Harold K. Hochschild and His Legacy
History is powerful. History can capture the imagination and inspire great events – including the founding of a regional history museum. Although many would play a role in creating the institution we now call the Adirondack Experience, it was the vision, dedication, and benevolence of one man – Harold K. Hochschild – that brought this museum into being.
Harold K. Hochschild (1892 – 1981) was a corporate leader and philanthropist who played a pivotal role in the history of the Adirondacks. He leveraged his fascination with local history and his personal fortune to create the Adirondack Museum, now known as the Adirondack Experience. Hochschild also engineered the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency, the state entity charged with ensuring a responsible balance between conservation and development.
Harold K. Hochschild (seated at left) looks on as Gov. Nelson Rockefeller signs the Adirondack Park Agency Act on June 25, 1971. Hochschild’s fellow members of the Temporary Study Commission (standing left to right) include Fred O’Neal, Peter Paine, Stewart Kilbourne, Henry Diamond, Robert Hall, and Richard Lawrence. New York State photo from the collection of the Lake George Mirror.
In 1904 the Hochschild family acquired a share in a large property known as Eagle Nest in Blue Mountain Lake. Harold spent summers there and gained a lifelong passion for the Adirondack region. He became particularly interested in the Adirondacks’ history, collecting documents and interviewing local residents. In 1952 he published a mammoth, illustrated book, Township 34, about the area immediately surrounding Blue Mountain Lake.
A group of dedicated Blue Mountain Lake residents organized The Adirondacks Historical Association in 1947. Their ambition was to build a local history museum. They acquired a site in the center of the Hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake and commissioned drawings for a modest building to house operations. Those early plans never moved forward. Hochschild subsequently assumed control of the association in 1953. He purchased a much larger property for the project, the former Blue Mountain House resort, located about 1.5 miles from the hamlet’s center. On that elevated spot with sweeping views of Blue Mountain Lake, he built the original Adirondack Museum, which opened its doors to the public in 1957. Hochschild personally subsidized the museum’s operations and led its board until his death in 1981.
In addition to his involvement with the Adirondack Experience, Hochschild pursued many other civic and philanthropic interests. He served on the boards of the New York State Historical Association, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the Correctional Association of New York, among other organizations. In 1970 Governor Nelson Rockefeller tapped him to chair the Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks, which was charged with making recommendations for the Adirondack Park’s long-term conservation and management. While the park was officially established as early as May 20, 1892 (coincidentally the day Hochschild was born), it enjoyed few legal protections. After what turned out to be a contentious behind-the-scenes struggle, Hochschild successfully managed to push through legislation authorizing the creation of the regulatory Adirondack Park Agency. Governor Rockefeller signed the legislation into law on June 25, 1971.
The personal wealth that enabled Hochschild to establish the Adirondack Experience and support his other philanthropic interests derived from his interests in a company known as American Metal. He joined the company in 1913 at a time when his own father, Berthold Hochschild, was chairman. Harold eventually became president, then chairman. While he was chairman, American Metal merged with another company and became American Metal Climax. In 1957, Hochschild stepped down as chair but continued to serve on the board until 1974.
The Adirondack Experience is mindful that from the 1930s through the 1950s, American Metal’s profits, and the Hochschild family’s wealth, were largely derived from mining operations in the Copperbelt of what later became Zambia. Low wages paid to thousands of African workers in what was then a British colony contributed to the company’s high profitability. Working and living conditions in company-owned housing could be harsh and even brutal. For much of this period, prejudicial work rules prevented Black people from holding supervisory and executive-level positions. These unfortunate realities are at odds with the values of the Adirondack Experience and our nation today. The museum recognizes that Hochschild’s philanthropy and the Adirondack Experience’s current financial strength were, at least in part, facilitated by harm done to others, which is regrettable.
In 2023 the Adirondack Experience commissioned a report about American Metal’s business practices from Duncan Money, PhD, a historian specializing in the subject of copper mining in Africa. His report can be accessed here. Money observed that for much of its history, American Metal supported the status quo in colonial Africa. He also noted that American Metal, under Hochschild’s leadership, eventually shifted its position to encourage anti-colonial leaders in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) as it transitioned towards independence and did so “before any other section of big business.” Hochschild additionally became chair in 1957 of the African American Institute, now the Africa-America Institute, whose purpose was to provide opportunities for African students in both United States and Africa. In 1960 he also hosted an important anti-colonial nationalist, Kenneth Kaunda, at Eagle Nest and helped introduce him to elected officials and the World Bank. Hochschild provided support for political prisoners in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia during the 1960s.
Throughout his life, Harold K. Hochschild continually deployed his capacity for hard work, political influence, and generosity to create change and further important causes. The Adirondack Experience is grateful to him for his dedication to preserving the stories and material culture of the Adirondacks as well as the landscape itself. In this, Hochschild leaves behind a legacy that remains central to the mission of the Adirondack Experience.
Information about the Adirondack Experience’s current work in the area of Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion can be found here.
More about Harold K. Hochschild’s life, which included serving as an American intelligence officer during WW II who interrogated German prisoners of war, can be found in two books. The first was edited and the second was written by his son, Adam Hochschild. The first, Harold K. Hochschild 1892-1981, was privately printed in 1982. The second, Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son, was published by Houghton Mifflin and is still in print. Both are available for review in the library of the Adirondack Experience.
The H.K.H. Award
The Adirondack Experience’s Harold K. Hochschild Award honors the memory of the museum’s founder, whose passion for the Adirondacks, its people, and its environment inspired the creation of this institution, which is dedicated to understanding and promoting the unique regional identity of the Adirondack Park. Through the Harold K. Hochschild Award the Adirondack Experience seeks to recognize, support, and strengthen intellectual and community leaders throughout the Adirondack Park, and to highlight their contribution to the region’s culture and quality of life. It also hopes to encourage others to appreciate that the region’s leadership comes in many forms and from many different communities within the Adirondack Park.
The Award may be given to organizations as well as individuals. Although residency within the Park is not required, the Award is presented in recognition of achievement or service having an obvious connection to or impact on the Adirondack region. The recipient of the Award receives an original copy of Hochschild’s authoritative tome, Township 34, and is honored at the Adirondack Experience’s Benefit Gala in the summer.
Past Recipients of the Harold K. Hochschild Award
Formerly called the Founder’s Award
Francis B. Trudeau
Richard W. Lawrence
Former Director of Adirondack Museum
Physician, Health Care Pioneer
Harold A. Jerry, Jr.
Timothy L. Barnett
Conservationist, Ecologist, Naturalist
Janet Parker Decker
Arthur V. Savage
Ellen Nadia Maroun
North Country Public Radio
Elizabeth (Betsy) Folwell
Writer, Historian, Editor
Conservationist, Non-profit Leader
Educator, Historian, Community Leader
Peter S. Paine, Jr.
Founding Father, Adirondack Park Agency
Writer, Naturalist, Teacher
John & Margot Ernst
Community and Environmental Leaders
Joan K. Davidson
Philanthropist, Public Servant, Civic Leader
Environmental Leader, Philanthropist
Dave Mason & Jim Herman
Community Leaders, Philanthropists
Environmental Leader, Writer, and Advocate
The Jefferson Project, a joint effort of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research, & the FUND for Lake George
Environmental preservation and research initiative
The Adirondack Forty-Sixers, Inc
Conservation and Preservation Leaders
Environmental Conservationist, Historic Preservationist, and Community Advocate
Linda and Sarah Cohen
Philanthropists and Community Leaders
Educator and Non-profit Leader
Conservation and Preservation Leader