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Bertie Charles Forbes Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: EFB
Date: Jul 1970

Biographical History

Bertie Charles Forbes (1880-1954) was an American journalist and the founder and editor of Forbes magazine. He was born May 14, 1880 in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland to Robert and Agnes (Moir) Forbes. At the age of thirteen he taught himself shorthand and at fourteen began work as a printer's devil. In 1897 he began his journalistic career as a reporter for the Dundee Courier and during the next two years he progressed to sub-editor and editorial writer. At the same time he attended night school at University College in Dundee.

In 1901 Forbes left Scotland for South Africa, and he worked there as a reporter for various papers, including the Rand Daily Mail, which he also helped to establish. Three years later, he went to New York, where he found a position on the Journal of Commerce. By 1906 he was financial editor of that paper, as well as an editorial contributor to the Commercial and Financial Chronicle. He retained these positions until 1911 when he left to become the business and financial editor of the New York American. In 1916 he resigned that position in order to start his own business and financial magazine, Forbes, though he continued to write a syndicated column for the Hearst papers until 1942. The magazine was a success, reaching a circulation of 100,000 in the 1940s. It contained analyses of business trends and the economic situation of the country, as well as Forbes' personal style of business journalism. He pioneered the writing of personal profiles of business leaders and it was this for which he was most well-known.

In 1940-1941 Forbes served on the school board of Englewood, New Jersey, where he lived, creating controversy with charges that the social science textbooks used in the schools and one of the teachers were subversive. Beginning in 1942, he devoted his time to organizing Investor's League Inc., which protected and promoted the interests of stockholders and insurance policy-holders. He served as president of the group until 1949 and held the chairmanship of the board from 1949 until 1950, at which time he retired, after having attempted to resolve certain internal problems that had developed. During this period he began to withdraw from an active role in the publication of his magazine, turning over responsibility instead to his sons, Malcolm and Bruce.

Forbes married Adelaide Stevenson on April 20, 1915 and they had five sons: Bruce C., Malcolm S., Gordon B., Wallace F., and Duncan, who, as a young man, was killed in an automobile accident. Forbes died on May 6, 1954.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Bertie Charles Forbes Papers consist of correspondence, memorabilia, writings and miscellany.

Though Forbes was acquainted with many important men in business, finance, and government, and on intimate terms with some of them, very little or economic and political significance is found in the Correspondence, 1897-1964. The majority of the letters have no more than personal significance. Of particular interest, however, are a letter from F.D. Underwood, president of Erie Railroad, arguing that federal regulation of the railroads is necessary for their profitability; a letter from Bernard Baruch which discusses the experience of American business during W.W.I; a 1934 letter of Wendell Willkie discussing T.V.A.; 1942 letters from Herbert Hoover and Wendell Willkie politely refusing to head up Forbes' Investors League project; and letters from Roy Garvin, of the Afro-American newspapers, relating to Forbes' comments on the Detroit riots. Noteworthy also are xerox copies -- the original letters are not included in the collection -- of a series of 1923 letters between Herbert Hoover and Forbes with respect to Hoover's Toledo speech on war debts; and a 1920 series of correspondence between Forbes and Thomas A. Edison with respect to a story about Edison's bribing a sheriff to postpone a judgment. Of lesser significance are letters during 1931 which relate to a controversy over Sears, Roebuck's advertising of tires, and letters during 1940 which relate to Forbes' attempt, as a member of the Board of Education of Englewood, New Jersey, to ban as subversive the social science textbooks of Dr. Harold Rugg. Finally, the correspondence of the years 1930-1939 contains many letters from average American citizens expressing their experiences of the Depression, their analyses of the reasons for it, and their suggested solutions. The bulk of the correspondence for 1931 relates to Forbes' illness with pneumonia, and that for 1947 concerns the 30th anniversary of Forbes Magazine. There are short series of letters from Forbes to his sons Malcolm, 1942-1943, Gordon, 1943-1953, and Wallace, 1945-1953, and correspondence between Forbes and his friends and relatives in Scotland. The correspondence of 1954 through 1964 is made up essentially of letters to Forbes' sons, Malcolm and Bruce, regarding his death or containing reminiscences of his life.

Of significance are letters from the following with the inclusive dates of their correspondence:

Of lesser research significance are letters from Bruce Barton, 1931-1946, Calvin Coolidge, 1929, George Eastman, 1916-1919, James A. Farley, 1939, Will H. Hayes, 1921-1940, Otto Kahn, 19141916, A.W. Mellon, 1929, Eugene Meyer, 1931-1934, Arthur Murray, 1938-1952, Robert A. Taft, 1949, Margaret Truman, 1950-1952, and John Wanamaker, 1917.

Memorabilia, 1892-1954, relate to various periods in Forbes' life in Scotland, South Africa and the United States. His early life in and continuing relationship to Scotland is represented by notebooks and copies of exams from his school days, statements by village officials recognizing his achievements and proficiency in shorthand, newspaper clippings detailing his visits to his old home and his generosity to the children who attended his old school, and letters of recommendation from newspapers for which he worked. An oversized scrapbook of clippings is filed at the end of the collection. His work as a reporter in South Africa is represented by some personal mementos, some notebooks, one of which includes observations apparently made on the trip to South Africa and another which contains impressions probably recorded on the extended trip he took in going from South Africa to the United States and letters of recommendation from the newspapers for which he worked. His life and work in the United States are represented by a large number of newspaper clippings which detail his travels, his speeches, and his views and opinions. A sizeable quantity of newspaper clippings which relate to the controversy on the Englewood Board of Education over the Rugg textbooks and an allegedly subversive teacher have been retained separately. Also found here are programs, invitations, advertisements and special issues of Forbes Magazine, publicity relating to awards Forbes gave and received and to special occasions, obituaries and other material relating to his death, two issues of magazines which relate to Forbes' career, and some scripts of radio appearances which he made. This United States material also includes seven scrapbooks: four containing newspaper clippings, one photographs (compiled after Forbes' death), one clippings of Forbes' obituaries, and one the cards Forbes received during the Christmas and New Year's season of 1953-1954. The latter two are oversized and have been placed at the end of the collection.

Writings, 189?-1953, include articles, books and pamphlets, magazine columns, newspaper columns, novels, short stories, and speeches. The dates of the materials are given when known. In addition, the magazine columns are grouped together according to the magazine in which they appeared and these groups are arranged alphabetically. In the case both of the magazine and newspaper columns, manuscript versions have been separated from and placed prior to the printed versions. The articles section contains both a scrapbook of a number of printed versions of an article Forbes wrote about California as it was published in various papers throughout the state and a copy of The American Dream, an anthology of articles, one of which was written by Forbes, that appeared in American Magazine. The books and pamphlets are all published versions. The newspaper columns do not constitute a complete run. The novel is an incomplete and unpublished typescript and appears to have been written prior to 1915. The short stories include both manuscript and printed versions of published and unpublished stories which Forbes wrote early in his career, none appearing to be later than 1920. The speeches contain both typescript and printed versions of the addresses given by Forbes. Included at the end of this material are four bound scrapbooks containing articles, sketches and interviews which span the years 1900-1910.

Miscellany, 1937, includes a typescript copy of John D. Rockefeller's memoirs, which were later published by Doubleday, and a typescript copy of a speech by George M. Verity on receiving Forbes' "Humanizer of Business" award.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically, with a folder of undated letters, arranged alphabetically by correspondent, at the beginning. Also included in the undated folder are a number of typewritten lists of correspondents and correspondence which seem to have been prepared by Forbes' secretary. Memorabilia is arranged with general biographical materials first, followed by materials relating to his life in Scotland, South Africa and the United States. Writings are arranged alphabetically by type and then by title, with the exception of newspaper columns, which are arranged chronologically. Untitled materials are arranged alphabetically by subject matter and placed at the end of their respective sections.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Barton, Bruce, 1886-1967.
Coolidge, Calvin, 1872-1933.
Dollar, Robert, 1844-1932.
Eastman, George, 1854-1932.
Edison, Thomas A. (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931.
Fairless, Benjamin F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1890-
Farley, James A. (James Aloysius), 1888-1976.
Forbes, B. C. (Bertie Charles), 1880-1954.
Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951.
Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964.
Rickenbacker, Eddie, 1890-1973.
Rockefeller, John D., Jr. (John Davison), 1874-1960.
Schwab, Charles M., 1862-1939.
Willkie, Wendell L. (Wendell Lewis), 1892-1944.
Young, Owen D., 1874-1962.

Associated Titles



Journalism -- United States.
Journalism, Commercial.
Journalists -- United States.
Newspapers -- Sections, columns, etc.
Periodical editors -- United States.
Scottish Americans.

Genres and Forms

Newspaper columns.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Bertie Charles Forbes Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Forbes, Inc., 1964 and 1966.

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