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Joseph P. Kennedy
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Joseph P. Kennedy

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Joseph P. Kennedy is best known as the father of three political leaders: President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Representative Ted Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, who served as a U.S. senator and attorney general.

Who Was Joseph P. Kennedy?

Joseph P. Kennedy is best known for being the father of three political leaders: President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, who served as a U.S. senator and attorney general. Kennedy became a bank president by age 25, also holding positions as a shipyard manager and movie studio owner. By age 30, he was a millionaire. In 1937, Kennedy became the first Irish-American ambassador to Britain, serving in that position until 1940.

Early Life and Career

Born on September 6, 1888, to an Irish Catholic family in Boston, Massachusetts, Joseph Patrick Kennedy overcame the class prejudices of the era and enrolled at Harvard University. He graduated from the school in 1912, and, by the age of 25, had become president of a bank. He also found work as a shipyard manager around this time, and became known as a large contributor to the Democratic Party.

In 1914, Kennedy married Rose Fitzgerald; the couple would eventually raise four sons, Joseph Patrick "Joe" Jr. (born in 1915), John Fitzgerald (born in 1917), Robert Francis (born in 1925) and Edward "Ted" Moore (born in 1932), and five daughters: Rose Marie "Rosemary" (born in 1918), Kathleen Agnes "Kick" (born in 1920), Eunice Mary (born in 1921), Patricia (born in 1924) and Jean Ann (born in 1928). The Kennedy children were encouraged to read the New York Times at an early age, and only national issues were discussed during dinner.

Always financially astute, brilliant and driven, Kennedy became a millionaire by the age of 30 through investments in the movie business and alcohol distribution. He ran a movie studio in the 1920s, during which time he had an affair with actress Gloria Swanson. Kennedy retired from stock trading at age 41, amassing enough capital to build million-dollar trust funds for each of his nine children.

Political Career

In the 1932 presidential election, Kennedy supported Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, in turn, named Kennedy chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed as chairman of the U.S. Maritime Commission.

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Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, speaks during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 29, 2020. The hearing is titled "U.S. Park Police Attack on Peaceful Protesters at Lafayette Square Park." Photographer: Bonnie Cash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deb Haaland

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 09: John Major attends the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph on Whitehall on November 9, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. People across the UK gather to pay tribute to service personnel who have died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, with this year taking on added significance as it is the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

John Major

In 1937, Kennedy became the first Irish American to serve as the U.S. British ambassador, a position he held for three years thereafter; he resigned in 1940, convinced that Britain would be taken over by Nazi Germany and that America's only hope lay in staying out of the coming conflict. According to a November 1940 article in the Boston Sunday Globe, upon returning from England on the eve of World War II, Kennedy said, "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here." His controversial views earned him a reputation as an anti-Semite and appeaser of Hitler, in addition to perceptions that he was a womanizer and probably had ties to organized crime.

After the loss of his first son, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., during WWII, Kennedy stepped back from public life and concentrated on grooming his three remaining sons for political office.

Final Years

Kennedy suffered a debilitating stroke in 1961. He died at the Kennedy compound, on Cape Cod along Nantucket Sound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on November 18, 1969, at the age of 81.

Watch "Joseph Kennedy Sr.: The Father of an American Dynasty" on HISTORY Vault


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