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James D. Mooney Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS98

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The James D. Mooney Papers are comprised of correspondence, manuscripts, books, photographs, medals and awards, consisting of 12 linear feet of material arranged in 190 folders in 11 boxes.

The James D. Mooney Papers mainly concern Mooney's quasi-official involvement in international affairs between 1939-1940. Acting largely on his own volition, and with official sanction, Mooney attempted to apply the methods of corporate negotiation to international moderation. As Louis Lochner has written, Mooney's approach exemplified 'the concept of the classical philosophers of the oneness of ethics, economics and politics.' Mooney himself expressed the inadequacies of traditional diplomacy by arguing that diplomats are frequently 'willing to risk millions of lives rather than to try to see the other side and to arrive at conclusions which involve some give-and-take on both sides, but which are far, far cheaper than the resort to war.'

Another major part of the collection is James D. Mooney's letters to his fiancee, later his second wife, Ida May MacDonald, to whom he wrote profusely during their courtship and after their marriage in 1929.

The Diplomatic Correspondence and Notes Series consists of materials related to Mooney's activities between 1939 and 1940 and center around three events:

(1). May 1939: Kennedy-Wohlthat meeting In the Spring of 1939, Mooney was called to Germany to discuss a number of issues with the Nazi government pertaining to GMC's Adam-Opel plant. In the process, he became aware of interest in securing gold loans in exchange for an agreement to stop Germany's practice of subsidized exports and special exchange practices. Mooney subsequently arranged a meeting between Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and Helmuth Wohlthat, a member of Goering's staff working on Germany's 'Four Year Plan.' The Meeting was held in London on May 9, 1939. Included in the papers are notes and some correspondence concerning events leading up to the meeting and the meeting itself.

(2). December 1939 and January 1940: Roosevelt-Mooney meetings Mooney became increasingly convinced that hostilities in Europe could be subsided through the intercession of neutral third party moderation. Mooney presented his views to Roosevelt at two meetings, on December 22, 1939 and January 24, 1940. Roosevelt agreed to use Mooney's influence to initiate 'discussion on an informal basis, (through which) the heads of both governments could better understand each other and what they really wanted to get at.' Included are copies of correspondence to and from Roosevelt and a series of notes on the conversations made by Mooney prior to his departure for Europe.

(3). March 1940: Hitler/Goering-Mooney meetings. Mooney met with Hitler on March 4, 1939 and with Goering on March 7. The Hitler-Mooney meeting included Mooney's presentation of Roosevelt's 'informal and unofficial attitudes,' and Hitler's reply, centering on 'unfortunate rumors' distorting German and American relations; the extent of Germany's war aims; the unity of the German people behind the Reich; and the economic security of Germany, among other topics. The Goering-Mooney meeting included a presentation of Roosevelt's views, a discussion of German and American relations, American public opinion regarding Finland and various economic issues, concentrating on most-favored-nation practices.

Included in the papers is a series of five telegrams sent by Mooney to Roosevelt from Rome soon after the meetings giving details of the discussions. Also included are Mooney's personal notes covering both discussions.

The PM Magazine Libel Series centers around events in the second half of 1940. In early August, 1940, PM Magazine, a new and rather sensationalist Chicago-based newspaper, published a number of inflammatory articles about James D. Mooney's association with the Nazi government and accusing him of publishing pro-German propaganda. The articles centered around Mooney's receipt of the German Order of Merit of the Eagle in 1938 and a speech delivered by Mooney in June, 1940 later printed in the Saturday Evening Post, 'War or Peace in America?' Included in this portion of the collection are numerous letters between Mooney and GMC executives, including Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., and between officials at GMC and PM Magazine, including Marshall Field, III.

The Manuscripts Series includes drafts of Mooney's unpublished account of these years, entitled 'Lessons in War and Peace.' The manuscript provides an excellent overview of events and a presentation of Mooney's personal perception of his involvement in international affairs. Also of value on the same topic are transcripts of discussions between Mooney and Louis Lochner who was stationed in Berlin at the time as Chief of the Associated Press Bureau.

The Mooney interviews were later incorporated into Lochner's book, Always the Unexpected. Typescripts and pamphlets of Mooney's speeches from 1924 to 1955, most of them on America's foreign policy and international trade, are also in the collection.

In the Family Correspondence Series there is extensive correspondence from James D. Mooney to Ida May MacDonald, his fiancee whom he married in 1929. Mooney travelled very much during the years of their courtship and wrote an immense number of letters to MacDonald, sometimes several times in a day. Included in this part of the collection are some letters from Mooney to his sons, Michael MacDonald Mooney and Alan Patrick Mooney.


  • 1924 - 1955
  • Majority of material found within 1939 - 1945

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

James D. Mooney, engineer and corporate executive, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 18 February, 1884. In 1908, he received a B.S. from Case School of Applied Sciences in Mining and Metallurgy, leaving soon after graduation for gold mining expeditions in Mexico and California. Between 1910 and 1917, he worked successively at Westinghouse, B. F. Goodrich and Hyatt Roller Bearing Company during which time he became increasingly involved in corporate management.

In 1917, although somewhat over age, he enlisted and served as a captain in France with the 309th Ammunition Regiment, 159th Field Artillery. At the close of the war, Mooney was named President and General Manager of the Remy Electric Company, a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation. In 1922, he became a Vice-President of GMC and President of General Motors Overseas, with business in more than one hundred countries. As part of his responsibilities in managing overseas production, Mooney travelled extensively throughout the world, visiting GMC's numerous manufacturing and assembly plants. In this capacity, he was afforded the opportunity of meeting with 'top-flight government officials and others in positions of power and influence, and with them discussed not only their own economic problems but also the impact of the international situation on their own countries and on economic affairs.' Mooney became a pioneer in the development of management thought and the nature of organization. Many of his theories and practical experiences were widely read and studied in Onward Industry (1931), later re-worked and retitled The Principles of Organization.

The success of GMC Overseas was due in large part to Mooney's ability to adapt American methods and technology to existing conditions of amazingly diverse natures. In 1940, Mooney resigned as President of GMC Overseas to chair a small group of directors responsible for converting General Motors domestic plants to wartime production. Soon after, Mooney volunteered for service in the Production Engineering Section of the Bureau of Aeronautics, eventually joining the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. After the war, Mooney returned to General Motors Corporation, leaving in 1946 to become Chairman and President of Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. At the time of his death in 1957, he was president of J. D. Mooney Associates.


12 Linear Feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials


James D. Mooney Papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057