Joseph Robinette Biden Sr. taught his son an important lesson that President Joe Biden regularly references in his speeches: “Champ, when you get knocked down, get up.”
The elder Biden worked in car sales and real estate and, according to his obituary, was committed to teaching his children about personal integrity and the value of family. Biden Sr. died on September 2, 2002, at age 86.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Biden Sr. Attended 1 Year of College at Johns Hopkins Before Going to Work for an Oil Company
Biden Sr. was born on November 13, 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland, to parents Joseph H. Biden and Mary Elizabeth Robinette. According to the obituary that ran in The News Journal in Wilmington, the family moved to Wilmington when Biden Sr. was a child. He attended Wilmington High School but graduated from St. Thomas Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Biden Sr. did not earn a college degree but he was a student at Johns Hopkins University for one year, according to The York Daily Record. The newspaper reported that when he married Jean Finnegan in 1941, the marriage announcement that ran in another local newspaper had noted Biden Sr. had attended Johns Hopkins.
But before tying the knot, Biden Sr. had started a career working at the American Oil Company. He started as a clerk-typist before becoming a sales representative. The York Daily Record also cited records that showed that while Biden Sr. was living at a Y.M.C.A. Dormitory in York, Pennsylvania, he performed in a series of plays in 1939 and 1940.
2. Biden Sr. Struggled Financially After World War II & Moved in With His Wife’s Parents in Scranton
Biden Sr. worked as an executive during World War II. According to the obituary that ran in the Baltimore Sun, Biden Sr. worked for a company that “made a waterproof sealant used on U.S. merchant marine ships.”
The News Journal obituary added that after the war, Biden Sr. was “co-owner of an airport and crop-dusting service on Long Island, New York.”
But his financial successes eventually took a downward turn. A 2008 feature in the New York Times noted that Biden Sr. “suffered a number of business reversals” after the war ended. The family moved in with Jean’s parents, the Finnegans, in Scranton for a few years. According to the newspaper, Biden Sr. eventually started working for a heating and cooling company in Wilmington, Delaware. He commuted back and forth as Jean Biden took care of family life in Scranton. Biden Sr. relocated the entire family to Wilmington in 1953, when Joe Biden was 10.
Time magazine reported in 1987 that the Bidens lived in a three-bedroom house in Mayfield, a suburb of Wilmington. Joe Biden and his two brothers shared one room while their sister, Valerie, got her own room.
3. Biden Sr. Became a Car Salesman & Allowed His Son to Borrow Cars on the Weekends
After the family moved to Wilmington, Biden Sr. made a living selling used cars. According to his obituary, Biden Sr. worked as a sales manager for several agencies during his career.
According to his son, Biden Sr. placed a high value on dignity and respect. Joe Biden included a story in his autobiography, Promises to Keep, about the time his father quit his job after the dealership owner pulled an unseemly stunt during the Christmas party. Joe Biden wrote that after the dealership owner dumped a bucket of silver dollars, in order to watch his employees go after them on the dance floor, Biden Sr. left the party and never went back to that dealership.
But his time as a car salesman wasn’t all about hard lessons. As the New York Times reported, Biden Sr. used to allow Joe Biden to borrow various vehicles when he was a student at the University of Delaware. Joe Biden’s friend Fred Sears recalled that the weekend vehicles gave Joe a leg up when it came to landing dates. “It was always a convertible. Besides being very cool and dressing right, showing up in a convertible he had us all beat eight ways from Sunday,” Sears told the Times.
The Biden campaign shared in a video on Instagram in October 2020 that Joe Biden still owns a 1967 Corvette Stingray that his father gave to him.
4. Biden Sr. Was Mistaken for the Candidate When His Son First Ran for the Senate in 1972
Biden Sr. never ran for elected office but he was mistaken for a political candidate on numerous occasions when his son ran for the Senate in 1972. Joe Biden was only 29 at the time. His sister, Valerie, served as the campaign manager and she recalled to NPR, “Everyone thought my dad was the candidate, because he was very distinguished looking.”
To avoid confusion, father and son occasionally wore badges in public, as the York Daily Record reported. The newspaper published a photo that shows Biden Sr. wearing a badge that says “I’m Joe Biden Sr.” while Joe Biden’s badge read, “I’m Joe Biden, U.S. Senator.”
In a now-infamous interview with The Washingtonian in 1974, that made waves because of what was printed about Joe Biden’s late wife Neilia, he also remarked that his father had suggested he run for a state office in Delaware. Joe Biden told the newspaper, “At first my dad tried to talk me into running for governor but I told him I didn’t want to be a damn old administrator. I wanted to come to Washington and get something accomplished. He calls me champ now.”
5. Biden Sr. Switched Careers & Became a Real Estate Agent After His Son Was Elected to the Senate
Biden Sr. stopped selling cars after his son was elected to the Senate. As Valerie Biden Owens told the New York Times, her father cared about how things looked. “After 1972, he gave up car sales and went into real estate. He didn’t want a United States senator to have a used-car salesman for a dad.”
The obituary in the Baltimore Sun reported Biden Sr. “worked for 15 years in real estate sales in New Castle County and in Rehoboth Beach.” The News Journal added that Biden Sr. focused on condominium sales and worked for the Patterson-Schwartz agency.
The News Journal also included the following tribute to Biden Sr’s character: “He valued his reputation as an honorable man and as a family man, and with his wife he conveyed his values consistently to his children and their children. Both at home and in the business world, his word was his bond and he was proud of that.”
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