Philip Graham, the son of a mining engineer, was born in Terry, South Dakota, on 18th July, 1915. The family moved to Florida when Graham was a child and he was educated at Miami High School and the University of Florida. Graham moved on to the Harvard University Law School where he was editor of the Law Review.
In 1940 Graham married Katharine Meyer. The following year he became clerk to Felix Frankfurter. Graham joined the Army Air Corps in 1942. He worked as an assistant to William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In 1944 Graham was recruited into the "Special Branch, a super-secret part of Intelligence, run by Colonel Al McCormick". He later worked under General George Kenney, commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific. Graham was sent to China where he worked with John K. Singlaub, Ray S. Cline, Richard Helms, E. Howard Hunt, Mitchell WerBell, Jake Esterline, Paul Helliwell, Robert Emmett Johnson and Lucien Conein. Others working in China at that time included Tommy Corcoran, Whiting Willauer and William Pawley.
Graham's father-in-law was Eugene Meyer, the owner of the Washington Post. In 1946 Meyer appointed Graham as associate publisher. He eventually took over business side of the newspaper's operations. He also played an important role in the paper's editorial policy.
Graham lived in Washington where he associated with a group of journalists, politicians and government officials that became known as the Georgetown Set. This included Frank Wisner, George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Richard Bissell, Desmond FitzGerald, Joseph Alsop, Stewart Alsop, Tracy Barnes, Thomas Braden, David Bruce, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, Eugene Rostow, Chip Bohlen, Cord Meyer, James Angleton, William Averill Harriman, John McCloy, Felix Frankfurter, John Sherman Cooper, James Reston, Allen W. Dulles and Paul Nitze.
Most men brought their wives to these gatherings. Members of what was later called the Georgetown Ladies' Social Club included Katharine Graham, Mary Pinchot Meyer, Sally Reston, Polly Wisner, Joan Braden, Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, Avis Bohlen, Janet Barnes, Tish Alsop, Cynthia Helms, Marietta FitzGerald, Phyllis Nitze and Annie Bissell.
Graham met Lyndon B. Johnson in 1953. Graham believed that one day Johnson would make a good president. Graham told Johnson that his main problem was that he was perceived in Washington as someone under the control of the Texas oil and gas industry. Graham added that his attitude towards civil rights was also hurting him with liberals in the North. He was advised to go a "bit beyond (Richard) Russell and yet far short of (Hubert) Humphrey".
Graham was a supporter of the Democratic Party and did what he could to get Johnson the nomination in 1960. When John F. Kennedy defeated Johnson he sent Clark Clifford to ask Stuart Symington to be his running-mate. Symington accepted the post but said: "I bet you a hundred dollars that no matter what he says, Jack will not make me his running mate. He will have to pick Lyndon".
In the background Graham and Joseph Alsop were attempting to persuade John F. Kennedy to appoint Lyndon B. Johnson instead. Despite the objection of Robert Kennedy and other leading advisers, Kennedy decided to replace Symington with Johnson.
After his election Kennedy was persuaded by Graham to appoint his friend, Douglas Dillon as Secretary of the Treasury. He also influenced Kennedy's decision to appoint Arthur Schlesinger, his former OSS buddy, as his adviser and David Bruce, as ambassador to London.
It is claimed that Graham had close links with the Central Intelligence Agency. He had a close relationship with Tracy Barnes and Frank Wisner. it has been claimed that Graham played an important role in Operation Mockingbird, the CIA program to infiltrate domestic American media. According to Katherine Graham, her husband worked overtime at the Post during the Bay of Pigs operation to protect the reputations of his friends who had organized the ill-fated venture.
As president of the Washington Post Company he purchased Washington Times-Herald. Later he took control of radio and television stations WTOP (Washington) and WJXT (Jacksonville). In 1961 Graham purchased Newsweek. The following year he took control of America's two leading art magazines, Art News and Portfolio. The main person involved in arranging Graham's takeover of other media companies was Fritz Beebe. He ran the law firm Cravath, Swaine, & Moore. This was the company owned by Al McCormick, who Graham met during the war. Averell Harriman was another one involved in these negotiations.
Philip Graham committed suicide by killing himself with a shotgun on 3rd August, 1963.