Averell Harriman – In Seattle in 1948?

Averell Harriman as a very young coach at Yale, in 1913. Picture: Library of Congress.

24 January 2018

The other day, HTBS received an e-mail from Bob Koch in Brier, Washington. In his e-mail, Bob sent along a link to a 5.44 minutes long rowing video on YouTube.com, called “Opening of Boating Montlake 1940s”. Bob is certain that the video is from ‘about 1948-49 of rowing on Lake Washington,’ he writes. Bob continues, ‘Several sequences include the 1948 Olympic 4+ champion Warren Westlund at stroke. The event seems to have been an intercollegiate race in Seattle.’

Bob thinks that he has spotted another rowing personality in this video. At about 3:30 minutes, a man is being interviewed, who, Bob writes, ‘I believe is Averell Harriman, once the coach at Yale and later ambassador to Great Britain and governor of New York, in addition to other diplomatic posts.’

Is it Averell Harriman we see in the video? By 1948, he was back in the USA. Take a look here:

This is not the first time Harriman is mentioned on HTBS. In May 2014, Tim Koch (no relations to Bob Koch) wrote about him in a two-piece article. Read it here.


  1. This footage is vexing, and I have been trying to track down the original film for a while. Certainly Seattle, postwar 1940’s… but when? Was it a specific year or several? I believe it is 1947, because of Westlund stroking the boat with Rod Johnson behind him. That was the configuration of the undefeated U.W. Freshman boat of 1947, but not, to the best of my knowledge, repeated in their varsity years (1948-50), at least in a major race (Westlund, the 1948 Olympic champion in the 4+, never made the varsity eight at Washington!). Johnson was the perennial varsity 7-seat his sophomore, junior and senior years, winning two national championships in 1948 and 1950. His 1948 national champion V8+ lost the most heartbreaking defeat in Washington Rowing history when they fell to Cal by less than three feet.

    The massive, twelve-boats-across race at the end of this reel is another big clue. In late June of 1947, the second and final installation of the 2000m “Lake Washington Regatta” was the only race on record to feature more than 10 shells that included both Harvard and Yale, who did not compete in the I.R.A. regatta in those days. Eleven crews came from the east on the Olympia Hiawatha to compete in the race, including: Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Penn. In this race, Al Ulbrickson raced his freshman crew (with Westlund and Johnson in stroke pair) as his varsity, after they defeated the varsity and junior varsity boats in a time trial.

    Harvard (coached by Tom Bolles, Ulbrickson’s former U.W. teammate and assistant coach, hired away by the Ivy after the 1936 U.W. Olympic victory) won the race in the fastest 2K in history, a remarkable 5:49.1, with the Yale varsity back a length in second and the Washington freshman a hiccup behind in the show slot. The diminutive Frank Cunningham, who went on to be a founding father in rowing in the Pacific Northwest, stroked the victorious Crimson eight.

    I’ve seen a few still photos of the finish of this race and they seem to match the finish at the end of this video. There are other photos matching this start footage, taken from the Goodyear Blimp, present at the event, which is an indication of its prominence on the national sporting scene. As to W. Averell Harriman’s presence, I’m a bit dubious, but if there ever were a time for him to venture west this most certainly would have been the event. The man interviewed in the reel does not seem to resemble Secretary Harriman (he was, at this time, Truman’s Secretary of Commerce) very closely. And his hat is cheap, which would have been very much out of character for the dapper banker/diplomat. His features do not seem to match other photographs of the time (look at the earlobes and nose structures). Have a look at him interviewed at Heathrow in 1948 in this reel, also on YouTube (the video repository of all human history!) and see what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KzJ93s3tUI. In any event, this video shines a light on one of the most remarkable events in American Collegiate rowing, the 1947 conflagration of every single top crew in the country, lining up twelve across a flat, fair body of water, and racing two kilometers for the undisputed crown as fastest crew in the nation. This might have been the only time that happened… suppose I should write a complete article about it for HTBS one of these days?

  2. I agree that this shows William Averell Harriman, a former Yale coach and a man who served nine Presidents, from Roosevelt to Reagan. He started 1948 as Truman’s Secretary of Commerce but by April he was Ambassador-at-large to the Marshall Plan countries. The online Truman Library has a chronological summary of Harriman’s remarkable political career https://www.trumanlibrary.org/profile/viewpro.php?pid=87 and also a wonderful collection of photographs https://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/index.php?browse=People&nameid=945 relevant to his service in the the administration of the 33rd President (it is also a reminder of a time when the Presidency was conducted with dignity and when the free world looked to it for inspiration).


  3. Hi… Enjoyed the piece on Harriman. Believe he was a Groton School grad and head of USOC for a number of years. I’ve seen his name on the chapel wall at Groton. All the best. Bob Madden

    Sent from my iPad


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