Mount Washington Hotel, White Mountains, Bretton Woods New Hampshire
This finest of all White Mountain hotels opened to the public on August 1 , 1902. Numbered among its famous guests were Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Mary Pickford, and Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. Today it is a beautifully maintained hostelry operated for over 100 years in much the same style for a clientele that returns year after year.
Though at their heyday at the turn of the 20th century, there were thirty such hotels throughout the White Mountains, today only five survive. (The Balsams in Dixville Notch, Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, Mountain View House in Whitefield, and Eagle Mountain House and Wentworth Hall in Jackson).
When the Mount Washington Hotel opened in 1902, it was the largest spa in the White Mountains, 170 miles north of Boston. Its guests enjoyed a service ratio of two-to-one, a ticker-tape augmented by a telephone office, and recreational facilities on 10,000 acres. The hotel, in turn, enjoyed a daily per capita rate of $20, four times the standard rate for the American plan (a room and three meals), plus the profitable prospect of a lengthy stay by its guests, most of them from New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. The hotel's coach-and-six met 50 trains a day, ferrying guests, trunks, and servants to the 352-room Spanish Renaissance structure. Isolation and scale made it a choice location for an international gathering, known as the Bretton Woods Conference, in July 1944, while World War II was still raging. Economists, lawyers, and politicians from many nations gathered to chart a blueprint for the world's monetary system.
During three weeks of meetings at Bretton Woods they produced an agreement that established the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, better known as the World Bank, and set up a system of fixed exchange rates that lasted for almost 30 years before it was formally abandoned in March 1973.
Hobart Rowan, economics writer for the Washington Post, recalled: ”This little village of 300 was ill-prepared in 1944 for the invasion by 730 delegates from many countries, including such world figures as the famous economist, John Maynard Keynes, who headed the British delegation, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and Soviet, Chinese, and other dignitaries and their entourages. In fact, how Bretton Woods came to be selected for the conference site tended to be something of a mystery.
Edward M. Bernstein, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explained in an interview that, in addition to the the obvious need for a hotel with a large number of rooms, and one in a relatively cool spot because it was summertime, there was a more important reason:
Morgenthau, even as secretary of the Treasury, had had trouble getting into some of the fancy places . . . because he was Jewish. And he was determined that we wouldn't go to any place where there ever was, at that time, any kind of distinction between Jews and non-Jews .... We didn't make a big thing about it at the time.
According to the Littleton, New Hampshire, Courier of June 1, 1944, the hotel, which had not operated during the summer of 1943 and recently had been sold to a group of Boston investors for $1.5 million got a complete face-lifting for the event, the largest meeting of its kind ever held in the White Mountains.
Bernstein noted that, When the conference began, "The world economy, having gone through depression and four years of war, was in a mess." The gold standard had pretty much been the rule until World War I, but then was abandoned completely or partially. The depression had brought viciously high protectionist tariffs, a collapse of commodity prices, and a record shrinkage of world trade. Competitive exchange rate depreciation was the common practice.”
In 1984 the Hotel hosted a "Bretton Woods Revisited" celebration on the 40th Anniversary of the original conference.