George L. Harrison became the second leader of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the age of forty-one, following the death of Governor Benjamin Strong in 1928. Harrison held the position for thirteen years, first as governor and then as president when the title changed in accordance with the Banking Act of 1935.
Harrison was born in San Francisco, California, in 1887. He earned degrees from Yale University and Harvard Law School. For one year, he served as legal secretary to US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
In the autumn of 1914, Harrison joined the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, DC, where he served as general counsel. He came to the New York Fed as deputy governor in 1920. In that position, he was initially in charge of the Bank’s Cash and Collection Function and later became responsible for the New York Fed’s relations with foreign banks.
Immediately following the death of Benjamin Strong, the board of directors of the New York Fed held a special meeting where they resolved that Gates W. McGarrah, chairman of the board of directors, be requested to temporarily undertake the duties of head of the Reserve Bank. Then, on November 22, 1928, the board voted unanimously to appoint Harrison to the position of governor of the Bank "effective immediately."1
Harrison directed the New York Fed through some of the United States’ most historically memorable events of the 20th century. These events included the 1929 stock market crash, the Banking Holiday of 1933, and the major revisions in the Federal Reserve System’s organization and operations in 1935. He was also instrumental in solving many of the Federal Reserve’s foreign relations issues at the time. During board of directors’ meetings, Harrison regularly reported on gold movements and the position of foreign exchanges.
Harrison claimed that he "got his education in central banking from Mr. Paul Warburg at the Board and from Mr. Benjamin Strong at the New York Bank."2 Harrison left the New York Fed in 1940 to become president of the New York Life Insurance Company, where he worked until his retirement.
Harrison passed away in 1958 in Washington, DC.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York Board of Directors’ Minutes. Volume 28. August 9, 1928 – June 20, 1929.
Internal Memorandum. Conversation with Mr. George L. Harrison, April 19, 1955.
Written by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. See disclaimer.