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Harry Holiday

Harry Holiday, Jr. (ca. 1924 – February 1999) was a world record holder in the backstroke at the University of Michigan in the 1940s and the president of steelmaker American Rolling Mill Co. (Armco) from 1974-1986.

Holiday was the NCAA backstroke champion in 1943 and 1947, won six NCAA swimming championships, and set seven world records and 18 American records. He missed the opportunity to compete in the Olympic games which were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II. He was inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor in 1981 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1990.

He worked for Armco from 1949 until his retirement in 1986. He was the company's president from 1974-1986, adding the title of chief executive officer in 1979 and chairman in 1982.

Early years

A native of Butler, Pennsylvania, Holiday trained with U-M swimming coach Matt Mann. While still in high school, Holiday attended Mann's summer camps north of Toronto. He enrolled at Michigan in 1941 and became eligible for the varsity swim team in 1943. At the end of 1942, U-M swimming coach Mann predicted that his 18-year-old, 6’ 5” sophomore, Harry Holiday, would break every backstroke record. Mann said, "Holiday is the best the world has ever seen on his back and one of the finest of all time in the free-style." In an exhibition in late 1942, Holiday swam the 100-yard backstroke in 57 seconds, two-tenths of a second under the world record. In the 150-yard backstroke, he swam at 1:33 –- a full second under the NCAA record. Holiday had attended summer camps conducted by Mann in Canada for several years before enrolling at Michigan. In 1940, he finished second in the Canadian two-mile freestyle championship, 30 yards behind the winner, even though he swam backstroke the entire way.

1943 swim season

In a January 1943 meet against Ohio State, Holiday finished three quarters of a length ahead of the nearest competitor in the 150-yard backstroke with a time of 1:35.9, one second ahead of the conference record. He also broke the world record in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 57.3 seconds, won the 50-yard freestyle, and swam the winning leg of the 300-yard medley relay.

In early February 1943, Holiday received word that his U.S. Army reserve unit would be called to active duty in June. In a meet against Michigan State in February 1943, he set more records, including an NCAA record for the 150-yard backstroke (1:31.4). He also swam his leg of the 300-yard medley in a time of 56.9, three tenths of a second under the world record.

At the Big Ten meet in March 1943, he swam the 150-yard backstroke in 1:31.7 to set a conference and NCAA mark. He also paced the U-M team to an NCAA record in the 300-yard medley.

At the National AAU swimming championship in April 1943, Holiday finally went head-to-head with world-record holder Adolph Kiefer. Holiday beat Kiefer in the 150-yard backstroke at the AAU meet. The defeat was the first for Kiefer in eight years.

In his first two months of varsity competition, Holiday broke two of Adolph Kiefer’s world records, lowing the 100-yard backstroke mark to 57 seconds and the 200-meter standard to 2:22.9. In August 1943, the NCAA also recognized Holiday as the holder of the new world record in the 150-yard backstroke with a mark of 1:31.5.

World War II

Holiday was called into active duty in the Army and did not compete for Michigan in in 1944, 1945, or 1946. In June 1946, he did compete for the University of Hawaii, setting new Hawaiian records in the 200-yard medley and 150-yard backstroke event.

1947 swim season

He returned to Michigan in 1947. That year, he set world and American records in the 140-yard individicual medley, the 300-meter and 40-yard backstroke events. He was the favorite at the 1947 NCAAs but was forced to withdraw after contracting the flu.

Swimming accomplishments

Despite losing three years of his U-M swimming career to the war, Holiday set seven world records as a swimmer in the 100-yard backstroke, 200-meter backstroke, 440-yard backstroke, 300-meter individual medley, and in three relay events. He also won six NCAA championships in the 150-yard backstroke, the 100-meter backstroke, and in four relay events. He also set 18 American records including the 100-yard backstroke, 150-yard backstroke, 150-meter backstroke, 100-meter backstroke, 200-yard backstroke, 400-yard backstroke, 440-yard backstroke, and nine in relay events. Holiday was an NCAA champion every year he competed for the Wolverines.

Business career with Armco

In 1949, Holiday went to work for steelmaker, Armco, Inc. (originally American Rolling Mill Co.), where his father had been a plant manager for many years. Holiday began as an assistant metallurgist in the company's Middletown, Ohio plant, and stayed with the company for 36 years until his retirement. He was appointed president in 1974, chief executive officer in May 1979 and aded the title of chairman in 1982. Holiday, "known for his optimistic determination, helped lead the steel industry through the boom of the 1960s and the troubled times that followed in the 1970s and 80's." He frequently called on the federal government to ensure that steel imports were legal, and, facing an economic downturn in the 1970s, pushed Armco to diversify. In 1984, Holiday had a heart attack, but recovered and returned to his position as Armco's CEO. Holiday retired from Armco in January 1986 and later served as a director for Adience, Inc., NBD Bank, N.A., ASARCO Incorporated, and Birmingham Steel Corp. In 1998, as Armco fell on hard times, Holiday and the company's other retired CEOs sued to restore life insurance benefits granted under a plan that was supposed to last their lifetimes.

In February 1999, Holiday died of a heart attack in Boynton Beach, Florida. Holiday was survived by his wife of 51 years, Kay Watson Holiday, a daughter, Edith, two sons, Harry Holiday III, and Albert Holiday.

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