The business conditions that generated the 1893 Panic and ensuing Depression doubtless played a part in Woodin’s recall. If he was bent on a musical tour inEurope, it would have been a serious one. Woodin had a good musical ear and played the guitar and piano all his life, though he rebelled against his piano teacher and stopped taking formal lessons at 7. He composed several pieces of music that continue to be performed, including the FDR March composed for and played at the President’s rain-soaked inaugural.
His ability to entertain people empowered him as a rolling-stock salesman, and after a second-place finish as an 1898 Republican candidate for Congress fromPennsylvania, Will Woodin threw himself into a huge number of mergers and acquisitions that resulted in the American Car and Foundry Company. ACF created the first steel railway car in 1904 and sold hundreds of cars to theLondonandNew York Citysubway systems.
Woodin became ACF’s chief executive, based inNew York City. Successful and entertaining, he joined many clubs in the City and the summer colony ofEast Hampton, where he became President of the Maidstone Club, the third Commodore of the Devon Yacht Club and, as mentioned, the founding Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the colony’s arts center, Guild Hall.
He was a popular father and grandfather. During the period immediately before he became president of ACF, he composed some music for children, “Raggedy Ann’s Sunny Songs,” for which the lyrics were written by Johnny Gruelle. One of Gruelle’s characters along with Raggedy Ann and Andy is Little Wooden Willie, surely a reference to his friend Woodin.
Will andNanattended the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and the East Hampton Presbyterian Church with their four children and, in time, their grandchildren. His grandson Mr. Miner tells this story:
I once asked him: “Grandpa, why do we have to sit up front?” “Because,” Grandpa answered, modestly, “I gave the church some money.” I asked him: “If we give more money, can we sit in the back?” Grandpa roared with laughter.
Woodin was a collector of drawings by Cruikshank and others. When Miner was 5 years old, he was staying with his grandfather and started to read one of the books in his collection. Grandpa objected: “Those are not to be read.” Young Charlie was puzzled: “What good are they, then?” After filling the air with explanations of the value of a rare engravings and rare books, Grandpa gave up and decided the joke was on him. “Maybe you’re right, Charlie.”
Woodin was a serious coin collector. In the year that the Federal Reserve was created, 1913, Woodin published with a co-author a significant numismatic reference work,
TheUnited StatesPattern: Trial and Experimental Pieces. Woodin sometimes used his avocations to win new friends. Miner says that his Grandpa called on the King of Siam to sell some railway cars and was lectured beforehand on Siamese protocol, the importance of backing away facing the King, etc. But when the two of them had wrapped up their negotiations, they emerged arm in arm. The King was entranced with Woodin’s knowledge of rare coins.
Overall, how did Woodin do as Treasury Secretary? His job was in some ways bigger than the Treasury job in 2009, because unemployment was up to 25 percent. But public opinion was more clearly in favor of sweeping action, because the Pecora Commission since 1932 had been stirring up public sentiment.
As FDR noted in his Fireside Chat, hardly any banks were open during the week of the Inauguration, because almost all states had imposed bank holidays. Banks didn’t have enough currency to pay out to panicked depositors. This wasn’t just a bankers’ crisis, it was a people’s crisis.
Woodin performed the mechanical part of his job to perfection, perhaps because of his experience working in a foundry. The Bank Holiday required nonstop Bureau of Engraving and Printing operation, all presses printing $2 billion in greenbacks. The new greenbacks were then delivered by trucks to the banks, with movie cameras filming the process for showing in cinemas around the country. Woodin sent out examiners to determine the solvency of each bank, beginning with banks in the 250 cities with clearing-houses, prior to reopening them one by one.