Abbott Washburn

Abbott Washburn. (Image: Public Domain)

Abbott McConnell Washburn Jr. was born on March 1, 1915, in Duluth. His parents were Abbott McConnell Washburn Sr. and Ruby Leslie (Frisk) Washburn. His grandfather was Jed L. Washburn, an important figure in Duluth history. Abbott Sr. was a graduate of Harvard and the University of Minnesota Law School who became the vice president and legal counsel to the First National Bank and Trust Co. of Minneapolis. Abbott Jr. was their only child. In Duluth, the family lived in a house at 2419 East Fifth Street. If he attended public elementary schools, Abbott Jr. would probably have gone to Endion, which was closer to his house than Congdon Park.

The Washburns moved to the Twin Cities around 1929 when Abbott Sr. took a job at First National Bank and Trust Co. of Minneapolis. They lived at 25 East Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis. Abbott Jr. attended the Blake School. In 1933, he began studies at Harvard University and graduated cum laude with a B.A. degree in 1937. After graduation, he took a job as a manager at General Mills Inc. in Minneapolis. He married Mary Brennan on May 12, 1939. He served in the Navy during World War II, assigned to the Office of Strategic Services in Europe. After the war, he returned to General Mills and worked there until 1952. He and Mary had two sons: Abbott Michael and Daniel Norton.

From 1950 to 1952, Abbott served as vice chairman of the Crusade for Freedom Inc., a fund-raising organization seeking donations for rebuilding Europe. In the book The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, author Hugh Wilford argues that the Crusade for Freedom was a front for the CIA to hide funding for the operation of the National Committee for a Free Europe.

In 1952, Abbott served as national director of Citizens for Eisenhower, a presidential campaign organization. In the Eisenhower administration, he served on the President’s Committee for International Information Activities. He was deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency from 1953 to 1961. In that role, he was responsible for the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959 and for encouraging Vice President Richard Nixon to visit the exhibition. It was there that Nixon unexpectedly met with Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev and held what was known as the “kitchen debate” over the technological superiority of their two countries.

In 1962, Abbott formed his own public relations firm in Washington, DC. Then, in 1970, he was appointed by President Nixon as U.S. Representative to the Plenipotentiary Conference on Definitive Arrangements for the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium (INTELSAT). In that position, he was credited with successfully negotiating the 79-nation global communications satellite pact signed in 1971.

Abbott was appointed a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission in 1974 and served in that position until 1982. He advocated for creating bandwidth for cellular telephone development and supported more educational television programming.

Abbott and Mary divorced in 1959. On August 3, 1963, he married Wanda Allender, and they had a daughter, Julia. Abbott died on December 11, 2003, in Washington. Wanda died on January 20, 2004.

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.