Arthur F. Burns papers, 1911-2005, bulk dates 1940-1987

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Burns, Arthur F. (Arthur Frank), 1904-1987
Arthur Burns (1904-1987) was a former chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and economic advisor to six US presidents. This collection primarily documents his professional life through his correspondence. It forms part of the Economists' Papers Archive.
18.5 Linear Feet (17 boxes and one oversize folder.)
Material in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection documents Burns's career as an economic advisor, particularly to Republican administrations, chair of the Federal Reserve, and ambassador to Germany.

Topics of interest in this collection include but are not limited to: the United States economic system and fiscal policies; the Federal Reserve Board and related committees; recessions, unemployment, and inflation; the world economy and finance; the US presidency during the time period; the Nixon presidency in particular, including the Watergate affair; presidential campaigns and elections; and diplomacy. There is a small amount of research and teaching material, chiefly from the 1920s-1930s. The most significant component of the collection is the correspondence between Arthur Burns and Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, as well as substantial exchanges with economists Milton Friedman and Wesley Clair Mitchell.

The most substantial and notable papers are found in the Correspondence series, which contains letters and memoranda written from 1911-1997 both to and from Burns and/or his wife, Helen. The series is organized into three subseries, Correspondence by Individual, Correspondence by Topic, and Correspondence to Mrs. Helen Burns. The majority of the exchanges in the first subseries are letters written to or by presidents or vice presidents (Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Spiro Agnew, Hubert Humphrey, and Nelson Rockefeller). Burns's correspondence with presidents Eisenhower and Nixon is particularly extensive and reveals the making of crucial policy decisions. Also included is Burns's correspondence with economists Wesley Clair Mitchell, Milton Friedman, and George Stigler.

The Correspondence by Topic subseries contains letters and attachments primarily related to Burns's work in academia, politics, and the private sector. Finally, the Correspondence to Mrs. Helen Burns subseries contains letters written by prominent figures such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Mamie Eisenhower to Burns's wife, Helen, both during his life and after his death.

The other series house papers and memorabilia documenting Burns' career, including photocopies of two handwritten journals (1969-1974) kept by Burns during the Nixon Administration; several folders of early research and teaching materials; honors and awards received by Burns; personal correspondence, clippings, and other materials; lectures, speeches, and articles from Burns's career as economist and ambassador; photographs of Burns, his wife Helen, and political figures and celebrities attending events; publicity items such as news clippings, interviews, and articles about Burns; and program materials for the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship, an exchange program for German and US media professionals.

The great majority of the Burns papers are in English, but there are roughly ten items in German and a few items in French and Russian (Cyrillic script).

National security classified materials were reviewed and declassified by the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives in 2015. Declassified documents are clearly marked as such.

Biographical / historical:

Arthur Frank Burns (1904-1987) was a white Austrian-American government and academic economist who was born into an Austro-Hungarian Jewish family in Stanislau, Galicia (now part of Ukraine). His family immigrated to the US in 1914 and settled in New Jersey. He received an AB and AM degrees in 1925 and a PhD in 1934 (under the supervision of Wesley Chair Mitchell), all in economics and from Columbia University. He taught at Columbia and Rutgers University between 1926-1944.

Burns' economic thought was inspired by Keynes, yet he believed that the Keynesian model was simplistic and totalistic, as each industry had its own cycle, hence government intervention should be taken selectively and upon detailed statistical analysis. He joined the National Bureau of Economics as Research Associate in 1930; in later years he served as the Director of Research (1945-1953), President (1957-1967), and Chairman (1967-1968) of this institution.

Burns's political involvement with the Republican Party began with his support for Eisenhower in 1952. He acted as Chairman of the Council of Advisors to the President (1953-1956), Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Small Business (1956), and as member of US Advisory Council on Social Security Financing (1957-1958).

Burns was also an economic advisor to Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign and acted as the White House economic advisor from 1969-1970. He was appointed Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve on 31 January 1970 and held the position until March 1978. Meanwhile, he also served as the Head of the Committee on Interest and Dividends (1971-1974), a committee founded as part of Nixon's Economic Stabilization Program; as the US Alternate Governor to the International Monetary Fund (1973-1978); and as a member of Emergency Loan Guarantee Board (1971-1978). The Nixon administration took over an economy in crisis, and Burns proposed a recovery program, which in the early days seemed to be effective. This period and his reactions to its crises are well-documented in the correspondence and personal journals found.

Between 1977-1981 and 1985-1987, Burns served as a distinguished scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy, where he taught and wrote. In 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed him US Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, a position he held until 16 May 1985.

He passed away on 26 June 1987 in Baltimore, Maryland. Burns's theories have inspired many economists, including his student Milton Friedman.

Selected Publications:
Date Event
Production Trends in the United States Since 1870
(with Wesley Mitchell) Measuring Business Cycles
Wesley Clair Mitchell: the Economic Scientist
Frontiers of Economic Knowledge
Prosperity without Inflation
(with Paul Samuelson) Full Employment: Guideposts and Economic Stability
Business Cycle in a Changing World
Reflections of an Economic Policy Maker: Speeches and Congressional Statements, 1969-1978
Acquisition information:
The Arthur F. Burns papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as gifts between 2006-2012.
Processing information:

Processed by Yektan Turkyilmaz, December 2009; Elizabeth Shesko, December 2010; Alice Poffinberger, 2011; Levi Crews, 2012; Paula Jeanner, October 2013.

Encoded by Yektan Turkyilmaz and Paula Jeannet, December 2009; Elizabeth Shesko, December 2010.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2006-0050, 2007-0027, 2007-0144, 2008-0013, 2008-0031, 2008-0096, 2009-0004, 2009-0171, 2010-0210, 2011-0116, and 2012-0261.


The Arthur F. Burns papers are arranged into seven series: Correspondence, Honors and Awards, Journals, Personal, Photographs, Printed Material, and Research and Teaching.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Access restricted. Originals of high-value correspondence (ex., signed by presidents) are stored separately and restricted for use except under direct staff supervision. Photocopies of these items are available in boxes 1-3, and they can also be requested for digitization. Contact Research Services for access.

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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the Rubenstein Library's Citations, Permissions, and Copyright guide.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Arthur F. Burns papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.