Our Founder and History: Arthur Vining Davis, 1867-1962

Any roster of the most innovative and successful contributors to American industrial growth and Florida land development during the first half of the twentieth century would necessarily include Arthur Vining Davis. A Massachusetts native and the son of a Congregational minister, Mr. Davis led with determination in the business world.

Arthur Vining Davis
On the 50th Anniversary of Alcoa's founding, Arthur Vining Davis reenacts pouring aluminum as the company's first employee (1938).

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1888, Mr. Davis joined the Pittsburgh Reduction Company as a shop helper and bookkeeper and quickly rose through the ranks. By 1907 the company had expanded and was renamed the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). Mr. Davis became president and chief executive officer in 1910, and chairman of the board in 1928.

During Mr. Davis' presidency, Alcoa grew in size, profitability, and influence. It became one of the country's most successful corporations, producing 90 percent of all virgin aluminum in the United States. Mr. Davis played a particularly prominent role in the aluminum production drive during World Wars I and II, helping to attain an output vital to the Allied achievement of air superiority. For this work, he was awarded a Presidential Certificate of Merit and a Citation for Patriotic Civilian Service by the Department of the Army.

Although he remained chairman of Alcoa until 1957, Mr. Davis resigned from active management in 1948. While leading Alcoa and serving as director of numerous major corporations, he became interested in Florida and the Bahamas. At the age of 82, Mr. Davis moved his residence to Coral Gables, Florida and embarked on a new career in real estate and other diverse business and philanthropic ventures.

Known for his entrepreneurial spirit and high standards, Mr. Davis began buying vast tracts of undeveloped acreage, soon becoming the most closely watched investor and land owner in the state. His belief in Florida real estate's “inevitable increase in value” was a driving factor in his investments. His purchases of 125,000 acres included one-eighth of Dade County. Mr. Davis also bought 30,000 acres on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, where he developed a resort.

Land was not Mr. Davis’ only interest. While living in Florida, he became owner or part-owner of about thirty Florida enterprises that included shipping companies, a furniture plant, a steel fabricating plant, dairy and vegetable farms, hotels, and an airline.

During his life, Mr. Davis gave generously to a variety of institutions and programs. His first recorded gifts were to colleges and theological institutions which he viewed as the bulwarks of American society, education, and culture. In 1958, he donated 55 acres and more than $1.5 million to establish the  Baptist Hospital of Miami and helped fund the University of Miami.

When Mr. Davis died in 1962 at age 95, he was one of the best known and respected businessmen in the nation. His energy, visionary leadership, and commitment to excellence was reflected throughout his professional and personal life.

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