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Samuel R. White
McLean County, Illinois

SAMUEL R. WHITE. The career of Samuel R. White is so closely interwoven with the progress and development of Bloomington that the history of the city would be incomplete without the record of his life. To say of him that he has risen unaided from comparative obscurity to rank among the most successful men of this section of Illinois, is a statement that seems trite to those familiar with his life, yet it is but just to say in a history that will descend to future generations that his business record has been one that any man would be proud to possess.

Beginning with no capital save determined purpose and laudable ambition, he has worked his way steadily upward step by step until he is now occupying a position of prominence and trust in the industrial world reached by very few men. Through his entire business career he has been looked upon as a model of integrity and honor, never making an engagement that he has not fulfilled, and standing to-day as an example of what determination and force, combined with the highest degree of business integrity, can accomplish for a man of natural ability and strength of character.

A native of the neighboring state of Indiana, Mr. White was born in Huntington, December 27, 1846, and is a son of James and Lucy (Phelps) White. The father was born in North Carolina, and when about four years old lost his father. He spent his youth in the place of his nativity, and when about twenty-five years of age removed to Indiana. In his early manhood he engaged in merchandising in Ohio, but on account of ill health removed to a farm, where he carried on agricultural pursuits until his death, which occurred in January, 1853, when Samuel R. White was a little lad of only four summers. He left a widow and four children who grew to mature years, namely: Mary A., now Mrs. Foulke, of Whiting, Kansas; Mrs. Laura A. Reed, of Bloomington; James and Samuel R.

After the death of her first husband Mrs. White became the wife of John Reed, of Wabash, Indiana, whence they removed to Bloomington in 1884. Mrs. Reed died about 1888, but Mr. Reed is still living in this city at the advanced age of ninety years. In early life she was a member of the Presbyterian church, but afterward held membership in the Christian church.

In the district schools Samuel R. White acquired his education, pursuing his studies until seventeen years of age, through the winter season. In the summer months he assisted in the labors of field and meadow and when nineteen years of age he left the farm in order to serve an apprenticeship to the carpenter's trade in Wabash county, Indiana.

In 1868 he came to Illinois, working as a journeyman in various parts of the state, including the towns of Winona and Ottawa. In 1869 he returned to Huntington, where he began contracting on his own account on a small scale, meeting with success in the undertaking. He was married there, and in the spring of 1870 removed with his bride to Bloomington. It was his intention to locate elsewhere, but while seeking a favorable opening he began working at his trade in this city, and in 1872 entered upon an independent business career as a contractor and builder. He erected a number of school-houses, dwellings and barns throughout the county, and as he demonstrated his ability in the line of his chosen vocation his patronage constantly increased and the nature of his work partook of a more important character. His force of workmen was likewise enlarged, and his enterprise and capable management was crowned with a fair degree of success.

In 1874 he erected the Stevenson hardware store in Front street; in 1875 the First Ward school building; and various residences in the city also indicate his handiwork. He was thus engaged in contracting until 1879, when he withdrew from that business, having in the meantime turned his attention to other lines, which he believed would prove more profitable. In 1873 he established a lumber and coal yard which he also conducted until 1878. In that year he founded what has become one of the leading industrial concerns of the city. He began the manufacture of house furniture in an old mill, which was operated by rented power and which stood on the site of his present commodious and substantial plant. He utilized his carpenter shop for a sales and store room, and acted as his own traveling salesman, going upon the road to sell his goods.

Prosperity attended the new venture and his trade, constantly increasing in volume and importance, had in 1883 reached such dimensions that he was enabled to erect a planing mill and factory, located at No. 304 Douglass street. As the years passed great changes were made in the style of furniture and extensive corporations were monopolizing the trade, which caused him to abandon the manufacture of furniture and begin the construction of sash, doors and blinds. This enterprise has continued one of the leading industrial concerns of the'eity, and has proven a very profitable investment.

In 1884, a fire destroyed the plant, which was a three-story frame building, but with characteristic energy he made preparation for the immediate continuance of his business by purchasing the old mill in which he began operations and erecting on the site the main part of his present plant, a three-story brick structure, sixty by sixty feet, supplied with capacious boilers and engines and the latest improved machinery for carrying on the work. Later he purchased the remainder of the half block on which the plant was located and removing a dwelling and livery barn built an addition to his factory in order to meet the demands of his constantly increasing patronage.

The greater part of the ground is now covered with the building, a three-story brick structure, one hundred and fifteen by one hundred and eighty feet, providing ample accommodation for carrying on the business. The plant is equipped throughout with the most modern and highly improved machinery, and his trade has more than doubled since the building was enlarged. He also manufactures store furniture in addition to lumber, sash, doors and blinds. and the output of the factory is very large. In the conduct of the enterprise he has been very successful, owing to his keen discrimination, his sound judgment, enterprise, and executive ability. Only a small insurance covered the plant that was first destroyed by fire, and in 1889 he again suffered loss through the fiery element, but with undaunted courage he continued his labors and triumphed over the difficulties which he had met.

Mr. White is a man of resourceful business ability, and his efforts have been by no means confined to one line. He has been the promoter of many of the leading business concerns of the city, and has thereby not only promoted his individual prosperity but has largely advanced the welfare of the city. On the site of his first planing mill he erected four flat buildings which were supplied with all the conveniences of that time. While engaged in contracting he was appointed an expert appraiser for an insurance company, and thus formed an extensive acquaintance which enabled him to secure many large contracts in various parts of the country, and furnish employment to from two hundred to two hundred and fifty men.

He erected buildings for the American Sugar Refining Company, the Realty Cooperage Company, the Pullman Palace Car Company, the Bradner Smith Paper Company's Mill, and repaired the Hotel Peoria and the Dunlap House. In the line of his insurance business, he was called as an expert adjuster from New Orleans to Manitoba and from Baltimore to Denver, settling losses for various companies. His tact and discrimination combined with marked executive ability, made him very successful in that line of work, and his labors were most satisfactory to the companies he represented.

Mr. White is now the representative of many industrial and manufacturing concerns, whose prosperity is largely attributable to his wise counsel in the management of their affairs. In 1894 he was one of the organizers of the Bloomington Store Fixture Company, which succeeded to the business of H. A. Miner and was capitalized for twenty-thousand dollars, its officers being Mr. White, president, and Mr. Rodman, general manager. They manufacture store and office furniture, employ forty workmen, and ship their goods into almost every state of the Union.

In 1894 our subject erected what is known as the White Block, a five-story and basement brick structure, seventy-six by one hundred and twelve feet, to which an addition, fifty by eighty feet, and three stories in height, has been made. This building is supplied with power from the planing mill across the street, by rope transmission. The store fixtures occupy more than three floors and the basement in this large building. Mr. White is also interested in the Corn Belt Printing Company, of which he is president, and is a stockholder in the Novelty Manufacturing Company, the partners being C. F. Shunkle and Mr. White. In this enterprise employment is furnished from fifteen to eighteen men. Mr. White is likewise interested in the B. S. Constant Company, which manufactures machinery for grain elevators, is a stockholder in the A. N. Stevens Company, a large grocery firm in the same block. The various enterprises with which he is connected furnish employment to about two hundred and fifty men, and thus materially aid in the progress and advancement of the city, for the general welfare is dependent entirely upon commercial activity.

Bloomington is also indebted to him for improvements which add to her beauty. He has laid out one of the most attractive additions to the city, called "White's Place." It comprises thirty acres of land, and upon this property he placed improvements to the value of thirteen thousand dollars, in the year 1898. In the center of the tract is a broad street, seventy feet wide. This is divided into three equal sections, the center being transformed into a park adorned with trees, grass, flowers and a fountain. On each side asphalt paving extends for sixteen feet. The lots are sixty feet wide and a building line insures the beauty that arises from uniformity. The sewer, water and gas connections have all been made through the alleys in the rear, and heavy teams are also to deliver their goods through that way, so that the boulevard is used only for pleasure driving. All of the buildings will be heated by steam, and White's Place will eventually become one of the most beautiful districts of the city. His own pleasant home is located on Mulberry street, where he has resided for thirteen years.

On the 21st of September, 1869, Mr. White was united in marriage to Miss Minerva E. Moore, daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Moore, who resided in Huntington county, Indiana, six miles from the city of that name. To Mr. and Mrs. White have been born six children who are yet living: Louis A., who married Lillian Wood, of Chicago, and is engaged in business in Bloomington; Ora E., who is now interested in the management of the S. R. White Manufacturing Company, and married Miss Minnie Merrideth, by whom he has one child, Samuel R. , Jr.; Elizabeth, at home; Alma, wife of S. M. McEwan, chief train dispatcher of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, at St. Joseph, Missouri; Samuel Warren, who is manager of the Star Novelty Manufacturing Company; and Dalmar, at home.

The parents are members of the First Methodist Episcopal church, in which Mr. White is serving as trustee. He also occupies a similar position in connection with the Woman's Industrial Home, and is a liberal contributor to both. He has always been willing to devote his wealth and energies to any feasible undertaking that would increase the prosperity of the city and add to the comfort of its inhabitants. His life has been a success. He has accumulated a competency and has used only such means as will bear the closest scrutiny. He has for thirty years been an active factor in advancing the city of Bloomington, and during that entire time has so conducted all of his affairs as to command the esteem, confidence and respect of all classes.

Personally he is sociable, ever willing to accord to any one the courtesy of an interview, and is entirely free from ostentation or display. His actions during his life have been such as to accord him recognition among the representative men of this great state, and although his career has not been filled with thrilling incidents, probably no biography in this volume can serve as a better illustration to young men of the power of honesty and integrity in insuring business.

[The Biographical record of McLean County, Illinois - S.J. Clarke Publishing Company - (1899)]


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