The World According to Luther Gulick


We all know who this is, right?

Of course — Arnold J. Toynbee, the prolific British historian (1889-1975) renowned for his majestic opus, “A Study of History” that traced the rise and fall of 26 civilizations in 12 volumes. He graced the cover of Time the week of March 17, 1947. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_J._Toynbee

Why are we telling you this?

Because Luther Gulick (who knew everyone) consulted Toynbee during World War II for his thoughts on the global cataclysm. How long was the world likely to be in turmoil? Gulick asked the most famous living historian in 1941. (Gulick himself guessed three or four generations. ) So he was taken aback when Toynbee answered 300 to 400 years.

Both were wildly off, we now know. Within four years, the Allies had vanquished the Axis and set the world on the path to peace and unprecedented prosperity, through many zigs and zags.

But it looked mighty gloomy to Gulick as he sat down at the end of 1948 to compose his annual Christmas letter to his sons Clarence and Halsey (Luther Jr.) and their families. The hot war was over but the cold war was just beginning. Jan Masaryk, the Czech patriot who had worked closely with Gulick to write a constitution for his homeland in the years after World War I, was dead, fallen — or thrown –from a window. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/2014/11/and-thanks-for-the-binoculars/

Soviet-encircled Berlin had narrowly escaped strangulation, saved only by an American airlift. Chiang Kai Shek had fled Mao’s China for Taiwan.

The Generalissimo and Madame

Everywhere Gulick looked, “the revolution was on” as a scary new world struggled to be born.

In an insight that looks extraordinarily perceptive nearly seven decades later, Gulick saw America as the victim of its success, amid “the spread of materialism and technology without a corresponding advance of ethical and moral standards and sanctions.”

Here we were, with more than half the productive power of a war-savaged world, “so over-important and yet so underexposed to the real problems” that we were being dragged along into an dangerous and uncertain future.




Letters, We Get Letters!

To Luther Gulick, he was simply and affectionately “Chief” — long before Herbert Hoover became the 31st President. The two had met around 1915 when Luther was a young graduate student of government at Columbia University and Hoover was leading President Wilson’s wartime Food Administration. Gulick was soon to enter government service himself, as a military statistician.

Pacific and Atlantic/1930









We learned more about their friendship from an extraordinary trove of family letters given us by Gulick’s nephew Denny, who recently visited the Archives with Gulick’s grandaughters Leslie and Lisa, children of Gulick’s son Luther Jr.

We see, for example, that Gulick and his wife, Helen, socialized with Hoover in his apartment in the Waldorf Astoria in 1963, celebrating publication of Hoover’s whimsical book on fly fishing.


Hoover, who sat on Gulick’s board at the Institute of Public Administration, reminisced about his dashing exploits in fin de siecle China, Russia and Egypt and shared his assessments of leaders from Wilson to Harry Truman. You can read Gulick’s full account here:



We’ll be posting much more from the letters — and many others already in our files — in days and weeks ahead.