|Judge Elbert H. Gary|
Were DuPage County, soon to observe its Sesquicentennial, to select a "citizen of the century" who had been most important in the dual role as a great leader in both DuPage County and the nation, there would be but one serious candidate ... Judge Elbert H. Gary.
Judge Gary spent his first fifty years in DuPage County and Wheaton. During those years he emerged as one of the outstanding corporate lawyers in the history of Illinois. From offices both in Wheaton and Chicago he handled a heavy and highly successful legal business. His preparation was of such depth and scope that judges would publicly commend him when handing down decisions in favor of his clients.
Yet Elbert Gary found time to organize with his uncle, Jesse Wheaton, and serve for twenty-five years as president of the Banking House of Gary and Wheaton, now known as the Gary-Wheaton Bank, the oldest and one of the largest in DuPage County. He organized other businesses, built buildings in Wheaton, at least one of which is still in use, and developed one of the largest real estate holdings in DuPage County.
Despite his commitment to a constantly expanding legal career and his personal business interests, Elbert Gary was also a leader in community work and public service in Wheaton and DuPage County. For years he was an officer and assumed heavy responsibilities in the Wheaton Methodist church whose founders included his parents, Erastus and Susan Vallette Gary. For twenty years he taught the Young Ladies Sunday School class at the church and sang in the church choir.
Nor did he neglect opportunities for public service. From 1890 until 1892 he served as both mayor of Wheaton and county judge of DuPage County. In 1890 he was elected as the first mayor of Wheaton when the town was chartered as a city, having before been organized as a village.
The office of DuPage County Judge before the turn of the century was considered a public service that prominent lawyers accepted. Mr. Gary was elected to a first term in 1884 and served a second term from 1888 until 1892. Curiously, for the remainder of his long life, he was always addressed as "Judge Gary" even by his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt, and other national leaders.
At the invitation of the nations financial wizard, J. Pierpont Morgan, Judge Gary went to New York on what he regarded as an assignment to bring about a reorganization of the American steel industry that had become seriously overburdened as it attempted to meet the needs of a rapidly growing nation. By the year 1900 Judge Gary and his family had moved to the New York City area, never to return.
Shortly before leaving Wheaton, as a memorial to his
parents, Judge Gary made a gift to his Methodist Church in Wheaton of a new church
building completely furnished with an endowment to meet the costs of repairs indefinitely
into the future. It was the largest church building in Wheaton at the time. In
appreciation for the large gift, the congregation changed the name of the church to the
Gary Memorial Methodist Church.
|Judge Gary was born on a farm at Gary's Mill and owned many acres of land. In later life, he had a farm in New York where he could spend time away from his duties as chairman of the United States Steel Corporation.|
In 1890 the pattern of Judge Garys personal life and career seemed perfectly clear. He was 44 years old, mayor of Wheaton, comfortably fixed financially. He had turned aside opportunities to enter Illinois state politics and even a chance to sit on the Illinois Supreme Court. If any one thing was indicated, it was that Wheaton was to be the only home he and his family would ever know.
Yet eight years later, he would be gone from Wheaton, would be living in New York and president of the second largest steel company in the nation; and three years after that would organize and head up the United States Steel Corporation ... Americas first billion dollar industrial organization.
The man who triggered the events that led Judge Gary to this new career as an industrialist was John W. Gates, who as a farm boy grew up at Garys Mill.
Despite their personal disinterest in one another since childhood in DuPage County, John Gates unexpectedly came to Judge Garys office early in 1892. He had a complicated corporate problem whose solution meant a great deal to him. Gates turned to Gary because he recognized that Gary was outstanding among the corporation lawyers in Chicago and he was sure that, although they had not always been on friendly terms, Judge Gary would be fair, and give his very best to the Gates affairs. Gates was convinced Garys adherence to the Golden Rulethe Gary codewould hold in their dealings.
Gates wanted Judge Gary to find an effective and legally foolproof way in which to combine the five barbed wire manufacturing companies controlled by him and his associates into one corporation whose stock would substantially exceed the stock of the five original companies, justified on the assumption that the new corporation could produce and market more products than the original companies. By December of 1892 the consolidation was complete.
Still business conditions continued to be erratic in the big and growing barbed wire market with wide and unpredictable swings in prices. Barbed wire, at times, sold for less than the cost of production. By 1897, Gates had another consolidation proposal for Judge Gary. This time he wanted to bring as many as forty steel wire plants into an $80 million combine. There would have to be a major input of fresh capital, and Gates suggested that he and Judge Gary go directly to the countrys leading financier, J. Pierpont Morgan in New York, for the money. The House of Morgan, although dominant in the financing of railroads, had no steel interest at the time.
As Judge Gary worked out the plan, J. P. Morgan showed interest in the proposal through the fall of 1897, cooled on the matter after the turn of the new year and backed away completely after February 15 when the blowing up of the American Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor signaled the beginning of the Spanish-American War.
The Spanish-American War distraction soon over, Morgan immediately took an interest in the Gary proposal. In the spring of 1898 a committee was appointed to bring about an amalgamation of the many properties involved. Committee members were Governor Flower of New York, Senator Spooner of Wisconsin, Robert Bacon of the House of Morgan and Judge Gary.
Everything went well. Judge Gary considered his job was done and was gathering up his papers preparatory to catching the train for Chicago. A secretary came to him and asked if he could come to Mr. Morgans office at once. Members of the committee, Morgans partners and Pierpont Morgan himself were there. Always one to come to the point at once, Morgan spoke, and here is the way the noted biographer, Ida Tarbell reported what followed:
"Judge Gary, you have put this thing together in very good shape. We are all very well pleased. Now you must be president of the corporation."
It was the first intimation that the Judge had that such a thing was in the minds of his clients. He told Mr. Morgan he could not think of it.
"Why not?" the great banker boomed.
"Why, Mr. Morgan," Gary replied, "I have a law practice worth $75,000 a year and I cannot leave it."
"Well take care of that," insisted Mr. Morgan. "We must make it worth your while."
"But I must think it over."
" No," Morgan persisted, "we want to know now."
"But who are the directors to be?"
"You can select the directors, name the executive committee, choose your officers and fix your salary," Morgan told Judge Gary.
But John W. Gates soon had another and even larger proposal ... the ultimate plan for the basic steel industry. What was needed, Gates now said, was a kind of corporate giant that neither the United States or any other country had ever developed before ... a concern that could handle every step in steel from digging the iron ore to delivering barbed wire, steel rails and the thousand other things that had to be made from steel and iron. It would have to be a billion-dollar corporation. For a time Morgan and others wrote off these suggestions as just Gates talk. But events constantly put Gates billion-dollar corporation proposal in a more favorable light.
Stripped of all the spectacular developments that attended its birth, the House of Morgan, with Judge Gary as the architect, brought about the organization of the United States Steel Corporation because of its fear of Andrew Carnegie. Not only did Carnegie have a vast iron and steel empire, but he owned railroads, mines and steamships.
An unpredictable individual, Carnegie was the one man in the United States powerful enough to disrupt the nations economy and perhaps collapse the Morgan enterprises. Too, Carnegie made no secret of his desire to retire, and Morgan was fearful that the Carnegie steel empire might fall into unfriendly hands.
On April 2, 1901, the announcement came. The United States Steel Corporation had been formed, its capital stock was one billion one hundred million dollars. Judge E. H. Gary was its chief executive officer. The United States had its first billion-dollar corporation.
Judge Gary remained the chief executive officer of the United States Steel Corporation until the day of his death more than twenty-six years later. He came to be recognized as the spokesman for a rapidly expanding American industry. He was known throughout the world. He was the subject for a TIME MAGAZINE cover page. Several books were written about his life and his leadership.
Judge Gary died in August, 1927. The New York Times
devoted most of its front page and two other pages to his achievements. Then he returned
to Wheaton. Memorial services were held in the beautiful church he had given to the
congregation in memory of his parents. Judge Gary had come home to his final resting