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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:81 1950-1993 W898

William S. Woodside papers


Miscellaneous material and speeches and lectures given by American Can Company CEO William S. Woodside pertaining to social responsibility of private business.


  • 1950-1993


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact for more information.


4 linear feet (3 boxes)
The papers of William S. Woodside contain copies of speeches and lectures delivered by Woodside to a variety of audiences, 1973-1993, with topics relating to the expansion of private-public education collaboration, education leadership, impoverished communities, the impact of education and health, and the importance of a positive corporate culture. The overall theme of the speeches and lectures relates to Woodside's desire for private sector business to take a leading role in social responsibility issues, a more robust commitment from government to fund public social programs and an increased awareness in the lives of the less fortunate. The speech files make up the bulk of the collection. Also included is a Harvard Business School case study on the American Can Company, press clippings, Woodside's Harvard University diploma and honorary degrees awarded by Lafayette University and SUNY Purchase. The collection also contains video footage of Woodside. Included is a CNN Pinnacle episode detailing Woodside's personal and professional life; a short video montage of interviews of Woodside's peers discussing his life and work; a House Budget Committee meeting where Woodside gives testimony supporting the effort to renew funding for a social program; and a site visit to an American Can Company plant in Korea.

Biographical Note:

William S. Woodside was born on January 31, 1922 in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Lehigh University in 1947 with a BA in chemical engineering and received a MA in economics from Harvard University in 1950. After graduating from Harvard, he was employed by the American Can Company as its first economist, ran the Dixie Cup operation in Easton, Pennsylvania from 1962 to 1964. He later returned to company headquarters becoming senior vice president and group executive of the Packaging Division. In 1975, the board of directors elected Woodside as president and chief operating officer of American Can Company, and from 1980 to 1986 he was chairman and chief executive officer. Following his retirement, he became chairman of LSG Sky Chefs, Inc., the largest airline catering firm in the world.

Under Woodside's leadership the American Can Company repositioned itself from a traditional manufacturing corporation to a financial services and specialty retailing firm. Woodside foresaw the future of business in America as a service economy rather than a manufacturing economy. In 1981, Woodside sold American Can's highly profitable forest products and paper business to James River Corporation yielding enough cash to make acquisitions in the financial services and mail order catalogue and record business. The company bought a number of small insurance companies and the brokerage firm Smith Barney, Harris Upham. The can operation was later sold off due to difficulties for farmers in obtaining financing and over capacity. At that point, the corporation was renamed Primerica, Inc. In December 1988 Primerica was sold to the Commercial Credit Corporation for $1.45 billion. Woodside retired in 1989.

In 1982, Bill Woodside undertook the restructuring of the American Can Company Foundation. Until that time, the foundation had carried out a traditional giving program in localities where plants and employees were located as well as providing scholarship funds towards the education of employee's children. Woodside focused the Foundation's approach to three topics: hunger in America, the corporate role in pre-collegiate public education and economic transition in the workforce. Through his work with the Foundation, Woodside became a champion of the social responsibility of businesses and business ethics. During the 1980s and 1990s he gave many lectures on public education, the role of government in social programs, and expanding public-private collaboration of education projects.

Bill Woodside received honorary degrees from Lafayette College, College of New Rochelle and State University of New York at Purchase. He was awarded the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service from Teachers College of Columbia University.William S. Woodside died on November 15, 2000.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Series I. Speeches, 1973-1993
  2. Series II. Personal material, 1950-1988
  3. Series III. Audiovisual material, 1984-1991

Physical Location



Gift of Migs Woodside, 2008

Processing Information

Processed: November 2011

By: Benjamin Johnson
Link to catalog
Woodside, William S., 1922-2000. William S. Woodside Papers, 1950-1993: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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