Saturday, November 19, 2011

William Benton and the Early Days of UNESCO

William Benton
William Benton was Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 31 August 1945 to 30 September 1947. During that period he was deeply involved in both the creation of UNESCO and of the United Nations. As assistant secretary of state he was in charge of the overseas information programs of the United States. While in office he was also associated with the establishment of the Fulbright Scholarship Act (1946).

It is thought that it was in part due to his influence that "Communications" was added to the UNESCO mandate. A path breaker in the application of modern communications techniques to advertising and deeply cognizant of the Nazi use of propaganda, it seems quite reasonable that he would seek to have UNESCO fight for the freedom of the press and oppose the use of propaganda as part of its efforts to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

Benton served as United States Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris from 1963 to 1968.

Benton, after graduating from Yale entered the advertising business, working for others until 1928 when he joined with Chester Bowles to found the Benton and Bowles advertising agency; by 1935, Benton was wealthy and the Benton and Bowles agency was the sixth-largest advertising firm in the world. In 1936 Benton sold the agency to his partners and became vice president of the University of Chicago.

In 1941 Benton purchased the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and remained as Chairman of the Board and publisher until his death in 1973.

He served as United States senator from Connecticut from 1949 to 1953. He is perhaps best remembered in that post for his opposition to Senator Joe McCarthy and for his defeat in the election of 1950 of Prescott Sheldon Bush, father of U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush and grandfather of U.S. President George Walker Bush.

Thus as William Benton assumed the post of U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, he was a world famous businessman, independently wealthy, having served his country as both Senator and Assistant Secretary of State. He was also an officer of one of America's greatest educational institutions and the publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In addition to all that, he was familiar with UNESCO's purpose and its work from its earliest conception. Indeed a representative that the nation could be proud of, one who had earned the respect of other delegates to UNESCO's governing bodies.

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