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United Foundation Office of the President: Walter C. Laidlaw Records

Identifier: UR001289_WCL

Scope and Content

The papers of Mr. Laidlaw reflect his work with the United Foundation and the capital financing of hospitals in Detroit, and in furthering the united fund concept nationally.

Important subjects covered in the collection are: American Cancer Society, Public Welfare, American National Red Cross, Torch Drive, Greater Detroit Area Hospital Council, United Community Funds & Councils of America, Metropolitan Detroit Building Fund, Michigan United Fund, United Community Services, National Foundation, United Funds, Private Philanthropy

Among the important correspondents are: Ralph Blanchard, John E. Hall, Edward N. Cole, H. Clay Howell, Jacques Cousin, Richard Huegli, John Dillencourt, Robert Loosley, Ray Eppert, Robert MacRae, Max Fisher, Allen Merrell, Henry Ford II, Kenneth W. Miller, Lyman Ford, Egbert Neidig, George Haggarty, Bertram Williams
Series Description: Series I, Board of Directors, 1949-1968: Correspondence, minutes, and other material relating to the work of the board of directors.

Series II, United Foundation Committees, 1949-1967: Correspondence, minutes, and other material relating to the work of various United Foundation committees on which Mr. Laidlaw served.

Series III, Administrative Files, 1948-1968: Correspondence, reports, and printed material from executive office subject files used in the administration of the United Foundation.

Series IV, Torch Drive, 1949-1967: Correspondence, agenda, promotional, and other material relating to the organization of the annual Torch Drive campaigns.

Series V, General Correspondence and Speeches, 1948-1972: General office correspondence and requests for information about the organization of the United Foundation, and speeches delivered by Mr. Laidlaw and other speakers. Included are Mr. Laidlaw's obituaries.

Series VI, United Funds, 1950-1968: Correspondence, clippings, and printed material chronicling Mr. Laidlaw's relationship with united fund executives in other cities.

Series VII, Other Organizations, 1944-1971: Correspondence, minutes, and reports relating to Mr. Laidlaw's membership in organizations other than the United Foundation.


  • 1944 - 1972
  • Majority of material found within 1949 - 1968


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Walter C. Laidlaw was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1906. After obtaining a business degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1929, he worked in marketing and public relations for several Detroit banks, promotional skills he was able to apply to the problems of fund-raising when he joined the Detroit Community Fund in 1936.

In 1949 Mr. Laidlaw and prominent local business and labor leaders, including Henry Ford II, C. E. Wilson, August Scholle, and Walter P. Reuther, organized the nation's first federated fund-raising campaign, a concept he had experimented with while directing the War Chest drives during World War II. Reducing administrative costs and the annoyance of continual solicitation, Detroit's Torch Drive combined the multitude of charity drives mounted by local and national health and welfare organizations under one banner, "Give Once for All." Its success, both financially and in terms of the number of volunteers recruited, made it the model for all other united funds.

In the 1940s and '50s Mr. Laidlaw organized the Greater Detroit Hospital Fund and its successor, the Metropolitan Detroit Building Fund (which became the Capital Fund Division of the United Foundation in 1963), to promote the capital financing of hospitals and health and social service facilities.

In addition to his work as executive head of the United Foundation, Mr. Laidlaw held office in a number of civic, cultural, and health and community service organizations, including the Founders Society of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Greater Detroit Area Hospital Council, and the United Health Foundations.

Mr. Laidlaw retired from the United Foundation in May of 1968 for reasons of ill health. He died in 1972.


21 Linear Feet (42 MB, 1 OS)


Subjects include: Detroit and Michigan philanthropies; social services; volunteerism; charitable fundraising; Torch Drive; hospital services


Arranged in 7 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-6), Series 2 (Boxes 7-19), Series 3 (Boxes 10-18), Series 4 (Boxes 19-25 and oversize), Series 5 (Boxes 26-32), Series 6 (Boxes 32-36), and Series 7 (Boxes 36-42). Folders are arranged alphabetically, except for those in series 5, which are arranged chronologically.


The papers of Walter C. Laidlaw were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs by H. Clay Howell, president of the United Foundation, in October of 1986.

Related Materials

United Way and United Foundation collections


Several photographs of Mr. Laidlaw have been placed in the United Foundation photograph collection. An audiotaped interview with him, done by WWJ's Fran Harris in 1966, can be found in the United Community Services Women's Committee Collection.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in June 1988.
Guide to the United Foundation Office of the President: Walter C. Laidlaw Records
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA