposed program in 1935, Folsom described the general attitude of employers as follows:

 

         At the onset, I would like to call your attention to the fact that a large number

        Of individual companies in this country already have plans for providing security

        For their worker . . . 400 industrial companies (with 2 million employees) have

        Pension plans to provide security for the aged workers. As an illustration, the

       Eastman Kodak Co. has a sickness benefit plan, a disability benefit plan, retirement

       Annuities, life insurance and unemployment benefit, as well as wage dividend plan [sic].[14]

 

        Folsom had hoped that private companies would voluntarily adopt a pension program without the government having to step in. Being a realist, he realized, “. . . because of financial conditions [during the depression], that we could hardly expect many companies to adopt plans f this sort voluntarily”.[15] Folsom and others on the Advisory Council provided critical help during December, 1934. The understanding of the need for contributory old-age annuities on a broad national basis generated by these men carried great weight with those in authority. Their support guaranteed that a progressive national system of contributory old-age insurance would be recommended to the President and Congress.[16]

      While Folsom did not directly author the Social Security Act of 1934, he was very influential in it development and adoption by the Congress. The Advisory Council was such a large group and met so infrequently that its influence on details of the recommendations was much less than that of the Technical Board. But it was of great value in acquainting the organizations represented and the public generally with what was under consideration; and some individual members, like Mr. Folsom, kept close contacts with the Committee and its staff and made important contributions to the program.[17]

       Folsom continued to be active in Social Security matters throughout his life, testifying before many Congressional committees and serving on Federal Advisory Councils on Social Security under the U. S. Senate Finance Committee in 1938 and 1948. It was during the period of the Eisenhower Administration that Secretary Folsom played a notable and prominent role in preventing others in the administration and the Republican Party from dismantling the Social Security Act.[18] On the state level, Folsom served on the New York State Advisory Council on Unemployment Insurance and in the sixties, on numerous sate advisory boards concerning health matters.[19]

        Folsom continued his employment with Eastman Kodak, serving as treasurer from 1935 to 1953.[20]During this time span, he also served the United States as staff director of the U. S. House Special Committee on Postwar Economic Policy and Planning (1944-46); Vice Chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Merchant Marine (1947-48); and in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Folsom as Undersecretary of the Treasury where he was responsible for the first complete revision of the federal tax laws since 1874.[21]

        In 1955, President Eisenhower appointed Folsom to the cabinet position of Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. There, Folsom introduced a number of new programs to improve education including the National Defense Education Act of 1958. This act provided university scholarships to students wishing to become professors. It also made funds available for the study of science, mathematics, and modern foreign languages.[22]

        Marion B. Folsom’s boyhood home was moved several years ago to make way for the current occupant of the site—The Merchants and Citizens Bank. Citizens of Telfair County are justifiably proud of its native son and his many accomplishments and contributions to the nation’s economy. It is with his many accomplishments in mind that the Pioneer Historical Society proposed the honor of commemorating the site of his boyhood home with a Georgia Historical Society Historical Marker.

        On June 30, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. the historical marker was unveiled on the site of the Marion B. Folsom boyhood home. The home, now removed to an open field in Wheeler County, was located on the site where the present day Merchants and Citizens Bank resides. The marker stands proudly in the front of the building facing College Street. The marker was erected by the Pioneer Historical Society with the finances provide by the bank. Mr. Eddie Selph, then President of the bank, is to be commended for his leadership in this endeavor.  The marker is part of the Georgia Historical Society’s Historical Marker Program. The Marker reads:

 

 Birthplace of Marion Bayard Folsom Marker

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

American President, Dwight David Eisenhower: Marion B. Folsom, available from http://www.millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essay/cabinet/591 Internet.

 

A Short History of the McRae United Methodist Church. An unpublished manuscript housed in the McRae United Methodist Church History Room.

 

Bayer, Elizabeth. George Eastman: A Biography. Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2006.

 

Brown, James Douglas. An American philosophy of social security: Evolution and Issues. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

 

Folsom, Marion B. River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, available from http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page-883. Internet.

 

http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse/dll?h=13013007&db=ww1draft&indiv-try. Internet.

 

http://www.larrydewitt.net/SSinGAPE/newdeal/cesbookapen13.htm. Internet.

 

http://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essay/cabinet/591. Internet.

 

http://wikipeda/wiki/marionbfolsom. Internet.

 

The Pension Drive: Social and Economic Implications. Speech by Marion B. Folsom, Treasurer and Director, Eastman Kodak Company, before the 308th Regular Meeting of the National Industrial Conference Board, delivered on the evening of November 22, 1949, in the Grand Ball Room, The Waldorf-Astoria New York.

 

Greer, Scott and Swenson, Peter. Foul Weather Friends: Big Business and Health Care Reform in the 1990s in Historical Perspective. http://northwestern.edu/ipr/publications/papers/swenson.pdf. Internet

 

Jacoby, Sanford. Employers and the Welfare State: The Role of Marion B. Folsom. Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 2, September 1993 as quoted in Greer, Scott and Swenson, Peter. Foul Weather Friends: Big Business and Health Care Reform in the 1990s in Historical Perspective.

 

Marshall, Alan D. Social Security at the Crossroads, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, October 1960.

 

Witte, Edwin E. The Development of the Social Security Act. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963.

 

         

 

         



[1] World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 record for Marion B. Folsom available from http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?h=13013007&db-ww1draft&indiv=try/  Internet. While no birth records are available in Georgia before 1912, Folsom’s birth is recorded in the World War I draft records, recognized verification documents.

[2] A Short History of the McRae United Methodist Church. An unpublished manuscript housed in the McRae United Methodist Church History Room, p. 1.

[3] Folsom, Marion B. River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, available from http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=883. Internet.

[4] Brayer, Elizabeth. George Eastman: A Biography. Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2006, p. 356.

[5] Ibid., p. 359.

[6] Ibid., p. 359.

[7] American President, Dwight David Eisenhower: Marion B. Folsom, available from http:www.millercenter.org/president/Eisenhower/essay/cabinet/591. Internet.

 

[8] THE PENSION DRIVE: SOCAL AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS. A speech by Marion B. Folsom, Treasurer and Director,  Eastman Kodak Company, before the 308th Regular Meeting of the National Industrial Conference Board, delivered on the evening of November 22, 1949, in the Grand Ball Room of the Waldorf-Astoria New York, p. 2.

[9] Marshall, Alan D. “Social Security at the Crossroads”, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, vol. 14, No. 1, October 1960, p. 113.

 

[10] THE PENSION DRIVE: SOCAL AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS. A speech by Marion B. Folsom, Treasurer and Director,  Eastman Kodak Company, before the 308th Regular Meeting of the National Industrial Conference Board, delivered on the evening of November 22, 1949, in the Grand Ball Room of the Waldorf-Astoria New York, p. 2.

[11] Ibid., p. 3.

[12] Jocoby, Sanford. Employers and the Welfare State: The Role of Marion B. Folsom. Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 2, September 1993 as quoted in Greer, Scott and Swenson, Peter. Four Weather Friends: Big Business and Health Care Reform in the 1990s in Historical Perspective, p. 10

[13] http://larrydewitt.net/SSinGAPE/newdeal/cesbookapen13.htm. Internet.

[14]Marshall, Alan D. “Social Security at the Crossroads”, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, vol. 14, No. 1, October 1960, p. 113.

 

[15] Greer, Scott and Swenson, Peter. Foul Weather Friends: Big Business and Health Care Reform In the 1900s. Historical Perspective, p. 10.

[16] Brown, James Douglas. An American Philosophy of Social Security: Evolution and Issues. Princeton: Princeton University press, 1972, p. 21.

[17] Witt, Edwin E. The Development of the Social Security Act. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963, p. 196.

[18] Jocoby, Sanford. “Employers and the Welfare State: The Role of Marion B. Folsom”. Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 2, September 1993, p. 1.

[19] Folsom, Marion B. River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, available from http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=883. Internet.

[20] http://wikipedia/wiki/marionbfolsom. Internet.

[21] http://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essay/cabinet/591. Internet.

 

[22] Ibid.