J. Howard Pew (1882-1971)

By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!

In the 1930s, J. Howard Pew was on the American Liberty League’s Advisory Council and its Executive Committee. He also made donations to the League ($20,000), the Sentinels of the Republic ($5,000) and the Crusaders ($4,000). Other Pew family members also donated generously, particularly to the Sentinels of the Republic.

When Joseph Newton Pew, the founder of Sun Oil (now Sunoco) died in 1912, his son Joseph Howard Pew, who had started working for the company in 1901, became its president. Under Howard’s leadership, Sun Oil grew 40 fold. Its success owed much to war. It supplied most of the lubricating oils used by Allies in WWI and was a leading supplier of WWII aviation fuel. J.H. Pew also directed Sun Shipbuilding. Its first ship, built in 1917, was just in time for America’s entry into WWI and it built about 550 more ships over the next sixty years. In the 1920s, it built oil tankers for Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. During WWII, it built about 40% of America’s oil tankers and some of its cargo ships were converted for military use. After WWII, Sun Ships repaired Navy destroyers, scrapped aircraft carriers and even built a ship for a 1973 CIA mission to retrieve a sunken Soviet sub.

In 1933, when use of ethyl-gas blends began accelerating in the U.S., the American Petroleum Institute formed emergency committees. The Sun Oil Co. and others, paid radio stations to run propaganda that criticized alcohol fuel, and J.H. Pew told them to pretend that the paid ads were news items. In 1940, Pew threatened the New York Times that he’d withdraw his ad contracts and is credited with making that paper go Republican.

In 1947, J.H. Pew resigned as president, and his brother Joseph N. Pew, Jr., took over. But J.H. stayed onboard as an influential director of the company. In 1957, Sun Oil faced its first major foreign strike in Venezuela. Sun Oil profited from one billion barrels of that oil until 1975 when Venezuela nationalized the industry. (Sun now operates mostly in the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta and the North Sea.) Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett’s book Thy Will be Done, The Conquest of the Amazon, shows that from early 1900’s until the 1980’s the Pew family, Sun Oil Co., Weyerhaeuser, Standard Oil and Placid Oil worked with the CIA and Wycliffe/SIL (the largest U.S. missionary organization) to secure access to rich Amazonian resources. This plundering, largely for oil, resulted in near-genocidal massacres of indigenous peoples.

The Pew family’s main contribution to the American right has been its funding of a bewildering variety of extreme-right organizations, campaigns and publications. The Pew Charitable Trusts were created between 1948 and 1979 by Joseph N. Pew’s four children. J.H. Pew in particular was a major financier not only of the American Liberty League, and its front organizations in the 1930s, but a seemingly endless slew of ultra-rightring causes since then. Here are just a few of the organizations that he financed:

* National Association of Manufacturers: This fascist-linked network of industrialists was at the heart of many anti-New Deal campaigns and it continues to this day.

* American Action, Inc.: The successor of the American Liberty League in the 1940s.

* Foundation for Economic Education (FEE): Pew was one of FEEs trustees. He help fund this “think tank” which, from its start in 1946, fueled a get-government-off-people’s-backs philosophy. By 1950, it was under investigation for illegal lobbying activities. A radio commentator then called it “one of the biggest and best financed, pressure outfits in America.... the fountainhead for half-truths and distortions, designed to deceive the American public” and “a vicious anti-labor propaganda outfit [that] spreads its venom…to crush organized labor.” The CIO News sarcastically said the FEE’s goal was to “convince the average American that the country is going socialist…and that…social security, unemployment compensation, public housing, rent and other price controls are depriving him of his freedom to go hungry and unsheltered.”

* Christian Freedom Foundation (CFF): Pew started this tax-exempt outfit in 1950 with a $50,000 grant. In the 1960s and 1970s, at least $2.3 million in Pew money flooded in. Some was channeled into Third Century Publishers to fuel ultra-right Christian politics. In 1976, the CFF’s goal was to make America a “Christian Republic” by electing Christian conservatives to Congress.

* Christian Economic Foundation (CEF): In the 1950s, after failing to move the National Council of Churches to the far right, Pew helped create the CEF. In the 1960s, it sowed the seeds of the Christian Right by sending its free magazine, Christian Economics, to clergy across the U.S.

* John Birch Society (JBS): J.H. Pew was a longtime supporter and close friend of Robert Welch, who founded the JBS in 1959. For many years, it led America’s far-right, rabidly anti-communist pack. By 1963, funded largely by J.H. Pew and other oil and military corporations, the JBS had 1,000 chapters and 80,000 members.

* Barry Goldwater: In 1964, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater faced off against New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Goldwater became the Republican presidential candidate and J.H. Pew was one of his top donors. In Goldwater’s campaign, he refused to distance himself from the John Birch Society, he called for a nuclear war against Vietnam, he fought hard against the Civil Rights Act and he got trounced by the relatively “moderate” Johnson, who won with the biggest popular vote ever.

* Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary: By merging two schools in 1969, J.H. Pew was instrumental in creating this right-wing Christian missionary training centre. Also involved was Billy Graham, whose magazine Christianity Today, was also funded by Pew.

* The Presbyterian Layman: This magazine was first published in 1968 by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a fundamentalist group that is part of a campaign to move the churches’ policies to the far right.

Having spent seven decades with the company, J.H. Pew retired from Sunoco in 1970, and died the following year. Since his death, the Pew Family foundations continued to push their agenda by founding and/or funding such reactionary groups as:

* American Enterprise Institute: This conservative think tank was founded in 1943. It moved much farther right when donations increased 10-fold in the 1970s. It is now an arch-conservative lobby group with ties to Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, John Borke, Charles Murray, Elliot Abrams, Dick Cheney and his wife.

* Heritage Foundation: Created in 1973 by Joseph Coors, a racist, homophobic, anti-labour brewer; right-winger Paul Weyrich; and industrialists Richard Scaife and Ed Noble.

* British-American Project for the Successor Generation: Founded in 1985 by devotees of Reagan and Thatcher, it grooms right-wing U.S. and British youth as leaders.

* The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research: Founded in 1978 by William Casey, who later became Reagan’s CIA director, it promotes privatization, deregulation and cuts to social welfare programs.

The Pew family foundations had assets of about $4 billion in 2002.

Sunoco reported a net income of $312 million in 2003.

Some Sources:

Metro Machine Corporation - Chester

1902-2002: Marcus Hook Refinery

Pew Charitable Trusts

J. Howard Pew (1882-1971), Religion and Liberty, Nov.-Dec. 1994.

World News from The Progressive Review, 1999-2000.

Sunoco Media Release, Jan. 22, 2004

The Council for National Policy

Austin Cline, John Birch Society

John Birch Society

Pew Charitable Trust

The Religious Right

John B. Judis, The Paradox of American Democracy, 2001

Bettina Bien Greaves, "FEE and the Climate of Opinion," The Freeman, May 1996.

Jeffrey K. Hadden and Anson Shupe, "Televangelism: Power & Politics on God's Frontier," 1981.

American Enterprise Institute
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
The Heritage Foundation

The Pew Charitable Trusts

Jim Donahue, "The Foundations of Apartheid and the Nuclear Industry," Multinational Monitor, Dec. 1988.

Tom Easton, "The British American Project for the Successor Generation," Lobster Magazine, Summer 1997.

The Transformation of the Church

Source: Press for Conversion! magazine, Issue # 53, "Facing the Corporate Roots of American Fascism," March 2004. Published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.

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