Any list of the most innovative and successful contributors to American industrial growth and Florida land development during the first half of the twentieth century would have to include Arthur Vining Davis. A Massachusetts native and the son of a Congregational minister, Mr. Davis led with determination in the business world.
An Early Life
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, generating outputs that were 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. But 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 pillars 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. He also provided significant support to the University of Miami, where he was a Trustee from 1953 to 1962. 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 were reflected throughout his professional and personal life. Throughout his life, Mr. Davis displayed a charitable spirit, first formalizing his philanthropy in 1952 by creating a living trust. Adopting a philosophy of giving that was both broad and pragmatic, he directed his foundation to make grants that would strengthen America’s future.
Through his will he established two more charities that, in conjunction with the first, would collectively become the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Since that time the Foundations have given over 3,800 grants totaling more than $300 million to many organizations, including colleges and universities, public media organizations, hospitals, medical schools, and divinity schools.
Arthur Vining Davis resigns from active management of Alcoa, moves to Coral Gables, Florida, and embarks on a real estate career, buying large tracts of land in Florida that included the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Image caption: The 365-acre resort was modeled after a Spanish castle
Arthur Vining Davis officially retires from Alcoa. The press release reads, “Arthur Vining Davis, the only living American who has seen and participated in every chapter of the aluminum industry’s history in the United States, has resigned as Chairman of the Board and as a director of Aluminum Company of America.”
Image caption for photo 1958-1: Logo from press release announcing Mr. Davis' retirement
Capstone funding from AVDF is crucial to completion of Ken Burn’s The Civil War, a documentary series that earned more than 40 major film and television honors, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a Peabody Award.