Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago
Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men in Chicago, Photographically Illustrated by John Carbutt, 1868, Pages 267-272
Among the young and ambitious leaders of the business circles of Chicago, stands the name of Philip Wadsworth, whom we have selected as one of the representatives of that class of successful young merchants who, by dint of industry and unswerving integrity, have risen to positions in our midst that are envied by hundreds of older settlers.
Arriving here in 1853, at a period when the commercial prosperity of Chicago had fairly begun, and its great destiny as the metropolis of the Herculean Northwest was becoming apparent, Mr. Wadsworth may, with others arriving at about that time, be justly regarded as forming a connecting link between the old and the new of Chicago’s career, commercially, socially and otherwise. Through the business and personal influence of his lather and two elder brothers, who, even at that early day, were extensively interested here, he soon formed a large acquaintance among the residents. He became, so to speak, a junior member of, and an especial favorite in, that circle of “old settlers” and choice spirits to which such men as Lisle Smith, Dr. Maxwell, Richard L. Wilson, Dr. Egan, Colonel Hamilton, John H. Kinzie, John H. Collins, Tracy, Butterfield and others belonged.
Philip Wadsworth was born in New Hartford, Connecticut, March 7, 1832. There and in the city of Hartford were spent the years of his childhood and early boyhood. His father, Tertius Wadsworth, Esq.,is a gentleman of great worth, wealth and business prominence—a heavy property owner in the East and West, being the proprietor of a number of business blocks on Lake and Water streets, in this city—and who now, although about eighty years of age, is still living. When a boy, it was Philip’s intention to take a collegiate course, and, by way of preparation, he spent two years at the Williston Seminary, at East Hampton, Mass., and two years more at the Connecticut Baptist Literary Institution, at Suffield, Connecticut. From the latter place he graduated, fully prepared for entrance into any of the first-class colleges or universities of New England, but relinquished the idea of doing so. He understood his own disposition well enough to know that the application and inactivity of a student’s life would be extremely unsatisfactory to him, therefore he yielded to his tastes for mercantile pursuits. He belonged to a family of merchants, through a long line of ancestors, and he no doubt chose wisely when he determined to follow in the footsteps of liis ” illustrious prede- cessors.” The Wadsworths, by the way, rank with the “best families” of Connecticut. They were among the original settlers of Hartford, and the name figures in the early history of New England. It was Captain Wadsworth—a brave and uncompromising old patriot and republican who struck one of the first blows which ultimately resulted in freeing our country from the tyrant rule of Great Britain, when, as history records, he extinguished the lights at a session of the Colonial Legislature, took the Colonial Charter from the hands of the Government, and liid that instrument in the hollow of the tree which is now famous as the “Charter Oak.” Another of the family Avas conspicuous as a leader in the “Pequot war,” when the first substantial foothold was made for the successful settlement of the New England Colonies.
In 1848, Philip Wadsworth, then only sixteen years of age, entered the extensive wholesale and jobbing dry goods house of Hopkins, Allen & Co., in New York city, which was largely engaged in importing goods from Europe, as well as jobbing those of domestic manufacture. Lucius Hopkins, of this firm, has of late years been President of the Importers’ and Traders’ Bank, New York, a man of the highest character for commercial probity and ability. John Allen, now of Connecticut, whither he has retired with a fortune, was, at the time the subject of our sketch was in his employ, one of the young business men of New York, and an acknowledged leader in business circles. Here, with such men for his teachers, he began his business education, and his five years’ connection with that house gave him a splendid field and excellent opportunities for perfecting himself in a knowledge of all the “ways and means” of doing business and preparing himself for its successful prosecution.
In 1853, his brother, E. S. Wadsworth, Esq., wishing to avail himself of the experience and knowledge in trade which Philip had acquired in New York, invited him to Chicago, to enter the extensive jobbing house of Cooley, Wadsworth & Co., (the same establishment which is now known as “J. V. Farwell & Co.,”) the first great wholesale dry goods house in the city. This establishment included in its business, also, the departments of clothing and boots and shoes, which were subsequently separated from it, the wholesale clothing department resolving itself into the firm of Huntington, Wadsworth & Parks, and the boot and shoe department into the present firm of C. M. Henderson & Co. On the death of Mr. Huntington, and withdrawal of Mr. Parks, the wholesale clothing house finally became the present well-known firm of Philip Wadsworth & Co., who are doing a business that aggregates not less than a million of dollars a year. For the past eight years, they have also had a house in Boston, where nearly alL their goods are manufactured. The New England trade of the Boston house amounts to about $500,000 annually, including the trade in woolen goods, as well as that of clothing. This Eastern connection gives Mr. Wadsworth unusual facilities for the prosecution of his business, which extends into every part of the Northwestern States and Territories. Being a fair, honorable, and straightforward gentleman, and possessing those fortunate qualities of mind and heart which attract friends and bind them to us, he has become one of the most popular merchants in the city.
Though amply possessed of “this world’s goods,” and ranking with the very best and most respected of citizens, Mr. Wadsworth is remarkably democratic in his ways. There is none of that show of aristocracy in his life and conduct among men which so disgustingly characterizes others who have much less occasion for “vain pride.” He regards pomp, glitter, and haughtiness of demeanor, in this republican land of human equality, as only so many signs of ill-breeding and a pitiful nature. With a large circle of friends and acquaintances, embracing the richest and poorest, oldest and youngest, he retains the respect of all. He possesses the faculty of being agreeable, and exhibits, on all occasions, the manners and bearing of a true gentleman. He treats all men as equals, and even in his store appears more as an associate than the employer of his clerks. In society, in the drawing-room, and at the social board, he is a general favorite. The elderly people love his gentleness and his sympathy, and the young are enlivened by his sprightly good nature.
In 1855, Mr. Wadsworth was married to Miss Georgiana H. Loomis, of Suffield, Conn., a most beautiful and accomplished lady, and who is now one of the leaders of Chicago society. That she is possessed of a patriotic and benevolent heart, has frequently been demonstrated by her active efforts and generous gifts in behalf of our charitable institutions, and for patriotic objects. Time has demonstrated that the union was a most fortunate one.
Mr. Wadsworth, since his residence in Chicago, has been more or less actively identified Avith all public movements, enterprises, and institutions. From the time of its original organization, he has been one of the most active members of the Young INIen’s Association—a society which furnishes the public with the best library and literary entertainments that Chicago enjoys. He was one of its Board of Managers for several years—was elected its First Vice-President in 1859—and in tliose spirited election canvasses of the Association, from 1858 to 1861, which its old members remember Avith pleasure as agreeable and profitable reminiscences, no one was more active or liberal than he. In 1860, he was nominated on the “Opposition Ticket” for President of the Association, against William H. Bradley, Esq., and lacked only one vote of being elected; and in 1861 he was elected President by a handsome majority, Avhen running against a no less popular or influential competitor than Thomas B. Bryan, Esq.
Mr. Wadsworth was, prior to the war, and is to-day, one of the best read military men in Chicago. He is as familiar with the school of the soldier, from the manual of arms to all battalion and field movements, as he is with the every-day aflPairs of business. The “Chicago Light Guard,” which was acknowledged to be one of the best drilled, equipped and uniformed military companies in the United States, was organized in 1854 on Washington’s birth-day—by the very flower and pride of Chicago’s young men. The name of Mr. Wadsworth was one of the first on its roll, and he was always one of its most enthusiastic and generous supporters. He was Captain of the company when the war of the rebellion broke out. Although most of its members entered the active service, as Lieutenants, Captains, Colonels and Generals, he, appreciating the necessity, kept up the company for at least one year after the war broke out, merely as a school for the education of soldiers, preparatory to entering the service. During the first two years of the war, many young men who had joined this company for the purpose of fitting themselves for active service, went forth, schooled under Captain Wadsworth’s thorough drilling, as commissioned officers in the new regiments then forming. Governor Yates frequently offered him a Colonel’s commission, with a full regiment, but the pressing condition of his vast business, and other circumstances which he could not control, rendered it impossible for him to leave home at that lime. While, however, his comrades and proteges were doing their duty in the field, he was doing effective service at home. He was one of the most active of our citizens in organizing and hastening forward regiments in response to the calls of the Government; and, perhaps, no man in Chicago spent more from his private purse for the benefit of the soldiers and their families than did Mr. Wadsworth.
In 1862, President Lincoln appointed him Assessor, under the Internal Revenue law, for the First District of Illinois—a position he held just one year, and then resigned it, owing to the pressure of his other business. He was complimented by the head of the Department as the most prompt and efficient of all the Internal Revenue Assessors of the United States. His office was the first to make its returns. His year’s salary, amounting to about $4,000, and much more besides, was entirely spent in enlisting, aiding and equipping soldiers for the field. During the succeeding year, his contributions in aid of the Union soldiers and the sacred cause in which they were fighting largely exceeded that amount. He was as true and liberal a friend of the soldier and the soldier’s family as we had in Chicago; and they have no better friend now, in political or civil life, than he is.
During the regular session of the Legislature of Illinois in 1867, an act was passed for the construction of a new State Capitol edifice at Springfield, at a great cost, and on an extensive scale. Chicago, being the chief city in the State, was entitled to a representation on the Board of Commissioners for the erection of this grand structure, and Mr. Wadsworth was wisely agreed upon as a proper man to represent her interests.
We have thus sketched the principal features of the career of one of Chicago’s “leading men.” It is the biography, in part, of a young man, but at the same time of one who is generally recognized as among our most prominent citizens. Although there may be other interesting facts connected with his life which we have not named, yet such as we have been able to obtain from his friends and other sources, we .have given.
Physically speaking, Mr. Wadsworth is a man of robust constitution, and, being judicious in his habits, will, we trust, live to be numbered among the old settlers of Chicago.
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