Averell Harriman was born in New York City on November 15, 1891, to great wealth, acquired by the Harriman family from the Union Pacific Railroad. AFter graduating from Yale in 1913, he joined the railroad and later bought a shipyard which was the first to produce partially prefabricated ships.
During the Roaring Twenties, Harriman founded and ran a private bank, which merged in 1931 with Brown Brothers. He became chairman of the Union Pacific in 1932.
During the first administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harriman served as an administrator for the NRA (National Recovery Administration). Before the outbreak of World War II, Harriman coordinated Lend-Lease aid to Britain and the USSR. He was ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1943 to 1946, and for seven months in 1946 he was ambassador to Great Britain. He served in a variety of capacities during Truman`s administration, including the position of secretary of commerce from 1946 to 1948 in Truman`s cabinet.
Harriman was elected governor of New York in 1954, but was defeated in his bid for reelection by Nelson Rockefeller in 1958. President Kennedy appointed Harriman as "ambassador at large" in 1961, and he aftewards served as undersecretary of state for political affairs. In 1968 he was appointed to head the U.S. delegation at the Paris peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam War. He retired in 1969 and died in Yorkton Heights, New York, on July 26, 1986 at the age of 94.