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William Maxwell "Max" Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook is an Anglo-Canadian press tycoon, politician and writer. Born in Canada, he has followed the British Exiles to his native country following the 1925 British Revolution.

Max Aitken
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Born May, 25 1879 in Maple, Canada
Status Alive
Status Alive
Allegiance Flag-CAN Dominion of Canada


History

Early career in Canada

Aitken was born in Maple, Ontario, Canada, in 1879, the son of a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister. The following year, his family moved to Newcastle, New Brunswick, which he considered to be his home town. It was here, at the age of 13, that he published his first newspaper. Although Aitken wrote the entrance examinations for Dalhousie University and registered at the Saint John Law School, he did not attend either institution. His only formal higher education came when he briefly attended the University of New Brunswick. Aitken worked for a short time as an office boy in the law office of Richard Bedford Bennett, in the town of Chatham, New Brunswick. Bennett later became Prime Minister of Canada and a business associate.

As a young man, Aitken made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia where John F. Stairs, part of the city's dominant business family, gave him employment, training him in the business of finance. In 1904, when Stairs opened his newly formed Royal Securities Corporation, Aitken became a minority shareholder and the firm's general manager. Under the tutelage of Stairs, who would be his mentor and friend, Aitken engineered a number of successful business deals and was planning to do a series of bank mergers; however, Stairs' unexpected early death in late September 1904 led to Aitken acquiring control of the company. Stairs had given the untested and untrained Aitken an opportunity in business, just as Aitken would later do when he hired AJ Nesbitt, a young dry goods salesman from Saint John, New Brunswick. Because Montreal, Quebec was the financial center of Canada, Aitken would send Nesbitt to open the Montreal branch of Royal Securities.

On 29 January 1906, in Halifax, Aitken married Gladys Henderson Drury, daughter of Major-General Charles William Drury CBE and Mary Louise Drury (nee Henderson). They had three children before her death in 1927.

Canada Cement Scandal

In 1910 Aitken acquired many of the small regional cement plants in Eastern Canada and amalgamated them into Canada Cement. Canada was booming economically at the time and he had the monopoly on the material. There were irregularities in the stock transfer resulting from the conglomeration of the cement plants. Aitken sold his shares, making a large amount of money. Aitken then left for England. Some say had he stayed in Canada, he would have been charged with securities fraud. In 1912, A. J. Nesbitt left Aitken's employ to form the Nesbitt, Thomson and Co. stock brokerage. Aitken appointed employee Izaak Walton Killam as the new President of Royal Securities and sold the Canadian securities company to Killam in 1919.

In England

The year he moved to England, Aitkin became Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne. After the death of Charles Rolls in 1910, Aitkin bought his shares in Rolls-Royce, and over the next two years gradually increased his holding in the company. However, Claude Johnson, Rolls-Royce's Commercial Managing Director, resisted Aitkin's attempt to gain control of the company, and in October 1913 he sold his holding to J. B. Duke, of American Tobacco Company.

Aitkin began to build a London newspaper empire. He often worked closely with Andrew Bonar Law, another native of New Brunswick, who would became the only Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to be born outside the Home Isles. In 1911, he was knighted by King George V. During the Great War, the Canadian government put Aitkin in charge of creating the Canadian War Records Office in London, and he made certain that news of Canada's contribution to the War was printed in Canadian and British newspapers. Aitken also established the Canadian War Memorials Fund that evolved into a collection of war art by the premier artists and sculptors in Britain and Canada. His visits to the Western Front during the Great War, during which he held the honorary rank of colonel in the Canadian Army, resulted in his 1916 book Canada in Flanders, a three-volume collection that chronicled the achievements of Canadian soldiers on the battlefields.

Adding to his chain of newspapers, which included the London Evening Standard, he bought a controlling interest in the failing Daily Express from Lawson Johnson on November 14, 1916 for £17,500; he had been lending money to the paper and its proprietors since January 1911. He always obscured this transaction because it was at the same time as the Parliamentary crisis which replaced Asquith with Lloyd George, in which Aitken's ally and protegé Bonar Law played a great part. He was granted a peerage in 1917 as the 1st Baron Beaverbrook, the name "Beaverbrook" being adopted from a small community near his boyhood home.

In 1918 he became the first Minister of Information. He became responsible for allied propaganda in allied and neutral countries. Lord Northcliffe became a Director of Propaganda and control propaganda in enemy countries. During his time in office Beaverbrook had a number of clashes with Foreign Secretary Balfour over the use of intelligence material. Beaverbrook felt that intelligence should become part of his department, Balfour disagreed. Eventually the intelligence committee was assigned to Beaverbrook but they then resigned en masse to be re-employed by the Foreign office. Beaverbrook also came under attack from MP's who distrusted a press baron being employed by the state. He survived but became increasingly frustrated with his limited role and influence, and in September 1918 he resigned claiming ill health. Over time, Beaverbrook turned the dull newspaper into a glittering and witty journal, filled with an array of dramatic photo layouts and in 1918, he founded the Sunday Express.

Return to Canada

Remembered as responsible for Propaganda during the Great War and viewed by leftists as "the first Baron of Fleet Street", Beaverbrook was of course forced to go into exile with other British press tycoons, capitalists, former ministers, supporters of the Royal Family and anti-Syndicalists. But most of the Exiles came to his own country, Canada, and thus Beaverbrook immediately became one of the most prominent British Exiles, accepted by both English and Canadians, respectively as a powerful Lord and a successful fellow countryman. Continuing his works as a press tycoon, Beaverbrook earned the trust of the Royal Family by being one of the major figures in the press war between King George V and his Liberal Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie King. Even if he is viewed by some Canadian nationalists as a traitor to his own country and a stooge for the British, Lord Beaverbrook is widely accepted in Anglo-Canadian political circles, where he is considered, along with his friend Winston Spencer-Churchill, as one of the leaders of the anti-Syndicalist Conservative faction of the British Exiles, and one of the most rabid proponents of a reconquest of the Home Isles. However, because he is so critical towards the Prince of Wales' affairs, he is a bit less favoured by the future King.

See also

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