George B. Cortelyou

George B. Cortelyou
1st United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor
In office
February 18, 1903  June 30, 1904
President Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Victor H. Metcalf
42nd United States Postmaster General
In office
March 6, 1905  January 14, 1907
President Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by Robert J. Wynne
Succeeded by George von L. Meyer
44th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
March 4, 1907  March 7, 1909
President Theodore Roosevelt
William Howard Taft (3 days)
Preceded by Leslie M. Shaw
Succeeded by Franklin MacVeagh
Personal details
Born (1862-07-26)July 26, 1862
New York City, New York, United States
Died October 23, 1940(1940-10-23) (aged 78)
Long Island City, New York, United States
Resting place Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lilly Morris Hinds Cortelyou
Alma mater Massachusetts State Normal School
Georgetown University
George Washington University
Profession Politician

George Bruce Cortelyou (July 26, 1862  October 23, 1940) was an American Presidential Cabinet secretary of the early twentieth century, having been appointed to three such posts by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Early life

Cortelyou was born in New York City to Rose (née Seary) and Peter Crolius Cortelyou, Jr. He was part of an old New Netherland family whose immigrant ancestor, Jacques Cortelyou, arrived in 1652. He was educated at public schools in Brooklyn, the Nazareth Hall Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and the Hempstead Institute on Long Island.

At 20, Cortelyou received a BA degree from Westfield Normal School, now Westfield State University, a teacher's college in Westfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from the law schools of George Washington University and Georgetown University. He was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity while at George Washington University.[1] Courtelyou then began teaching, later taking a stenography course and mastering shorthand. Cortelyou married the former Lily Morris Hinds on September 15, 1888, with whom he had five children.

In 1891, he obtained a position as secretary to the chief postal inspector 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. In 1895 President Grover Cleveland hired Cortelyou as his chief clerk on the recommendation of Postmaster General Wilson S. Bissell. Cleveland recommended him as a personal secretary to his successor, William McKinley. Cortelyou was working on improvements in office efficiency in 1901, when President McKinley was assassinated.

McKinley was greeting visitors in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901, in Buffalo, New York, when he was shot twice at close range by lone assassin Leon Czolgosz. As McKinley collapsed, he was caught and supported by his aides, among them Cortelyou. As he was held in their arms, he whispered, "My wife... be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her. Oh, be careful."

After succeeding as President, Theodore Roosevelt tasked Cortelyou with transforming the White House into a more professional organization. Cortelyou developed procedures and rules that guided White House protocol and established processes for which there had been only personal prerogative. Cortelyou is also credited with establishing an improved line of communication between the President's office and the press; he provided reporters with their own workspace, briefed journalists on notable news and handed out press releases. Cortelyou is credited with instituting the first systematic gathering of press commentary for a sitting president's perusal. The "current clippings" were the first attempt by a president to gauge public opinion by the media. Cortelyou selected items objectively, a practice that would not be consistently followed by his successors.

Roosevelt's administration

Cortelyou served as the first Secretary of Commerce and Labor, from February 18, 1903 to June 30, 1904. He also served as Postmaster General from March 6, 1905 to January 14, 1907 and was the Secretary of the Treasury, all under Theodore Roosevelt. From 1904 through 1907, Cortelyou also served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, working for the successful re-election of Theodore 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, where the fraternity was founded.

Cortelyou served as the Secretary of the Treasury, from March 4, 1907 to March 7, 1909. This was during the devastating Panic of 1907. Like his resignation of 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 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.

Later life, death, and legacy

He returned to private enterprise as the president of the Consolidated Gas Company, later known as the Consolidated Edison. He was also one of the chairmen of the Con Edison Energy Museum, which is now closed. He lived at his home "Harbor Lights" in Halesite Long Island, New York, until his death in October 1940. Edith Roosevelt attended the wake at his home, as she was a best friend of his wife. He is buried at the Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Brooklyn's Cortelyou Road and the Cortelyou Road Station, in the Flatbush section, are named for him. Cortelyou, an unincorporated community in Washington County, Alabama, changed its name from Richardson to Cortelyou while George Cortelyou was United States Postmaster General.[2]


  1. Earl F. Schoening, ed. (January 1941). "Chapter Invisible". The Signet, a magazine for members of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity: Vol XXXIII, No. 1, pg 51.
  2. Foscue, Virginia (1989). Place Names in Alabama. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-8173-0410-X.
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Political offices
Preceded by
New office
U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Labor
Served under: Theodore Roosevelt

February 18, 1903 – June 30, 1904
Succeeded by
Victor H. Metcalf
Preceded by
Robert J. Wynne
U.S. Postmaster General
Served under: Theodore Roosevelt

March 6, 1905 – January 14, 1907
Succeeded by
George von L. Meyer
Preceded by
Leslie M. Shaw
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: Theodore Roosevelt

March 4, 1907 – March 4, 1909
Succeeded by
Franklin MacVeagh
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry C. Payne
Chairman of the Republican National Committee
Succeeded by
Harry S. New
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