William Benton’s papers

The wealthy and philanthropic American, William Benton (1900-1973) was an early enthusiast for The Open University. A staunch Democrat he played an important part in bringing down Joseph McCarthy when he challenged McCarthy’s claims that the State Department was infiltrated by numerous Communists. Despite lack of support from at least some on his side of the House Benton was victorious over McCarthy. The owner of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Benton was a keen advocate of using radio and television to support learning.  He  financed Harold Wilson’s trips to the USA and maintained a relationship with the Wilson family for many years, including with Harold’s son Robin, who later worked at the OU. He was also close to Geoffrey Crowther and met Arnold Goodman and Walter Perry.  His papers can be used as evidence as to how influential he was on Wilson’s development of the idea of what became the OU. They are housed in the University of Chicago and I’m there at present, taking a look at them. One thing I’d like to check is the statement by B. MacArthur, ‘An interim history of the Open University’ in J. Tunstall (ed.) The Open University Opens, Routledge, London 1974, that the idea of the Open University was really born at Easter 1963 in Wilson’s home in discussion with officials of the Labour Party. My suspicion is that it has longer roots and that Wilson’s connection with Benton is of significance.

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