Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John T. Connor (1965–1967): Secretary of Commerce

John Thomas Connor was born on November 3, 1914, in Syracuse, New York. In 1939, after graduating from Harvard Law School, Connor moved to New York and joined the law firm of Cravath, de Gersdorff, Swaine, and Wood.

After three years in New York, Connor traveled to Washington, D.C., where he took the job of general counsel for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. His major contribution there was helping to initiate a program that coordinated the many laboratories involved in the development and production of penicillin.

Between 1945 and 1947, Connor accepted a job as special assistant to Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal. Connor disassembled the military penicillin program and incorporated it into the private sector. In 1947, he accepted a position with Merck & Company, a large drug manufacturer, as general attorney. By 1955, he had risen through the ranks at Merck and become president. During his ten-year tenure, Merck's investments in foreign plants increased by 450 percent.

Conner also was active in politics, founding the National Independent Committee for Johnson-Humphrey in 1964 and becoming its cochair. Following Johnson's election as President, Connor was appointed secretary of commerce. In that capacity, he was less involved in policy creation and more concerned with promoting administration policies in the business community. He also had less influence in policy areas than Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Gardner Ackley.

Connor spent a majority of his time dealing with the balance of payments deficit, and arguing against a proposed 15 percent tax on American investments abroad. Instead, in his major accomplishment as secretary of commerce, Connor suggested an initiative which called for voluntary business cooperation in efforts to reverse the flow of dollars out of the country. Connor also played a key role in settling the East Coast dock strike in 1965 and the General Electric employees' strike in 1966.

Connor resigned his post in January 1967 to become president of Allied Chemical Corporation. He died on October 6, 2000.