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David Lilienthal

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" . . . the language of a man who leaves his mark of love of family and of country

for all to see, to admire, and to emulate"

David Eli Lilienthal, 18991981.  Co-Director, 1933–1941, and Chairman, 1941–1946, Tennessee Valley Authority; Chairman, United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1946–1950.  Autograph letter signed, David E. Lilienthal, one page, 7½" x 7½", on personal stationery, [no place], September 19, 1973.

This is a scarce, if not rare, handwritten letter by Lilienthal, a central figure in the Great Depression and in the Cold War that dominated the world after World War II.  Our research has not found another letter in his hand in auction results. 

Here Lilienthal sends a glowing, almost poetic response to a letter from Robert F. Allen, Jr.  “Your letter,” he writes, "spoke the language of a man who leaves his mark of love of family and of country for all to see, to admire, and to emulate.  I send my thanks for the inspiration of your words.”

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Lilienthal, then a leading member of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, as one of the three original directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Under Lilienthal, who later became its first chairman in 1941, the TVA sought to aid the Depression-ravaged Tennessee Valley through flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacture, and economic development.  The centerpiece of its activities was a series of public hydroelectric dams to provide power to rural homes.

In 1946, Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson asked Lilienthal to chair a five-member committee to advise President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes on the American position on control of nuclear weapons.  The result was a controversial 60-page report, the Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy, also known as the Acheson-Lilienthal Report. It proposed that control of fissile material be ceded to an international agency, which would then release controlled amounts to individual nations for peaceful uses of atomic energy.  In addition—an extremely controversial idea—it proposed that the United States abandon its monopoly on nuclear weapons, revealing its nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, in exchange for mutual agreement not to develop additional atomic bombs. The proposal failed at the United Nations:  Neither Acheson nor Lilienthal accepted various additional provisions, and the Soviet Union rejected American insistence on controlling the atomic bomb until the United States was satisfied with international control.

In the long run, the United States created the civilian Atomic Energy Commission.  Truman appointed Lilienthal as its first chair.  The appointment was controversial, opposed by the conservative wing of the Republican Party in the Senate, led by Ohio Senator Robert Taft, which charged that Lilienthal, a New Deal liberal, was soft on Communism.  Truman drew the line in the sand, and, with the support of Democrats and moderate Republicans led by Michiganʼs Arthur H. Vandenberg, Lilienthal was confirmed.

Allen, to whom Lilienthal wrote this letter, evidently was an autograph collector.  Several letters responding to Allen by other prominent persons, including President Jimmy Carter and Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., to whom Allen sent birthday greetings, appear in Internet searches and autograph sales.

This is a nice letter.  Lilienthal has written and signed it in black felt-tipped pen.  The letter has slight wrinkling at the right, which affects parts of four words and the end of Lilienthalʼs large, 3⅜" signature.  There is also a paper clip impression at the upper left, a small stain in the lower right corner, and one horizontal fold affecting part of one line but not the signature.  The letter is in fine condition.



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