Nelson, Donald Marr

(1888-1959)
   Born in Hannibal, Missouri, Donald Nelson graduated from the University of Missouri in 1911 and in 1912 began working as a chemist with the Sears, Roebuck and Company. He remained with the company for 30 years, eventually becoming executive vice president and chairman of the executive committee in 1939. Seen as sympathetic to the New Deal in 1940, he was appointed to head the National Defense Advisory Committee and then the Division of Purchases of the Office of Production Management. After the United Stares entered World War II, in January 1942 Nelson became head of the War Production Board (WPB) to govern all aspects of war production. He was able but indecisive and allowed his authority, extended under the second War Powers Act of 1942, to be diluted with the appointment of “czars” responsible to President Franklin D. Roosevelt for petroleum, rubber, and even manpower. Even more problematic was the independence of the military procurement agencies. Nonetheless, the WPB was able to limit nonessential production and prioritize production, but when the board proposed that companies that did not have war contracts could prepare for postwar reconversion, the military objected. Nelson was relieved of his job in August 1944 and sent on a fact-finding mission to China and the Soviet Union. After the war, he retired from government service and became president of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers until 1947. He later became chair of Electronized Chemicals and president of Consolidated Caribou Silver Mines.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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