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2014 marks 70th Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference



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The Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods looks as impressive today as it when 730 delegates from 44 nations arrived at this remote location in July 1944 for an international monetary conference to try to ensure post-war financial stability across the globe. The Fabyan railroad station where many foreigners arrived by train was apparently dubbed "the Tower of Babel on wheels." (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
August 19, 2014
2014 marks 70th Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference

By Edith Tucker

This summer marks the 70th Anniversary of the three-week-long Bretton Woods Monetary Conference that started on July 1, 1944, at the Mount Washington Hotel. The name of the small New Hampshire town drew delegates from 44 nations to make it a truly international Conference has become shorthand for "enlightened globalization," according to economist Benn Steil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The hotel, now named the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, is one of two historic Grand Hotels in the North Country that remains open.

Wealthy visitors patronized the hotel from the time it first opened its doors in 1902, but hosting the monetary conference a year before the end of World War II provided the Grande Dame with a special cachet and a recognizable brand across the globe. The attention that the Conference brought to the hotel, the White Mountains region and to the Granite State has been of lasting importance.

"Generally, when we think about the Bretton Woods Conference, we refer to the impact it had on international economic policies and relations during and after World War II," pointed out Steve Hilliard, a Lancaster native who serves as the resort's managing director. "However, we cannot overstate the importance of the Conference on our region and The Mount Washington Hotel."

"After all," Hilliard explained, "the hotel had been closed due to the War, and was in a state of disrepair. In order to make the hotel ready to host the Conference, the U.S. government made significant repairs and painted the entire building.

"Many people think it is very possible that the Hotel might never have reopened after the War had that costly renovation not taken place.

"In addition, the hotel and our region were highlighted on the world stage which had a very positive impact on travel after the War, leading to a resurgence in post-war tourism in the region.

"Even today, we have visitors from all over the world who come to see the Gold Room where the Articles of Agreement setting up the International Monetary Fund were actually signed," the managing director pointed out.

"Right after Labor Day there is another conference featuring guests and speakers from around the world who will discuss today's international economic issues and challenges. The group hosting the conference (http://www.centerforfinancialstability.org) has titled it 'Bretton Woods 2014: The Founders and the Future.'"

Hilliard concluded, "So, as you can see, the legacy lives on, and we are honored to play a supporting role."

World leaders in times of financial crisis still evoke "the memory of 'Bretton Woods,' the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century's second great war, to do what had never been attempted before: to design a global monetary system, to be managed by an international body," Ben Steil points out in Chapter I of his award-winning re-examination of the Conference, "The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order," published in 2013 by Princeton University Press.

Steil writes, "Robust economic recovery in the 1950's and '60's served to make Bretton Woods synonymous with visionary, cooperative international reform.

"Seven decades on, at a time of great global financial and economic stress, it is perhaps not surprising that blueprints for revamping the international monetary system … all hark back to Bretton Woods, and the years of Keynes-White debate that defined it."

The hotel's attitude toward sightseers or day-trippers has varied over the years, but the current management team's attitude is one of welcome, based on its pride in the hotel's very attractive appearance and offerings as well, perhaps, as its availability as an elegant wedding venue.

"We're happy to have people come to see the Gold Room where they can look at photographs taken during the Conference and the table at which documents were signed," said Director of Marketing Craig Clemmer. "They're welcome to look around the hotel's impressive lobby — originally named the Assembly Hall — and to enjoy the many photographs of the hotel's construction and various of its summer activities. And they're free to visit the Grand Ballroom where delegates from 44 countries met as well as the Conservatory, unless these two spaces have been reserved for private parties."

The hotel's famous 903-foot-long Veranda, which commands marvelous views of Mount Washington, the Presidential Range and Crawford Notch as well as the Rosebrook Range, where many of the Conference delegates enjoyed working, is also open to the public.

The hotel has restaurants that range in price from relatively modest to high end, including drinks on the Veranda.

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