Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer.

Philadelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) online

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of systematizing the manufacturing operations of the company until obliged to
cast the responsibility upon others.

Mr. Gilbert, while still keeping in close touch with the manufacturing de-
partment, took up another problem. He was mainly instrumental in a complete
change in the financial methods of the company, involving the simplification and
systematization of the credit system under a modern credit department. The
direct result was the minimizing of losses through bad debts, thus placing the
company on an even sounder financial basis than it had before occupied.

The condition of the trade in Europe, hampered by imitation of the goods
and the opposition of dealers, led him to advocate the opening of a branch house
there, and accordingly in 1895 a house was established in Berlin, Germany, with
four employes. It was at first merely an exhibit of the products of the com-
pany, in order that dentists might have the opportunity to see and judge of the
real character of its manufactures. Within a year and a half the demands of
the dentists led to the opening of a full-fledged branch house, which now does
a business requiring the services of seventy-five employes.

In February, 1906, Mr. Gilbert was advanced to the presidency of the com-
pany, owing to the death of his predecessor, Henry M. Lewis. His intimate


knowledge of the business, of its needs and its possibilities, his sound judgment
and his habit of planning for the future, fitted him admirably to grapple with
the problems of administration. One of the first of these was that of provid-
ing an adequate outlet for increased production, the facilities for which had
been built so laboriously and on a foundation which made increase easy. A
sales department was organized at headquarters, and in conjunction with this
"educational" meetings are held at which all those connected with the selling
of the goods attend. Here the merits of the goods are carefully gone over, dis-
cussions of points of salesmanship are invited, difficulties are presented and
their solution worked out, the effort being to raise the standard of efficiency.
That these efforts are bearing fruit is shown by the constant growth in the
aggregate of sales. From its modest beginning in 1844 when the entire force
numbered three persons, the house has grown until a census taken during Jan-
uary, 191 1, shows a total of over seventeen hundred employes on its payroll.
Much of its growth during the past twenty years has been due to the far-seeing
wisdom of William H. Gilbert, to his untiring energy, his great organizing
ability, his honesty and unity of purpose.


One of the extensive manufacturing enterprises of Philadelphia now con-
ducted under the name of Thomas Potter Sons & Company remains as a
monument to the business ability of him whose name introduces this review, who
in other ways as well left an equally indelible impress upon the public life and
progress of his adopted city. A stalwart champion of the cause of education
and an active member of the councils for many years, he instituted many pro-
jects of substantial benefit to the schools and secured the passage of many meas-
ures that have worked for municipal reform, progress and improvement.

Thomas Potter was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, and came to America
with his parents in 1828 at the age of nine years. He was a representative of a
family that had formerly been large landed proprietors in Ireland, George Pot-
ter, one of Cromwell's officers, having received large grants of land for his
service in reducing the rebellious party in Ireland, which grants were con-
firmed on the accession of Charles II. George Potter, father of Thomas Pot-
ter, inherited one of these lands but left only a small property at his death,
which took place shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia. His son Thomas had
been desirous of entering the ministry but the father's death obliged him to aban-
don this plan and take up the work of supporting the family, then consisting of
himself, his mother and three sisters.

Thomas Potter made his initial step in the business world as an employe
in the Bush Hill Oil Cloth Works of Isaac Macauley, the business being car-
ried on in the building which had formerly been the residence of James Hamil-
ton, twice colonial governor of Pennsylvania. While engaged in learning this
business Mr. Potter ambitious for further educational attainment, devoted his
evening hours to study under the direction of his mother, a cultured woman,


and thus succeeded in gaining a liberal fund of information. He also proved
his worth as an employe, carefully, promptly and faithfully executing the tasks
entrusted to him until successive promotions brought him. in a few years, to
the position of manager of the works in which he was employed, although yet
in his teens. In 1838, when but nineteen years of age, he started in business
on his own account and shortly afterward purchased the Bush Hill factory from
Mr. Alacauley. entering upon an era of prosperity that brought him to a promi-
nent position among the successful manufacturers of Philadelphia and making
the name of Thomas Potter Sons & Company known throughout the country
in connection with the manufacture of oilcloth and linoleums. His enterprise
soon outstripped others of the same class and became the foremost establish-
ment of the kind in the United States. Business was conducted at Bush Hill
until 1870, when Mr. Potter sold the plant there and removed to Second and
V^enango streets, where he established extensive works. He purchased ground
there, erecting a large plant, and since his death the business has been conducted
under the name of Thomas Potter Sons & Company by his sons, Thomas Jr.,
Henry A., William and Charles A. Potter and James F. Hope.

On the 2d of October, 1855, occurred the marriage of Thomas Potter and
Miss Adaline Coleman Bower, a granddaughter of General Jacob Bower, of
Reading, Pennsylvania, who served in the Pennsylvania line of the Continental
Army throughout the Revolution and afterward became one of the founders
of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Not alone in business affairs but also in other connections did Mr. Potter
leave his impress upon the city of Philadelphia. He held many positions of
municipal and financial responsibility, including that of commissioner of his
district, to which he was elected in 1853. He also filled the offices of school
director and school comptroller and shortly after the annexation to the city
of its various suburbs he was elected to the councils and was immediately ap-
pointed chairman of the school committee. He ever manifested intense and
helpful interest in the cause of education and his influence in school matters
was so far-reaching and beneficial that in 1890, twelve years after his death,
the board of education in his honor gave the name of the Thomas Potter school
to the largest public school of Philadelphia, situated at the corner of Fourth
and Clearfield streets. While still connected with the councils Mr. Potter was
made chairman of the finance committee and as such took a leading part in shap-
ing municipal legislation. In 1861 he originated and carried through the coun-
cils an ordinance appointing a commissioner to assist in supporting the families
of Union volunteers from Philadelphia and gave the use of his private office
for carrs'ing on the work. He was one of the original members of the Union
League and in that also lent his aid to the support of the families of volunteers,
being a member of the committee appointed to raise funds for that purpose.
One of his important acts in relation to city aiifairs was in securing the passage
of a bill through the common council for the erection of an academy of fine
arts, academy of natural science and other educational institutions on the
squares at Broad and Market streets, now occupied by the city hall. The meas-
ure was defeated, much to the regret of many prominent citizens. Mr. Potter
wa-^ likewise chiefly instrumental in the organization of the paid fire depart-


ment and in obtaining the eastern section of Fairmount Park as well as secur-
ing the passage of the bill which required the city treasurer to pay warrants
according to date and number. This brought them to par and at once strength-
ened the credit of the city. In 1868 Mr. Potter resigned from the councils and
went abroad for his health. Following his return to America in 1871 he was
made president of the City National Bank and held that position until his death,
which occurred at his residence, The Evergreens, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia,
September 29, 1878.


Emil Guenther, a wholesale lumber merchant, manufacturer and promoter
of Philadelphia, with offices in the Pennsylvania building, was born in Ger-
many but came to the United States when still a very young man. The year
1884 witnessed his arrival in Philadelphia, six years prior to which time he had
been a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio. On coming to this city he established him-
self in the lumber business on Washington avenue and soon afterward became
interested in land in the southwestern part of Philadelphia, which at that time
was entirely devoid of municipal improvements. With the aid of his many
friends, who also had the prescience to foresee what the future held in store
for that portion of the city, he was largely instrumental in its upbuilding and
development. Owing to the enthusiastic efforts of himself and his associates,
the traction company extended their lines to this promising section, the city
laid large water mains and the electric, gas and telephone companies also did
their share in transforming a neglected district into a most desirable residence
section. Hundreds of homes were erected and factories, public schools and
churches sprang up as a matter of course. Though Mr. Guenther found his
time largely occupied by the demands of his extensive business interests, he did
not overlook the fact that the church is a potent factor in the establishment of
a successful community and a desirable neighborhood. It was therefore by
reason of his sincere interest and untiring efforts that a site for such an edifice
was chosen and the work of construction completed. This house of worship is
known as St. Gabriel's Catholic church and is one of the most beautiful of
Philadelphia's many churches. In order that the people might be enabled to
purchase the homes which were constantly being erected, Mr. Guenther organ-
ized a building association and served as its president for ten years.

In April, 1903, he founded the Philadelphia Foundry & Machine Company,
located at Thirtieth street and Gray's Ferry Road, and after five years of suc-
cessful operation sold out to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who con-
verted the plant into a large freight depot. During the past several years
Mr. Guenther has been interested in the manufacture of lumber in Tennessee
and North Carolina, is also identified with the Hindle Lumber Company. He
is likewise one of the founders and owners of Millbourn, Delaware county,
Pennsylvania, which has recently become quite an important borough of Phila-
delphia, having a most desirable and highly valuable location at the Sixty-ninth
street terminal of the Market Street Elevated Railroad.




111 connection with his himber and manufacturing interests Mr. Guenther
is the president of the Tiedeniann Convertible Chair Company, sole manufac-
turers of the Konverto combination chair. This most useful and attractive
article of furniture can be converted, easily and quickly into a "tete-a-tete" sofa,
bed or an invalid chair, and has enjoyed a wide sale, its handsome appearance
and wide range of utility giving the utmost satisfaction to all purchasers.

Mr. Guenther has for many years been identified in official capacities with
numerou? local and national lumber organizations, including the Pennsylvania
Lumbermen's Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Philadelphia. He derives
much pleasure and recreation from his active connection with the Lemon Hill
Association, which is a non-sectarian movement for holding outdoor religious
meetings so as to reach those who, while Christians, do not attend church. The
association also arranges outings for poor children and each year is the medium
of giving more than twelve thousand children a fresh air outing at the expense
of the men interested, Mr. Guenther being one of the principal members. He is
likewise a member of the German Society of Philadelphia. In politics he is an
independent republican, entertaining progressive ideas and being interested in
clean government. He has been a member of "The Committee of Seventy,"
which was organized several years ago. He belongs to the Union League Club,
the City Club and the executive council of the Board of Trade and has for
many years been a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the
American Academy of Political and Social Science. Fraternally he is a Knight
Templar Mason and has attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite.

In 1888 Mr. Guenther was united in marriage to Miss Ida V. Jarden, the
youngest daughter of the late Jacob Jarden of Philadelphia. They have one
son, J. Jarden Guenther, who is a law student in the University of Pennsylvania.


Frank C. Roberts, a civil engineer, whose college training and wide engineer-
ing experience both on the American continent and in Great Britain have
gained him eminence in his profession, was bom in New York city, June 30,
i86i^ a son of the Rev. William Roberts, D. D. and Catharine (Parry) Rob-
erts, who removed from Wales to New York in 1855. The father was a dis-
tinguished Presbyterian clergyman and a prominent citizen. The Roberts and
Parry families are both Welsh and for many generations have been residents
of the island of Anglesea and prominent in the affairs of the principality.

Liberal educational advantages were afforded Frank C. Roberts, who won
his degree of Civil Engineer upon graduation from Princeton University in the
class of 1883. Twenty years later his alma mater conferred upon him the hon-
orary degree of Master of Arts. For a year following his graduation he taught
at Princeton University and was afterward connected in a professional capacity
with various companies. In 1888 he opened an office in Philadelphia and has
since practiced civil engineering. He has been very closely identified with iron
and steel interests and many plants in the United States, Great Britain and Can-


ada have been designed by him and built under his supervision. He has also
executed much bridge engineering and has likewise been engaged in the design-
ing of water-works and power plants. He has had wide experience in architec-
tural engineering and is responsible for the design and construction of many im-
portant buildings in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Recognition of his success and
standing in his profession has come to him in his appointment as a member of
the Graduate Council of Princeton University and in his election to member-
ship in the British Iron & Steel Institute, the American Iron & Steel Institute
and the American Institute of Mining Engfineers.

In 1886 Mr. Roberts was married to Miss Amy Paxton, of Princeton, New
Jersey, a daughter of the Rev. William M. Paxton, LL. D., president of Prince-
ton Theological Seminary. They are the parents of five children, Caroline Pax-
ton, who died in infancy; Katharine; William Paxton; Frank C. ; and Harmar
Denny. The family reside at Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and have a summer
home at Lake George. Mr. Roberts is a member of the Lake George Club, the
Princeton Club, the Merion Cricket Club and the Union League of Philadelphia.
He is the author of many articles on technical subjects and is partially in-
terested in educational matters.


Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer, widely known as an author, was born near West
Chester, Pennsylvania, a few miles from Philadelphia, in 1868. He is a son
of John and Sara Louisa (Vickers) Oberholtzer, the former a merchant and
the latter an author, who has published four or five volumes of verse and sev-
eral novels, being also interested in various lines of philanthropic work. She
has long aimed with considerable success to introduce into the United States
a system of savings banks in connection with the public schools, a social re-
form meant to increase the thrift of the people, which has had wide acceptance
in France.

Dr. Oberholtzer received his secondary education in preparatory schools and
in 1885 matriculated in the college department of the University of Peiyisyl-
vania, from which he graduated in 1889. In that year he became an associate
editor of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph and was connected with this
paper until i8g6 either at Philadelphia or as foreign correspondent. He was
appointed a fellow in the University of Pennsylvania, where he continued his
studies in political science and economics, receiving the degree of Doctor of
Philosophy in 1893. In the latter year he went abroad for study and research
at the European universities and remained for more than two years at Ber-
lin, Paris, Heidelberg and other centers of learning. In 1896, after his return
to America, he was appointed to edit The Manufacturer, an economic journal
published in Philadelphia. This position he held until 1900, after which time
he was for a few years literary editor of the Philadelphia Times and of the
Public Ledger.


Dr. Oberholtzcr is the author of Law Making by Popular Vote, Home
Rule for our American Cities and the Referendum in America, the latter being
a work which has attractetl considerable attention. It has been used as a text-
book in several colleges and universities. An enlarged edition of the work
was published in 1900. He is also the author of Die Peziehungen zwi.schen dem
Staat und der Zeitungspresse ini Deutschen Reich, which was published in
Berlin in 1895, the result of his studies in German}- of the laws governing the
newspaper press. The work attracted wide notice, the reviewer of the Archiv
fur Strafrecht, the highest authority on penal law in Germany, asserting that
the author was not only a journalist but a very capable jurist as well. Dr. Ober-
holtzer is also the editor of the American Crisis Biographies, to which he has
contributed the Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay. His other works
include Robert Morris, Patriot and Financier, 1903; Jay Cooke, the Financier
of the Civil War, two volumes, 1907; and The Literary History of Philadel-
phia, 1907. In addition to the works mentioned he has written many fugitive
articles published in the magazines. He was director of the historical pageant
at Philadelphia in 1908 and is a member of several learned societies. Socially
he is identified with the Franklin Inn Club, of which for many years he has
been the secretary. An indefatigable worker, he has gained a reputation in
both America and Europe as a versatile and original thinker and a man of
progressive ideas, who has made a deep impression for good upon the times in
which he lives.


One of the prominent representatives of the National Guard of Pennsyl-
vania and a member of one of the old and distinguished families of Philadel-
phia, Colonel Thomas Potter, Jr., was born in this city, July 12, 1850. His
parents were Thomas and Adaline Coleman (Bower) Potter, both of whom are
deceased. His great-great-grandfather. Colonel Joseph Wood, of Philadelphia,
served as an ensign in the early part of the French and Indian war. His great-
grandfather, General Jacob Bower, was an officer in the Continental line from
1775 until the close of the revolution in 1783.

Reared in a home where affluence takes away the drudgery of life and yet
without that wealth which enervates, Colonel Potter came to young manhood
well equipped for the responsibilities that devolved upon him. Following his
graduation from the Friends school in this city he became assistant to his father
in the manufacture of oilcloth and linoleum and under the present and previous
business organizations an enterprise of magnitude was built up. The business
had its beginning in 1838 and was located at Second street and Erie avenue.
The beginning was small but along substantial lines the enterprise was de-
veloped, the business capacity and sound guidance of Thomas Potter proving
the stimulating force that led to its rapid and substantial growth. The sons,
too, became important factors in the conduct of the enterprise and were the
successors of the father and from the reorganization of the company in 1891


under the name of Thomas Potter Sons & Company, Inc., Thomas Potter, Jr.,
served as the president and executive head of the business. In this connection
he became recognized as one of the forceful factors in manufacturing and com-
mercial circles in his native city.

Colonel Potter was equally well known in military circles in Pennsylvania,
having entered the service of the state as an aid-de-camp on the staff of the
commander-in-chief June 3, 1887. He was appointed assistant quartermaster
general December 12, 1888, his commission expiring January 20, 1891. On the
7th of March, 1891, he was appointed First Brigade quartermaster but resigned
that position September 12, 1892. His deep and sincere interest in military af-
fairs, however, would not permit him to entirely sever his connection with the
guard and after earnest solicitation he accepted the position of aid-de-camp on
the First Brigade staff October 4, 1892. On the 7th of January, 1894, he was
promoted to aid-de-camp on the staff of the commander-in-chief. Governor
Hastings appointed him quartermaster general September 22, 1895, and the same
appointment came to him successively from Governor Stone, Governor Penny-
packer and Governor Stuart.

On the 17th of October, 1876, Colonel Potter was united in marriage to Leily
Alexiena Wilson and to them were bom a daughter and a son, who are still liv-
ing, Olive and Wilson Potter, the former now the wife of Boulton Earnshaw.

Colonel Potter was also widely known in the club circles of the city, belong-
ing to several of the leading organizations, including the Union League, in which
he was several times elected to the directorate. He was also a charter mem-
ber of the Clover Club, a member of the Bachelors Barge Club and of the
Racquet Club and was for many years one of the managers of the schoolship
Saratoga. He passed away December 3, 1910, as the result of an illness brought
on by his activities at the Gettysburg encampment of the National Guard in
the previous summer. His interest in and active cooperation with the National
Guard had endeared him to the military organization of the state, his justice
and consideration in business life had won him the respect of all his employes
and the admiration and good-will of his contemporaries, while in social life the
circle of his friends was limited only by the circle of his acquaintances.


Many young physicians now in practice in various parts of the country pos-
sess advantages of training that were not available to those of an earlier day and
their success has been remarkable. They received instruction from the very
best teachers of America and Europe and the results have proven that the years
.spent in thorough preparation were wisely employed. Among the number who
belong to the fortunate class here indicated is Dr. J. Morton Boice, of Phil-

He is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, born September 5, 1876, a son of Rev.
James Y. Boice, D. D., who has for many years been prominently identified with
the Reformed Presbyterian church. The family on the paternal side is of Hugue-





not descent. On account of religious persecution early members emigrated from
France to Scotland in the sixteenth century and from Scotland a branch removed
to the north of Ireland. The Doctor's father was born near the Giants' Causeway,
in County Derry, November 30, 1847. He came to America in his boyhood and
received his preliminary education at Duff's College, Pittsburg, and in the Pitts-
burg high school. He served in the Union army at the time of the Civil war and
in 1865 received the degree of A. B. at Westminster College, New Wilmington,

Online LibraryEllis Paxson OberholtzerPhiladelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) → online text (page 58 of 62)