Illinois Hall of Fame: Elbert H. Gary
By Mark Rhoads
Former DuPage County Judge, Elbert H. Gary was the principal founder of the United States Steel Corporation in 1901. His major partners included J. Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carneigie, and Charles M. Schwab. The city of Gary, Indiana, a steel town, was named in his honor when it was founded in 1906. Trust-busting President Teddy Roosevelt said that Gary was head of the steel trust and Gary thought it was a compliment. The two men did communicate in a non-confrontational way, unlike Teddy's relationship with leaders of other trusts.
Elbert Henry Gary was born near Wheaton, Illinois on Oct. 8, 1846. He graduated first in his class from Union College of Law in 1868. The school later became the Northwestern University Law School. Gary started to practice law in Chicago in 1871 and also maintained an office in Wheaton. He was a co-founder with his uncle, Jesse Wheaton, of the Gary-Wheaton Bank that merged with Bank One in the middle 1990s.
While he was simultaneously working as a young corporate attorney for railroads and other clients in the years after the Chicago fire, Gary was also elected as the first mayor of Wheaton when it changed from a village to an incorporated city from 1890 to 1892.
Gary also served as a county judge for those same two years. His two terms as a DuPage County judge ran from 1884 to 1892. For the rest of his life he was known as "Judge Gary." It was a common custom in the nineteenth century for men to be addressed by military, political, or academic titles long after those titles were current. Even his friend President Theodore Roosevelt called him "Judge Gary."
Gary practiced law in Chicago for about twenty-five years. He was president of the Chicago Bar Association from 1893 to 1894. It was while he was hearing a case as a judge that he first became interested in the process of making steel and the economics of that business. In 1898 Gary became president of Federal Steel Corporation in Chicago that included a barb wire business. Federal and other companies merged as United States Steel in 1901.
At the age of 54, Judge Gary moved from Wheaton to New York in 1900. He located the headquarters of U.S. Steel in that city. From 1906 to 1908, Gary served as president of the Illinois State Society of New York, a group of Illinois expatriates living in New York who got together for social reasons a few times each year; including for an annual Lincoln Day Dinner in February at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and a Chicago Fire Remembrance Day each October at the same Delmonico's Restaurant that still stands today in Manhattan.
There were also two Illinois State Societies in San Diego and San Francisco, California and a large Illinois State Society of Washington, DC. Only the Washington, DC club remains and celebrated 152 years of activities this year.
Elbert Gary served as president and CEO of America's first billion-dollar corporation, United States Steel, from the company's founding in 1901 until his death on Aug. 15, 1927 in New York at the age of 82. [Elbert H. Gary is buried at Wheaton, IL. -GDY]
"It has been decided to construct and put into operation a new plant to be located on the south shore of Lake Michigan, in Calumet Township, Lake County, Indiana, and a large acreage of land has been purchased for that purpose... "
With these words, Elbert H. Gary, Chairman of the Board, United States Steel Corporation, initiated what contemporaries called "the industrial wonder of the world." U.S. Steel's Gary Works was, indeed, a monumental achievement. Along with building the world's largest integrated steelmaking complex, the Corporation also saw an opportunity to build a model company-built town. Thirty-seven local residents approved a petition to incorporate the Town of Gary on July 14, 1906. Two years and $42,000,000 later, Gary became known as the "Magic City" and the "City of the Century".
Our founding father, who art in New York City,
"Not Lousiana, Paris, France or Rome."
And definitely not in the city we call home!
Elbert be thy name.
Thy mill has come.
And thy will has been done,
On the southern shore of Lake Michigan;
Upon both the wilds of nature and the laboring man.
Just as you have ordained.
Give us this day our daily wage,
And forgive us our transgressions,
Just as we forgive Superintendent Gleason and the other bosses,
Who transgress against us daily.
Lead us not into "The Patch," and temptation,
But do deliver us from evil.
And keep us on the straight and narrow path,
For thine is the company,
U. S. Steel, glorious U. S. Steel, forever and ever —
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