Prescott Sheldon Bush was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 15th May, 1895. Like his grandfather, James Smith Bush, he went to Yale University in 1913. While at university he became a member of the Skull and Bones Secret Society. A fellow member was E. Roland Harriman, the younger brother of W. Averell Harriman.
His father, Samuel Prescott Bush became General Manager of Buckeye Steel Castings Company, which manufactured railway parts, in 1901. The company was run by Frank Rockefeller, the brother of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and among its clients were the railroads controlled by E. H. Harriman. In 1908 Rockefeller retired and Bush became President of Buckeye.
Samuel Prescott Bush was also closely associated with Samuel Pryor, who, along with the Rockefellers, controlled the Remington Arms Company. During the First World War, Clarence Dillion, a senior figure at the War Industries Board, arranged for Bush, to become chief of the Ordnance Small Arms and Ammunition Section of the WIB. This involved giving out contracts to supply arms and ammunition to the United States Army. Over half of the small-arms ammunition and 69% of the rifles used by the United States in the war were supplied by Remington.
On 8th August, 1918, the Ohio State Journal reported that Prescott Bush had been awarded the "cross of the Legion of Honor, the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross." The report added; "The incident occurred on the western front about the time the Germans were launching their great offensive of July 15... The history of the remarkable victory scored later by the allies might have been written in another vein, but for the heroic and quick action of Captain Bush."
Apparently, this information came from his mother Flora Bush. In fact, at this time, Bush had yet to see action on the Western Front. A month later the Ohio State Journal had to report that it was a victim of a hoax. His mother wrote to the paper and apologized for providing this false information. She claimed that she had been fooled by a letter she had received from her son that had been "written in a spirit of fun".
In 1919 Bush was introduced by W. Averell Harriman to his business partner, George Herbert Walker. Later that year, Bush was introduced to Walker's daughter, Dorothy. The couple married in August, 1921. Bush and his new wife moved to Columbus, Ohio, and went to work for his father's family business.
In 1926, Bush's father-in-law, appointed him vice-president of W. A. Harriman & Company. This company had made considerable investments in Germany. At the end of the war, the commercial steamships of Hamburg-Amerika were confiscated by the United States government. As the authors of George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography have pointed out: "These ships had then become the property of the Harriman enterprise, by some arrangements with the U.S. authorities that were never made public." In doing so, Harriman created the world's largest private shipping line.
Samuel Pryor, the chairman of Remington Arms, and George Herbert Walker, both became directors of the American Ship and Commerce Company, Harriman's shipping front organization. Walker and Harriman set up their European headquarters in Berlin. With the help of the Warburg Bank, W. A. Harriman began to invest heavily in German industry.
In 1926 Prescott Bush became vice president of W. A. Harriman & Company. Soon afterwards the company expanded into the Soviet Union. After negotiations with Leon Trotsky and Felix Dzerzhinsky, Harriman obtained a contract to mine manganese. In 1927 the company was criticized for its support of totalitarian governments in Italy and the Soviet Union. George Herbert Walker wrote to W. Averell Harriman pointing out that "the suggestion... that we withdraw from Russia smacks some what of the impertinent.. I think that we have drawn our line and should hew to it" (11th August, 1927).
W. Averell Harriman also formed a partnership with the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. In 1926 Harriman and Clarence Dillon of Dillon Read Company helped Thyssen and Friedrich Flick to establish the German Steel Trust. According to Anton Chaitkin: "The Flick-Harriman partnership was directly supervised by Prescott Bush". Dillon Read provided two representatives to the board of the German Steel Trust and took responsibility for its corporate banking.
In 1928 Thyssen formed United Steelworks, a company that controlled more that 75 per cent of Germany's ore reserves and employed 200,000 people. Thyssen started a joint-venture with Harriman called the Union Banking Corporation. This was used to transfer funds between the United States and Germany. In 1931 W.A. Harriman & Company merged with the British-American banking house Brown Brothers. Prescott Bush, along with W. Averell Harriman, E. Roland Harriman and George Herbert Walker, became managing partners in the new company, Brown Brothers Harriman. This was to develop into the most important private banking house in America.
Prescott Bush was appointed as a director of the Harriman Fifteen Corporation. This in turn controlled the Consolidated Silesian Steel Corporation, that owned one-third of a complex of steel-making, coal-mining and zinc-mining activities in Germany and Poland. Friedrich Flick owned the other two-thirds of the operation. Flick was a leading financial supporter of the Nazi Party and in the 1930s donated over seven million marks to the party. A close friend of Heinrich Himmler, Flick also gave the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) 10,000 marks a year.
Fritz Thyssen was also one of the leading backers of the Nazi Party. In 1931 he recruited Hjalmar Schacht to the cause and in November, 1932, the two men joined with other industrialists in signing the letter that urged Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as chancellor. This was successful and on 20th February, 1933, they arranged a meeting of the Association of German Industrialists that raised 3 million marks for the Nazi Party in the forthcoming election.
On 27th February, 1933, someone set fire to the Reichstag. Several people were arrested including a leading, Georgi Dimitrov, general secretary of the Comintern, the international communist organization. Dimitrov was eventually acquitted but a young man from the Netherlands, Marianus van der Lubbe, was eventually executed for the crime. As a teenager Lubbe had been a communist and Hermann Goering used this information to claim that the Reichstag Fire was part of a KPD plot to overthrow the government.
Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night." Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". KPD candidates in the election were arrested and Hermann Goering announced that the Nazi Party planned "to exterminate" German communists. Thousands of members of the Social Democrat Party and Communist Party were arrested and sent to recently opened to concentration camps.
Left-wing election meetings were broken up by the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and several candidates were murdered. Newspapers that supported these political parties were closed down during the 1933 General Election. Although it was extremely difficult for the opposition parties to campaign properly, Hitler and the Nazi party still failed to win an overall victory in the election on 5th March, 1933. The NSDAP received 43.9% of the vote and only 288 seats out of the available 647. The increase in the Nazi vote had mainly come from the Catholic rural areas who feared the possibility of an atheistic Communist government.
After the 1933 General Election Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour. All the active members of the Communist Party, were in concentration camps, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill.
Adolf Hitler was now the dictator of Germany. Fritz Thyssen now joined with W. Averell Harriman to establish credit for the new government. He later admitted that he told Hitler's deputy, Rudolph Hess, that he would do this via BHS, a Dutch bank that he had established with Harriman. "I chose a Dutch bank because I did not want to be mixed up with German banks... it was better to business with a Dutch bank, and I thought I would have the Nazis a little more in my hands."
Albert Voegler, the chief executive of the German Steel Trust was also a director of BHS Bank in Rotterdam. Voegler was also a director of the Harriman-Bush owned Hamburg-Amerika shipping line. He was another leading financial supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Max Warburg was also appointed as a director of Hamburg-Amerika. Warburg wrote to W. Averell Harriman on 27th March, 1933, assuring him that Hitler was good for Germany. However, he was concerned about the "very active propaganda against Germany" that was taking place in the United States. Four days later, the American Jewish Committee, controlled by the Warburgs, issued a statement asking "that no American boycott against Germany be encouraged" and advising "that no further mass meetings be held or similar forms of agitation be employed".
In May 1933, the Harriman International Company, became the head of a syndicate of 150 firms and individuals to conduct all exports from Hitler's Germany to the United States. The agreement had been negotiated by John Foster Dulles and Hitler's economic minister, Hjalmar Schacht. Dulles was the international attorney for several Nazi enterprises and in September, 1937, he wrote to Prescott Bush about the German Atlantic Cable Company, that owned Nazi Germany's only telegraph channel to the United States.
In 1934 Prescott Bush sent W. Averell Harriman an article that appeared in the 19th March edition of the New York Times. The article claimed that the Polish government intended to take action against the Upper Silesian Coal and Steel Company because it was controlling 45% of its steel production. The newspaper reported that "two-thirds of the company's stock is owned by Friedrich Flick, a leading German steel industrialist, and the remainder is owned by interests in the United States". This of course was Bush, Harriman and Walker. The Polish government complained that the owners of the Upper Silesian Coal and Steel Company were guilty of tax evasion. They were also responsible for using Poland's raw materials to provide for the military needs of Nazi Germany.
Prescott Bush's business interests in Germany suffered after the outbreak of the Second World War. On 20th October, 1942, the United States government seized the assets of the Union Banking Corporation. The shares of the bank were owned by Prescott Bush, E. Roland Harriman, and a couple of members of the Nazi Party. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the government took over the Union Banking Corporation and the Silesian-American Corporation, a company that had been managed by Prescott Bush and his father-in-law George Herbert Walker.
Prescott Bush was an active member of the Republican Party and in 1950 failed to defeat William Benton, the Democratic Party candidate in Connecticut. Bush was elected to the Senate in 1952. He was a staunch supporter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and played an important role in the Polaris submarine being built by Electric Boat Corporation, based in Connecticut and part of the General Dynamics Corporation.
Bush left the Senate in 1963 to concentrate on his business interests. However, he continued to play an active role in politics and in 1964 he supported the conservative Barry Goldwater against the liberal Nelson Rockefeller. Bush attacked Rockefeller for divorcing his wife of 32 years. "Have we come to the point in our life as a nation where the governor of a great state... can desert a good wife, mother of his grown children, divorce her, then persuade the mother of four youngsters to abandon her husband and their four children and marry the governor?"