William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook (May 25, 1879 - June 9, 1964) was a Canadian-British business tycoon and politician.
He was born in Maple, Ontario, Canada and at an early age his family moved to Newcastle, New Brunswick, the place he would always call home and where, at the age of thirteen, he published his first newspaper. Although he wrote the entrance examinations for Dalhousie University and registered at the St. John Law School, he did not attend either institution. His only formal higher education came when he briefly attended the University of New Brunswick.
As a young man, he made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia where John F. Stairs, part of the city's dominant business family, gave him employment at his newly formed Royal Securities Corporation. Under the tutelage of Stairs, who would be his mentor and lifelong friend, Aitken engineered a number of large business deals and mega-mergers.
Soon, Aitken moved to England, where he bought and later sold control of the Rolls-Royce automobile company and began to build a London newspaper empire. He often worked closely with Bonar Law, another native of New Brunswick, who became the only Canadian to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In 1911, he was knighted by King George V. During World War I, the Canadian government put him in charge of creating the Canadian War Records Office in London, England and Aitken then made certain that news of Canada's contribution to the War was printed in Canadian and British newspapers. Aitken also established the Canadian War Memorials Fund that evolved into a collection of War art by the premier artists and sculptors in Britain and Canada. His visits to the Western Front during World War I resulted in his 1916 book Canada in Flanders, a three-volume collection that chronicled the achievements of Canadian soldiers on the battlefields. After the War, he wrote several books including Politicians and the Press in 1925 and Politicians and the War in 1928.
Adding to his chain of newspapers, which included the London Evening Standard he bought the failing Daily Express in 1915 for the paltry sum of ₤17,000. Over time, he turned the dull newspaper into a glittering and witty journal, filled with an array of dramatic photo layouts and in 1918, he founded the "Sunday Express." By 1934, daily circulation reached 1,708,000, generating huge profits for Aitken whose wealth was already such that he never took a salary. Following World War II, the Daily Express became the largest selling newspaper in the world, by far, with a circulation of 3,706,000. He would become a "Fleet Street" Baron and one of the most powerful men in Britain whose newspapers could make or break almost anyone. In the 1930s, while personally attempting to dissuade King Edward VIII from continuing his potentially ruinous affair with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, Lord Beaverbrook masterminded the British newspaper conspiracy of silence over their romance.
During World War II, he joined the British cabinet as minister of information and in 1940, Winston Churchill, the new British Prime Minister, would appoint him as minister of aircraft production and minister of supply. Under Aitken, fighter and bomber production increased so much so that Churchill declared: "His personal force and genius made this Aitken's finest hour".
After the war, Lord Beaverbrook served as chancellor of the University of New Brunswick and became the city of Fredericton's and the Province's greatest benefactor. He would provide additions to the University, scholarship funds, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Beaverbrook Skating Rink, the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel (profits donated to charity) and numerous other projects. His statue stands in the park in the town square of Newcastle, not far from where he sold newspapers as a young boy.