10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy

Patrick Lynch - January 30, 2018

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
Young Joseph Kennedy – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Museum

4 – He Made a Fortune during Prohibition

By 1957, Joseph Kennedy was named as the 12th wealthiest man in America according to Fortune magazine. There is a great deal of speculation, and mystery behind how he made so much money. Joseph joined Hayden, Stone & Co, in 1919. The job paid a handsome salary of $10,000 a year, but this was only the beginning for Kennedy who had already worked as a bank manager at Colombia Trust Bank. His position afforded him the unique opportunity to learn about the stock market and more importantly, to make a lot of money in the process.

For all his stock exchange wizardry, there is a strong suggestion that he earned a significant sum of money by bootlegging liquor during prohibition. He was never caught of course, and most of the evidence against him is anecdotal. For instance, classmate Richard Whalen said that Joseph supplied all the liquor for the class’ tenth reunion in 1922. Raymond Wilkins was another classmate and said Kennedy brought the liquor in via boat.

One of Meyer Lansky’s lieutenants, ‘Doc’ Stacher, said that Joseph was involved in the hijacking of a whiskey shipment that had been sent to Boston from Ireland in 1927. According to Conspiracy in Camelot, Joseph once attempted to ship his bootlegged whiskey through Detroit without the requisite underworld permissions. The Jewish ‘Purple Gang’ ordered his assassination, but Joseph was able to get his contacts in Chicago to cancel the hit. He was relieved but now owed a debt to Frank Costello. When Costello called in the debt, Joseph refused, and another contract was put on his life.

On this occasion, he escaped with the help of Sam Giancana but he owed the mob boss a significant debt. Costello later told writer Peter Haas that he was in the bootlegging business with Joseph Kennedy. To put Kennedy’s reputation in perspective, Giancana once described him as “one of the biggest crooks who ever lived.” Bootlegging liquor wasn’t the only illegal venture that helped Joseph grow his fortune.

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
Joseph, Rose and 5 of his kids – New York Times

5 – He Made a Fortune from Insider Trading

There is no doubt that Joseph Kennedy was an extremely bright individual with a strong work ethic. He was the youngest president of a bank in America at the age of 25, and he knew how to make money from the markets. Had Joseph played fair, he would probably have become a multi-millionaire but he wanted it all, and he wanted it as soon as possible. That’s why he became involved in the nefarious practice of insider trading.

He specialized in using this information to help drive down the price of stocks or to increase the price artificially. One of his earliest ‘successes’ came when the principal stockholder of the Pond Creek Coal Company, Galen Stone, confided in him. Stone told Joseph that he was selling his huge interest in Pond Creek to Henry Ford as the great industrialist was planning to expand his already huge empire.

Never one for half measures, Joseph borrowed an estimated $225,000 and purchased shares in Pond Creek at $16 apiece. Once news of Ford’s imminent acquisition reached the newsstands, the price of Pond Creek shares rocketed to $45, and Joseph sold his stake for a profit of $435,000; which became $210,000 after he repaid the loan. He began to make obscene sums of money in ‘stock pools’ while other unfortunate investors were financially ruined.

While the Great Depression led to chronic unemployment, poverty, and suicides, Joseph Kennedy used stock market manipulation to increase his impressive fortune. During the stock market crash of October 1929, Joseph made millions of dollars by short selling. There is a suggestion that he helped to manipulate the market into crashing. It is not that far-fetched a theory given his knowledge of the markets and complete lack of morality. With a fortune available to back up his political ambitions, he was able to make large contributions to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign in 1932. With his foot in the door, Joseph became very powerful, but his dubious political affiliations resulted in more controversy.

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
Joseph Kennedy and his Family – The Daily Beast

6 – He Was an Unabashed Anti-Semite

Joseph became the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom in March 1938, and things got off to a fine start. The other diplomats were terrified of him, and the British press were clamoring to learn more about the Kennedy family. By this time, Adolf Hitler was threatening war and Joseph had no desire to see his nation involved. He favored the appeasement strategies of British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and had no faith in Britain winning a conflict with Germany.

According to Harvey Klemmer, who worked with Joseph at the Maritime Commission, Kennedy was a casual anti-Semite. He apparently said: “Individual Jews are all right, Harvey, but as a race, they stink – Look what they did to Hollywood.” During a fiery meeting with German ambassador, Von Dirksen, Joseph said: “They brought it on themselves.” Although his views softened after the Kristallnacht attacks, Joseph hoped the Nazis could be bought off to ensure that America did not have to enter any war.

Joseph allegedly had a plan to ship every Jew in Germany to Africa, or to a British or American colony. Roosevelt shut the idea down, but Kennedy refused to change his stance on Jews. It is notable that he wasn’t particularly interested in the plight of the Jews. His main hope was that the Nazis wouldn’t follow through on their awful plan because of a fear that public opinion in America would turn against Hitler.

Joseph’s later attempts to clear his name were a complete disaster; none more so than a 1944 interview with two journalists by the name of Joe Dinneen and Lawrence Spivak. He began his defense thusly: “It is true that I have a low opinion of some Jews in public office and private life.” He went on to say that despite his obvious dislike of them, he didn’t think they should be wiped off the face of the earth. Kennedy concluded by saying his dislike was colored by his business dealings with them.

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
Kennedy and Churchill – Time Magazine

7 – He Claimed That Democracy Was Dead

If you are a proud American, one of the last things you should believe is that democracy is dead. Someone forgot to mention this to Kennedy because when he was serving as ambassador in the United Kingdom, he said: “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here as well.” His opinion may have been based on his dim view of Winston Churchill, the man who succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Kennedy said of him: “Never trust a man who is always sucking on a whiskey bottle.”

He uttered his democracy statement when the Luftwaffe was trying to bomb England into submission. Kennedy feared that Hitler couldn’t be stopped in his rampage through Europe even before the UK entered the war. Once Britain became involved, Kennedy said: “It’s the end of the world – The end of everything.”

Kennedy’s anti-Semitism reared its ugly head once again as he told Von Dirksen that President Roosevelt was influenced by Jews. At that stage, he truly believed that the Jews were about to take control of the United States. He was also quoted as saying that “the Democratic policy of the United States is a Jewish production.” An increasingly desperate Kennedy attempted to meet Hitler in September 1940 without the approval of the State Department. He was dismissed by the British populous as a coward when he fled to the London countryside in a plane during the Blitz.

Finally fed up with Kennedy’s utter defeatism, along with low view he was held in by the British public, the Roosevelt administration put pressure on him to resign. Finally, Kennedy gave in and submitted his resignation in November 1941. His reputation was in tatters, and a number of people believed that there was more to his defeatist statements than met the eye.

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy

8 – He Was Accused of Being a Nazi Sympathizer

Joseph Kennedy Junior is often classified as the son who was most like his father, and they shared the same ‘admiration’ for Hitler. Young Joseph saw Hitler speak in 1934 and was impressed by the dictator’s calls for Germany to unite against a common enemy. Joseph Junior wrote that while it was a shame, the Nazis were persecuting the Jews, but added: “The dislike of the Jews, however, was well founded.”

As I’ve previously mentioned, Joseph Senior also disliked the Jews and had a seemingly favorable opinion of Hitler and the Nazis. As well as hoping that America would make a peace pact with Germany and trying to keep Chamberlain in office, Joseph Senior sought approval for a personal meeting with Hitler on two occasions. During his reign as Ambassador to the United States, a lot of British people believed his sentiments went beyond appeasement and actually represented a form of Nazi sympathizing.

Perhaps Joseph was merely guilty of underestimating the threat of the Nazis. The fact they tormented the Jews, a group he disliked immensely, possibly blinded him to what was happening. He was a great admirer of the German work ethic and believed they were the ‘logical’ leaders of Europe. Kennedy also thought the Jews were exaggerating their plight.

One of his great fears was American involvement in the war so ‘Jittery Joe’ tried everything he could to prevent it from happening. He failed in his goal, and worse was to come when his son, Joseph Junior, enlisted in the Navy. John also served in the Navy during World War II. While Joseph Junior had a lucky escape in 1943, he was killed in action the following year. As well as losing his eldest son, Joseph Senior had lost his first hope of a Kennedy president. He turned his attention to John and Bobby. When John returned from the war, his father informed him that his political career was about to begin. Joseph pulled as many strings as possible and didn’t allow his own affiliations to stop John from reaching the White House.

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
Joseph McCarthy – Wikipedia

9 – He Was a Friend of Joseph McCarthy

Today, Joseph McCarthy is viewed with disdain as one of America’s most hated senators. But at the height of his power in the 1950s, McCarthy was the most visible public face of anti-communism in the United States. He alleged that communists and Soviet spies had succeeded in infiltrating the American government, film industry, and universities, among other facilities. The term ‘McCarthyism’ was given to the process of smearing someone’s name with an accusation of treason without providing evidence.

Like McCarthy and a number of prominent Americans at the time, Kennedy hated Communism and was a fervent supporter of McCarthy. He even persuaded his son Bobby to join McCarthy’s staff in 1953. Kennedy had several things in common with McCarthy beside their shared loathing of communism. Both men were Roosevelt Democrats for example, and Kennedy would invite the Wisconsin Senator for drinks in his Palm Beach house.

McCarthy even dated two of Kennedy’s daughters, Eunice and Patricia, for a brief period and was known to be fond of the bottle. Bobby served McCarthy loyally until he had a personal falling out with Roy Cohn, the chief counsel of the Subcommittee on Investigations, and quit. However, Bobby remained close to McCarthy and defended him in the press. John Kennedy was also a supporter and backed the Communist Control Act, a piece of legislation even more severe than McCarthy had ever suggested.

When John finally ran for president, he claimed to be against McCarthy and his methods and was backed all the way by Joseph. Once the public turned against the Senator, John was in a tough spot because the Democrats voted to censure McCarthy. When one senator tried to get John to sign a statement that condemned McCarthy, Joseph told the man to get lost and to stop trying to ‘ruin’ his son. With his son so close to his ultimate goal, Joseph Kennedy was prepared to do anything.

10 Undisclosed Facts of Joseph Kennedy
John F. Kennedy – History.com

10 – He Allegedly Rigged the 1960 Election among Others

I have to use the term ‘allegedly’ here because there is no conclusive evidence, but there is a theory that Joseph Kennedy requested the help of the mob to rig votes in Chicago. In what amounts to a conspiracy theory, the suggestion is that the mobsters used the names of dead people to vote for JFK. According to Earl Mazo, a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, there was a dilapidated house in Chicago that apparently contained 56 voters for Kennedy. Kennedy carried the state of Illinois by just 8,858 votes.

Nixon would not have won the election if he had taken Illinois, but there were also allegations of voter fraud in Missouri and New Jersey among other states. While it is not outside the grounds of possibility that Joseph would be involved in such activity, it is important to note that he was a fan of Nixon’s. Before John won the Democratic Primary, Joseph told Nixon: “Dick, if my boy can’t make it, I’m for you.”

Perhaps a more relevant accusation of electoral fraud against Joseph Kennedy can be attributed to John’s 1946 Congressional campaign. A former Boston City Councilman named Joe Russo believed the inexperienced Kennedy would be easy to defeat, but he was warned not to run. He alleged that Joseph Kennedy found another man named Joe Russo and convinced him to run in the election too. The goal was to confuse the electorate and hopefully split the vote as people would end up voting for the wrong Russo.

It was a cunning scheme, but the Kennedys were not finished yet. They tried to bribe the front-runner, Mike Neville, out of the race. He was offered a $25,000 a year salary for life to work in the Kennedy Foundation. Neville rejected the overture so Joseph Kennedy called on the big guns. He got his friend, newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, involved. Hearst ensured that his Boston American newspaper didn’t run a single Neville ad in the 60 days leading up to the vote. Before the election, Kennedy offered $50 to large families to help out at the election. John easily won the primary with almost double the votes of Neville who was the nearest rival.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment – Emily M. Brown

Daily Mail Online – How Joseph Kennedy,60, Flaunted His Decade Long Affair with his 24-year old Secretary…

Marlene: Marlene Dietrich: A Personal Biography

The Missing Kennedy: Rosemary Kennedy and the Secret Bonds of Four Women – Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff

The Kennedys: Dynasty and Disaster – John H. Davis

Conspiracy in Camelot – Jerry Kroth, Jerome A. Kroth

Listverse: 10 Terrible Things Done By JFK’s Father – Mark Oliver

A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel – Steven Weisenburger

Bad Blood: Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, and the Tumultuous 1960s – Jeffrey K. Smith

Coup d’Etat – Barry Jones

Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator – Arthur Herman

Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry that Shaped Postwar America – Chris Matthews