Commerce Cabinet Crisis XVII: Alexander Trowbridge

It’s been pointed out to me that I’ve fallen down on the job of the Commerce Cabinet Crisis series, which hereby resumes with Alexander Trowbridge. Born in 1929 into a model WASP family in New Jersey, Alexander Trowbdridge attended Philips Andover and then Princeton, graduating in 1951. He interned at the United Nations and served as an officer in the Korean War. After that he became a somewhat obscure oil company executive and was serving as president of Esso Standard Puerto Rico in 1965 when “President Johnson’s talent scout, the chairman of the Civil Service Commission, … pulled Mr. Trowbridge’s name from a file of 20,000 potential appointees and asked whether he was interested in working in Washington.” He took a job as Assistant Secretary of Commerce and then got bumped up into the big chair when John Connor stepped down.

As Secretary he had part of the Great Society brief and was supposed to work on overseeing programs to help create jobs for poor inner-city communities. He left the position in 1968 after a relatively brief tenure, having obtained the lofty status of youngest-ever commerce secretary. He went back into the business world, again working for Connor, this time at Allied Chemical Corp where he was instrumental in resolving litigation around some toxic waste dumping the firm had been engaged in before his time. After getting passed over for the chairmanship, he got back involved in Washington life. He served on the Greenspan Commission on Social Security where he pushed for keeping the program’s basic structure in place, and he spent the 1980s as President of the National Association of Manufacturers. After about ten years at NAM he stepped down to found a consulting firm and served on some corporate boards as well as George HW Bush’s base realignment and closure commission.