Arthur Vining Davis

Industrialist

Written by Debrah Lovan

February 26, 2022

On Thanksgiving Day, 1888 the first commercial aluminum was poured in Pittsburgh PA.  Through the efforts of two men, in a small  workshop, the future empire of ALCOA began.  Charles Martin Hall, financed by Alfred Hunt and the then named  Pittsburgh Reduction Co, succeeded in producing aluminum by the electrolytic process.  Helping Hall was a young man named Arthur Vining Davis, the first employee.  From the hands-on position of lab assistant, Davis rose through the ranks from General Manager of Pittsburgh Reduction  to President of ALCOA to Chairman of the Board and largest Stockholder. 

As President of Alcoa(1910-1928), it was Arthur Davis who negotiated the purchase of  Badin’s Southern Aluminium from the French in 1912.  Davis and Adrien Badin, we believe, had met each other professionally prior to this deal.  The story goes that the deal was made between Davis and a representative of Southern Aluminium on the course at Pinehurst. 

One of Davis’ main roles as Chairman for 30 years (1928-1958) was to represent ALCOA in fights with the U.S. Justice Department regarding Antitrust issues.  The first case was filed in 1912 accusing the aluminum company of unfair practices to create and maintain a monopoly.  The last case was in court in 1937.  Davis was praised by all for his dogged defense of the Company.  The press named him a “desk thumping tycoon”.

Another important role for Davis was to develop  a market for aluminum.  When other companies refused to make aluminum cookware ALCOA created the WearEver Division to make their own.  When companies refused to make aluminum wire ALCOA created its own production facility.  The engine for Wright Brothers plane was aluminum; built by ALCOA. Davis is credited with being able to foresee a potential market and being persistent and innovative to develop it when no one else would. 

Arthur Davis was awarded the Presidential Certificate of Merit for his leadership during WWII.  During that period ALCOA’s focus was ensuring that the government had adequate supplies of aluminum to win the war.  During this period it became clear how the lightweight metal could transform everyday and military items. 

Through his career Arthur Vining Davis not only built massive wealth for ALCOA.  He also built a massive personal fortune.   When he retired as Chairman of the Board he was recognized as the third richest individual in the world.  At his death in 1962  he left a $400 million estate.  He had no children.  Most of the estate went to the  Arthur Vining Davis Foundation and to support a model town he had developed in Quebec, named ARVIDA.  [AR(Arthur)VI(Vining)DA(Davis)]

He also had extensive real estate investments in Miami and Cuba.  

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