1974 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"There is no way to make any headway, to have any kind of success in the world of the future, unless you are well prepared."
The son of a sharecropper, Andrew Brimmer grew up in the 1930s in a small, poor, and racially segregated farm town called Newellton, which is located on the Mississippi River in Louisiana. To earn extra money, his mother raised chickens and cows, and Andrew and his siblings picked cotton. Brimmer's parents had high standards and values, and their constant encouragement instilled self-confidence in him. "My parents encouraged me to stay in school," he says. "They wanted me to do something that was worthwhile."
The Depression that gripped the nation in the 1930s was especially hard on the South, where the boll weevil invaded and pillaged most of the local cotton crop. Eventually, Brimmer's father found a job in a grain warehouse. His mother's side business with cows and chickens showed her to be the entrepreneur of the family. "She taught me perseverance and drive," says Brimmer. "My father didn't have a lot of education, but he always understood the role of education and put the stress on education and good behavior." Brimmer attended an all-black high school 13 miles from his home. He was inspired by an English teacher to think about a journalism career, but his school only went through the 11th grade. Brimmer saw no future for himself in Newellton so he moved to Bremerton, Washington, to live with one of his sisters and her husband. He worked as an electrician's helper in the Bremerton Navy Yard and continued taking journalism courses at a nearby school. One year later, in 1945, he entered the Army. Upon his discharge in 1947, Bremerton enrolled at the University of Washington. He had developed an interest in economics and made that his major. He graduated in 1950 and earned a master's degree the following year. His academic skills earned him a Fulbright Fellowship, which took him to the University of Delhi and the University of Bombay in India. Upon his return, he earned his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1957.
After three years of working as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Brimmer joined the faculty of Michigan State University as an assistant professor of economics. He later taught at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1963, he was named deputy assistant secretary for economic policy review, and in 1965 he was promoted to assistant secretary for economic affairs in the U. S. Department of Commerce. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the Federal Reserve Board, where he served for eight years. He then returned to teaching at Harvard.
Today, Brimmer owns the Washington, D. C., consulting firm of Brimmer and Company, Inc. Brimmer believes education is the key to success. "There's no way to make any headway, to have any kind of success in the world of the future, unless you are well prepared," he says.