William Loeb Jr. was the eldest son born to German émigrés in Albany, New York, on October 9, 1866. In his teenage years, Loeb began working as a messenger for telephone companies, presses, and newspapers. Because law school was expensive, Loeb chose to study stenography. However, he did take additional courses in law, medicine, and shorthand, with the intent of making himself a well-rounded court reporter.
Loeb worked in many different administrative capacities from stenographer to secretary. He sometimes worked in three positions at the same time, all the while serving as an active member in Albany politics and the Republican Party. In the early 1890s, he worked as the secretary for J. Sloat Fassett, a New York state senator and collector at the Port of New York. Loeb was also given special assignments for the Grand Jury of Albany County and Governor’s Office. It was while working as a part-time stenographer for the New York Governor’s Office that Loeb became acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt.
Loeb quickly became Roosevelt’s favorite stenographer; Roosevelt was known for giving hours of dictation and Loeb was known for his skill and patience. Between them, a trust and friendship developed that would carry through their careers. In 1899, Loeb became Governor Roosevelt’s full-time stenographer and, occasionally, his substitute secretary. In 1901, Loeb became the stenographer for Vice President Roosevelt. Then, after William McKinley’s death (news that was personally delivered to Roosevelt by Loeb), Loeb became the assistant secretary to President Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt standing behind desk, facing slightly left, with Presidential Secretary William Loeb. May 17, 1902. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.
In Roosevelt’s effort to maintain the administration of William McKinley, he continued to work with McKinley’s secretary, George Cortelyou. However, when Cortelyou was offered a cabinet position, in 1903, Loeb finally became the secretary to the president of the United States. While in the White House, Loeb was akin to a modern day “press secretary.” He screened phones calls, correspondence, and visitors, and became a point of contact between the media and the president. Politicians and citizens felt that they could “tell it to Loeb” to gain support for their cause. And, when public response was negative, the administration felt that they could “blame it on Loeb,” and he would bear the brunt of public opinion in stride.
Among Loeb’s administrative duties, he coordinated special events such as speaking engagements and parades in accordance with the president’s preferences. Loeb often traveled with Roosevelt and sometimes with the Roosevelt family. When the administration took to Sagamore Hill in the summertime, Loeb worked from an office on Long Island. Throughout his presidency, Roosevelt relied on Loeb’s judgment; and, during hours of dictation, he remained open to Loeb’s comments and advice. The greatest instance of Roosevelt acting upon Loeb’s advice was the initiation of a fraud investigation between the companies of the Sugar Trust and the New York Customs House. This investigation resulted in the uncovering of many forms of fraud within the Sugar Trust and the return of millions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury.
In line with his experience, Loeb was appointed as collector to the Port of New York shortly after Roosevelt’s presidency ended. He enforced reform in the customs house and then stepped back from politics and into business. From 1913-1934, Loeb worked as the vice president of the American Smelting and Refining Company. As he stepped back from politics, he purchased a house on Long Island, where he easily maintained his friendship with Roosevelt. Beside his friendships and professional affiliations, there were many organizations Loeb supported. He was a lifelong mason, member of the National Republican Club, and a vice president to the National Roosevelt Memorial Association. Loeb upheld civic responsibilities to his last day, September 19, 1937.
Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. New York: Random House, 2002.
Koenig, Louis W. The Invisible Presidency. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography. A Da Capo Paperback. New York: Da Capo Press, 1985.
Special to the New York Times. “WILLIAM LOEB, 70, EXECUTIVE, IS DEAD.” New York Times (1923-Current File). 1937, Sep 20. http://proxy.dsu.nodak.edu:2048/docview/102283138?accountid=33848