Irving S. Olds papers
Language of Materials
This collection consists of the personal papers of Irving S. Olds, a former President of the New-York Historical Society. He led a notable life, as a clerk for Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, as a law partner at White & Case, as CEO of U.S. Steel, and as an avid supporter of the arts. The majority of this collection dates from later in his life, primarily from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Although he was still involved with U.S. Steel and White and Case during those years, the majority of this collection consists of personal correspondence, personal records of his own finances and history, diaries outlining his daily activities during his retirement, and ephemeral items from his life. The earlier records consist of mostly personal matters as well, despite his abundant use of White & Case stationery.
Biographical / Historical
Irving Sands Olds (1887-1963) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, the only child of Clark and Livia Elizabeth Olds. Clark was an attorney, and Irving grew up in a wealthy household. Irving attended Yale University for his undergraduate degree, and graduated with a B.A. in 1907. He then continued on to receive a law degree from Harvard in 1910. Upon his graduation, Olds took a position as a law clerk for then Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1911, he joined the law firm, White & Case, which today, is one of the largest law firms in the world. In 1917, Olds became a partner, and remained as such until his death. He married Evelyn Foster in that same year, and the two never had children.
Olds was an important player in building White & Case's banking and corporate clientele through the 1910s and into the 1920s, including Bankers Trust, J.P. Morgan & Co., and the Foundation Company. After a stint in France after the First World War opening White & Case's Paris Office, Olds returned to the U.S. and became involved in the relationship between his firm and the United States Steel Corporation. In 1936, Olds was elected to the corporation's Board of Directors, and in 1940, upon the departure of Edward Stettinius, he was made Chairman and C.E.O. He ran U.S. Steel for twelve years, through the rest of the Second World War, and into the Atomic Age.
Olds was a noted philanthropist and lover of the arts. He urged the foundation of, and eventually led, the "Council for Financial Aid to Education," an organization which directed corporate donations to universities. From 1962 until his death in 1963, he served as President of the New-York Historical Society, and was a benefactor and board member of both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He studied naval history and had published two works about the topic, "U.S. Naval History, 1776-1815" and "Bits and Pieces of American History." He collected Revolutionary War and Naval prints, and amassed a collection of over 1,000 items, many of which were donated upon his death to White & Case and the New-York Historical Society. In his limited free time, he took on a number of speaking engagements at universities, and he was honored with many accolades and honorary degrees.
After a period of declining health, Olds passed away in March 1963, and was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.
Arranged into six series:
I. General Correspondence (1915-1963)
II. Business Records (1929-1948)
III. Diaries (1910-1962)
IV. Speeches & Publications (1940-1960)
V. Photographs & Ephemera (1907-1962)
VI. Subject Files (1818-1963)
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of 11 record cartons, 2 oversize boxes, and 1 oversize folder, all containing the personal papers of Irving S. Olds, a former President of the New-York Historical Society. He led a notable life, as a clerk for Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, as a law partner at White & Case, as CEO of The United States Steel Corporation, and as an avid supporter of the arts. His papers do not contain many records from his legal and corporate careers, and instead, are largely personal in nature. Those files that do relate to his firms are mostly related to social matters. His correspondence files date primarily from his retirement years, and include pleasantries between him and colleagues, friends, and institutions. There is correspondence about his and his wife's art exhibitions: Olds was a collector of naval prints, and his wife, Evelyn, used those prints as inspiration to paint trays and a variety of other objects. His business records consist of the records of three corporations of which he was part owner. His personal diaries provide a detailed insight into his day to day affairs, although again, nearly all of these date from his retirement. His speeches and publications are mostly preserved in duplicate and triplicate, and were given to many corporate and collegiate audiences. Ephemeral records consist of photos, awards, and news clippings. Lastly, subject files consist of miscellaneous personal records divided by topic, mainly his and his family's financial and historical records.
Open to qualified researchers.
This collection is owned by the New-York Historical Society. The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder. Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 20 exposures of stable, unbound material per day.
The collection should be cited as: Irving S. Olds Papers, MS 325, New-York Historical Society.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Materials bequeathed by Olds, 1963
About this Guide
Processed by archives intern Alec Ferretti, Spring 2019