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Leon Henderson, First Head of OPA, Dies

October 25, 1986|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Leon Henderson, the nation's first head of the Office of Price Administration when that inflation-curbing agency was created at the outset of World War II, died Sunday in a Carlsbad retirement center. He was 91 and had lived there since 1981.

Henderson was a seasoned economist whose New Deal credentials dated to the early 1930s. He was named to the Securities and Exchange Commission as a successor to William O. Douglas when Douglas was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939.

He had first joined Roosevelt's economic team in 1934 as an adviser to the National Recovery Administration, one of the groups trying to restore prosperity during the Great Depression.

He was among the first to predict both the 1936 economic boom and the subsequent 1937 recession; was named secretary to the Senate Committee on Manufactures and was economist for the Democratic National Committee in 1936 when Roosevelt first ran for reelection.

He also worked as a counselor to the Works Project Administration and the Temporary National Economic Committee, a congressional group credited with a sweeping examination of monopolies.

Yet he remained largely unknown outside Washington until the Office of Price Administration was created in 1941. As OPA director, he became responsible for establishing price controls and rationing while controlling the domestic inflation that World War II began to generate.

His name became anathema to Americans not off fighting the war as they battled the rationing of fuel oil, shoes, gasoline, tires, sugar, coffee, canned and frozen food and meat and dairy products. He resigned in 1943 but after the war was named to handle economic affairs in the U.S.-controlled portion of Germany.

In 1948 he was at the forefront of an anti-Truman movement that unsuccessfully sought to persuade Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to seek the Democratic nomination for President.

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