“Energy Czar” William Simon, as “Energy Czar,” discussing an energy conference with President Nixon on 9 February 1974.
On 8 May 1974, William Simon was sworn in as the 63rd Secretary of the Treasury after serving in the Nixon Administration as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and as the head of the Federal Energy Administration. He would later serve in the Carter and Ford Administrations but developed a life-long friendship with President Nixon.
At first glance, Simon and President Nixon appear to have had little in common. Born into wealth, Simon’s early life contrasted greatly with RN’s humble beginnings in Yorba Linda, California.
The young Simon, however, would face his own trial by fire. In 1936, Simon’s mother died due to complications of appendicitis and soon thereafter, the Great Depression exhausted his father’s financial reserves and he relied heavily on family for economic support.
While attending four different high schools in four years, Simon obtained his first job selling magazines and quickly learned the importance of hard work. In his post-high school years, he joined the military and served in an infantry battalion in Japan. He later graduated from Lafayette College and took jobs with Union Securities and Weeden and Company before becoming a senior partner with Salomon Brothers.
Through his work at Salomon Brothers, he befriended Attorney General of the United States John M. Mitchell and quickly appeared on the Nixon Administration’s recruitment radar. Special Assistant Fred Malek quickly recognized Simon’s drive and skill, and recruited him as Deputy Secretary to Secretary of the Treasury, George Shultz. As Secretary Shultz told Simon, “The President and I both feel that what’s needed is a man without any built in prejudices or vested interests. You are a businessman. You know markets.”
While serving as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Simon also headed the Oil Policy Committee and sought to achieve energy independence for the United States.
In October of 1973, the Nixon Administration provided military assistance to Israel during the Yom Kippur War and in response, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) instituted an embargo which raised the price of oil by 70 percent, triggering a global energy crisis. By December 1973, President Nixon established the Federal Energy Office and appointed Simon as the first “Energy Czar,” and Simon described his role as “Exploring ways of developing new sources of natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear energy.” He often clashed with Congress and challenged the mandatory rationing policy and the printing of rationing stamps, later writing, “The government in general and Congress in particular were responsible for the energy crisis.”
Simon encouraged conservation and established rationing procedures, but eventually flooded the oil market with exports, concluding there was “no real shortage of oil, just a supply and demand imbalance caused largely by the allocation program, price controls, and burdensome regulations.” By 18 March 1974, OPEC lifted the embargo.
After his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury in May of 1974, he would go on to serve Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
In 1981, President Nixon chose Simon to serve as the President of the Richard Nixon Foundation and ultimately, Simon played an invaluable leadership role in fundraising, institutional planning, and the building of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.
Four years after the opening of the Library, Simon spoke at the 25th Anniversary of RN’s 1969 Presidential inauguration and revisited the immense challenges of the times, recalling, “When Richard Nixon took the Oath that harnesses each President to that loneliest, most awesome responsibility in the free world, he walked straight into the fires of adversity.”
To thunderous applause, he spoke highly of the Library he helped build, noting “Well, generations to come will visit this place and remember that the man born in the simple, white house behind you helped make this world freer and safer for mankind.”
Ladies and gentleman, Richard Nixon led America.
He led America out of the quagmire of Vietnam. He led our POWs home with honor. And he led the way to the creation of fundamentally new and better relationships with the Soviet Union and China.
It was Richard Nixon who effectively ended the draft. Who won approval of the 26th Amendment to the constitution, giving 18 year olds the right to vote and who foresaw, and proposed, far reaching welfare reforms that seem prescient today.
And as he did, he sought support from a wide diversity of people. But, unlike so many today, he did not pursue diversity for the sake of diversity alone.
He sought out brilliant people, he searched for superior minds and ideas and, indeed, for people with the courage to challenge conventional thinking, so that their leadership could inspire, enrich and complement his own.
George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Arthur Burns—they were the “A Team” of a generation—and we honor them today as well.
I was honored to be called to serve with them in the Nixon cabinet. Some went on from the Nixon administration to serve in the cabinets of successive Presidents.
Rarely will you find such a concentration of vision, talent, and courage as among that group of men and women before me.
Perhaps most compelling, Simon reflected on the 37th President’s fighting spirit, stating, “But, to the discomfort and chagrin of many of his critics, he did not permit the tragedies that befell him to destroy the Presidency or to destroy himself. Lesser men would have given up the fight. Richard Nixon never did—and Richard Nixon never will.”
Like the President, Simon never quit fighting. Before his passing on 3 June 2000, he served on the Nixon Foundation’s Board of Directors and played an instrumental role in the development and expansion of the Nixon Library and Birthplace.