Joseph Patrick “Joe” Kennedy, Sr. (September 6, 1888 – November 18, 1969)
Joseph was a prominent American businessman, investor, and ambassador. Joseph was an Irish American and was the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, United States Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy, naval officer Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Special Olympics co-founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.
Born to a political family in East Boston, Massachusetts, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard University, and embarked on a career in finance, making a large fortune as a stock market and commodity investor and by investing in real estate and a wide range of industries.
During World War I, he was an assistant general manager of Bethlehem Steel and developed a friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Kennedy made huge profits from reorganizing and refinancing several Hollywood studios. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Kennedy consolidated an even larger fortune when he traveled to Scotland with Franklin Roosevelt’s son, James Roosevelt, to buy distribution rights for Scotch whisky. His company, Somerset Importers, became the exclusive American agent for Gordon’s Gin and Dewar’s Scotch. In addition, Kennedy purchased spirits-importation rights from Schenley Industries, a firm in Canada. He owned the largest office building in the country, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, giving his family an important base in that city and an alliance with the Irish-American political leadership there.
His term as ambassador and his political ambitions ended abruptly during the Battle of Britain in November 1940, with the publishing of his controversial remarks suggesting that “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here, [in the US].” Kennedy resigned under pressure shortly afterwards. In later years, Kennedy worked behind the scenes to continue building the financial and political fortunes of the Kennedy family. After a disabling stroke on December 19, 1961, at the age of 73, Kennedy acquired aphasia and lost all power of speech, but remained mentally intact. He used a wheelchair after the stroke. He died on November 18, 1969, two months after his 81st birthday. Kennedy was the fourth father (the other three being Dr. George Tryon Harding, Sr., Nathaniel Fillmore and George H. W. Bush) to live through the entire presidency of a son. He and Dr. Harding were the only fathers of Presidents to have outlived their sons.