Byron Price · 1979

By Paulette Sauders

On March 25, 1891, Byron Price was born in Topeka, Indiana, a rural, Amish-Mennonite community in North Central Indiana. His father, John Price, was a farmer and his mother, Emaline, a homemaker. His ancestry has been traced back to Thomas Price who came from Wales in 1634.

As a lad, Byron attended the Topeka public schools and was graduated from Topeka High School in 1908. He then enrolled at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana. While still a student there, he served as a cub reporter for the Crawfordsville Journal Review and for the Indianapolis Star and News.

He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa while at Wabash.

After earning his B.A. degree at Wabash College in 1912, he got a job with the United Press. From May until December 1912, he was a reporter and editor for U.P. in the Chicago and Omaha bureaus. In December 1912, he joined the Associated Press, and stayed with that organization for 29 years — until December 1941. He served as a day editor for the Atlanta Bureau, then acting correspondent and bureau chief in New Orleans, and was transferred next to Washington, D.C.

In 1917, during World War I, Price took a leave of absence from the AP’s Washington Office, and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served as a first lieutenant and then as a captain in the 52nd pioneer infantry. While serving in France, his regiment was cited for conspicuous service in the Meuse-Argonne offensive which helped to end the war. After mustering out of the army in 1919, he rejoined the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press.

At age 29, on April 3, 1920, Byron Price married Priscilla Alden in New York City. She was the daughter of William F. Alden, a Washington, D.C. lawyer. They never had any children.

In 1922, Price was promoted to news editor of the Washington Bureau and then in 1927 was made chief of that bureau. After ten years as chief of the Washington AP office, in 1937, the AP’s general manager chose him to be executive news editor of the entire organization. He served in that position, with headquarters in New York City, until 1941.

On the twenty-ninth anniversary of the day he was hired by the Associated Press — December 16, 1941 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Price Director of Censorship following the outbreak of World War II. Taking a leave of absence from the Associated Press, he moved back to Washington, D.C., to assume his new position. There he discovered that office space was so crowded due to the war that he had to set up his office in the Post Office building.

Under Price’s direction, the office quickly hired 13,000 men and women civilians through the Civil Service Commission to examine the mails and cables in ports and border cities. In addition, he hired about twenty newspapermen and broadcasters to supervise the domestic press and radio “voluntary” censorship. The entire staff eventually numbered 14,500, and Price organized the total program.

After the war was over and the Censorship Office abolished, in August 1945, President Truman appointed Price his personal representative to investigate post-war conditions in Germany. Truman especially wanted him to report on relations between American occupation forces and the German people. He also served as an adviser to Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lucius D. Clay, from September to November 1945.

In December 1945, Byron Price was appointed vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. In 1946, he added the titles of chairman of the board for the Association of Motion Picture Productions, president of the Central Casting Corporation, first vice president of the Educational Films Research Corporation, and director of the Hollywood Coordinating Committee.

Just before his fifty-sixth birthday, in 1947, Price left his $75,000 a year job with the Motion Picture Association to become Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations for Administrative and Financial Affairs. He was the only American among eight assistant secretary-generals. Given the job because of his past record of efficiency in administrative work, Price was to supervise the arrangements for construction of the new United Nations building in New York City. He also was in charge of all the staff members who worked for the U.N.
In the Current Biography volume on 1942, Byron Price was described as being blond, five feet ten and a half inches tall, and 190 pounds. He played golf for relaxation, was a member of the Methodist Church, as well as many other press clubs and organizations. He died August 6, 1981, at his Hendersonville, N.C. home at age 90.

Journalistic Contributions:
Byron Price’s newspaper work took him into all fields of governmental, political, and diplomatic activities. In his jobs with the syndicated press associations, he covered eleven national conventions and the news in such major cities as Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Omaha, and Washington, D.C.

For many years, he wrote a twice weekly column for the Associated Press entitled “Politics at Random,” and a column for Sunday papers, “The Week in Washington.”

His rise within the ranks of the Associated Press was indicative of his administrative abilities. He moved from reporter in 1912 to day editor, news editor (1922), and chief of the Washington, D.C. bureau (1927), before becoming executive editor in charge of news, he had the complete responsibility for four years for the Associated Press’ daily news reports of 250,000 words. He was head of what was then the world’s biggest staff of foreign correspondents. Price was praised for his ability to handle reporters under him and for pushing for strictly objective reporting with no bias.

Though his job as Director of Censorship during World War II seemed to be a political position, it still was a journalistic one. Price was chosen for his interest and experience in gathering and disseminating the news, not for his politics. Before he was even suggested for the job, managing editors of many U.S. newspapers were asking him how they should hand war time news.

Many journalists felt he did a fine job through the Office of Censorship of maintaining an informed public and preserving the democratic processes while making sure no information was published or broadcast that might be of value to the enemies. Instead of channeling all war information through him or his office (as was done in World War I), Price continued the usual news channels. Newspaper reporters still went to their usual sources of information, and government departments and agencies still issued press releases. But each department had been given a list of what was not to be published. He asked journalists voluntarily not to print news of troop and ship movements, of sabotage, and of rumors about negotiations. He never tried to regulate or discourage editorial comment and criticism of government in any newspapers.

Byron Price was given a number of awards for his journalistic work over the years. In 1946, for example, President Truman awarded him the Medal for Merit, the highest civilian decoration the President can give. The citation read in part, “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services as director, Office of Censorship.”

Wabash College conferred upon him an honorary LL.D. degree in 1943 for his journalistic achievements, and Harvard University gave him an honorary M.A. degree in 1946.

In 1944, Columbia University presented to him a special Pulitzer citation for the creation and administration of the newspaper and radio censorship codes. The American Society of Newspaper Editors and ten other associations of the press, radio, and photographers gave him special commendatory citations in 1945 and 1946.

Other Contributions:
After Price’s work as Director of Censorship, most of the rest of his positions did not involve journalism.

His short stint in 1945 as President Truman’s representative to occupied Germany was diplomatic in nature and an important piece of work right after the devastation of World War II.

He had so proven his worth as an administrator while he was with the Associated Press and the Office of Censorship that other organizations then sought his efficient leadership.

That’s why he was appointed in 1945 as vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. In that position, he oversaw the industry’s attempt to handle research, legislation, labor relations, public relations, and the voluntary codes regulating the moral content of films and advertising.

Even though it paid well, Price left that position in 1947 to do more administrative work as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations for Administrative and Financial Affairs. The U.N. Secretary-General selected him because of his efficient administrative record. At the time he joined the United Nations, he had to deal with the U.N. staff members’ discontent over salaries and overtime, as well as with their alleged inefficiency. There was a financial crisis at the U.N. when he war appointed. But one of the bigger jobs he had to undertake in his new position was the supervision of the construction of the new U.N. building in New York.


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