THOMAS WHITE. - It would be difficult to surmise what would be the condition of Springfield had Thomas White not become one of its citizens, for he has been so closely identified with the improvement of the city, not only along building lines, but also in the establishment of its industries, that his life record forms a most important chapter in the annals of Springfield's development, progress and prosperity. He is the senior member of the firm of Thomas White & Sons, contractors and builders, and in this regard he has for many years controlled the leading business interests of the capital.
He was born in Springfield, a son of Patrick White, who was a farmer in Ireland and left his native country in 1829. He came direct to Illinois, settling in Sangamon county in 1830. He was here known as a "gentleman farmer." He was also a teamster or wagoner, engaging in the transportation business between St. Louis and Springfield and in this line of activity he continued until the advent of the railroads. He hauled the first load of merchandise sold by Jacob Bunn, bringing this to Springfield from St. Louis. He also hauled the supplies for the regiment that left this city for service in the Mexican war, but he did not enlist. He likewise did teaming during the time of the Mormon troubles. For many years the White family lived next door to Abraham Lincoln. In his business affairs Mr. White prospered, providing a comfortable home for his family. He was married in his native land and there was one son born in Ireland - William, who is now deceased. He was a soldier of the Civil war and was the founder of White's Planing Mill, which is now owned by C. A. Powers. Seven children were added to the family after the arrival in Springfield, but only two are now living; Thomas; and Elizabeth, the wife of C. A. Powers, a representative of pioneer family. The others died in early youth with the exception of one daughter, Sarah, who was married. The children were all educated in the common schools and reared upon the home farm in Fancy Creek township.
Thomas White, of this review, together with his eldest brother, remained upon the home farm until a short time before the father's death, when they came to the city. After the father's demise our subject was apprenticed to the printer's trade under Charles Lanphier, who was one of the pioneers in that business in Springfield. He completed his apprenticeship and worked on the Journal staff for about two years. He then began learning the bricklayer's trade under Mr. Millington and subsequently was engaged in that pursuit. He afterward served an apprenticeship to the molder's trade and later was in the employ of the McCormick Harvester Company, but when the Civil war broke out he returned to Springfield, where he enlisted. In the meantime he had worked on a farm in Logan county, Illinois, during the year of 1860.
In response to President Lincoln's first call for troops, and when the smoke from Fort Sumter's guns had hardly cleared away, Thomas White offered his services, enlisting on the 17th of April, 1861, with forty-four others of Springfield. They were sent to Cairo and on the expiration of the first term Mr. White re-enlisted in the Ninetieth Illinois Regiment and was sent to Chicago to drill a company. His brother was an officer there. H remained with this regiment from August, 1862, until February, 1863, when he was detailed for service in the signal corps at Memphis, serving with that command until the close of the war. In 1865 he was mustered out at New Orleans and with a most creditable military record returned to his home.
For four years following the war Mr. White worked at the Molder's trade in Springfield and for some time afterward conducted a foundry. In 1869 he engaged in the manufacture of the Alexander corn planter and in 1870 he began contracting, doing general work in that line. He then devoted considerable attention to the building of sewerage systems and he designed and put in the present sewerage system of Springfield. He has also done considerable brick paving here and was the first man to lay slag pavement in this city, doing that work about 1873. He also did the brick contract work on the City Hall, furniture factory, the Franklin Life Insurance building, the Reisch building at the corner of fifth and Monroe streets, the annex to the Leland Hotel, the Somner & Pierik building on Sixth street and the residence of Dr. Walter Ryan, the Brady building, the first electric light plant, the street car barns, the Stacey & Herbst wholesale plant, and has also done considerable contract work in various parts of central Illinois, although his labors have principally been connected with building interests of this city. He formerly employed one hundred and fifty men in his business and he erected the Hay school and the Odd Fellow's Temple on Fourth street. In 1897 he admitted his son to a partnership and the latter is now manager of the building business, while Mr. White is devoting his energies to manufacturing interests. A new company was organized for the purpose of the manufacture of coal mine machinery. They began the manufacture of mining tools and cars and there is now in the plant in position over ten thousand dollars' worth of machinery. The company is known as the Sangamon Manufacturing Company, of which Mr. White was one of the organizers, and has since been the president. At the time of the organization there were three manufacturing plants in the city that were idle and Mr. White was made chairman of a committee on manufacturing industries that put forth a heroic effort to secure the establishment of an industry so that the people could not point to idle shops and idle men here. With his characteristic energy and determination he set about the task which lay before him and accomplished it. The rolling mills have been extensively repaired and are now in operation and the old furniture factory is likewise the scene of business activity. Industry has indeed felt the stimulus of the efforts and energy of Mr. White and no man in Springfield has done more for the business development of the city along substantial lines than he. In the company of which he is the president he has been a very hard worker and his labors have resulted in putting its business interests in a flourishing condition. The stock is held by the best citizens of Springfield, which speaks well for the success of the enterprise. The officers are Thomas White, president, and L. K. Davis, secretary and treasurer, with nine directors, namely: W. T. Colvin, H. Brown, W. A. McCullough, Irving Barker, A. T. Johnson, Edward H. Ready, John Ettlebrick, A. H. Higgins and Frank E. Dooling. In this manufacturing plant the company has sixty-five thousand feet of floor space for woodworking, half that amount for the foundry and over thirty thousand feet for the iron work department.
In Springfield in 1868 thomas White was united in marriage to Helen Crowe and they have one son, Edwin Henry, who is his father's successor in the contracting business. He married Miss Maud Gardner, a daughter of William L. Gardner, who was a prominent citizen of Springfield, known as the "Flying Dutchman." He was a pension claim agent and was very prominent in social organizations, being the organizer of the Knights and Ladies of Honor and the chief officer in the state organization of Ancient Order of United Workmen. He had six children: Mrs. Charles Phillips, who is residing at Dallas, Oregon; Mrs. John Taylor, who is living on North Fifth street in Springfield; Mrs. Elworth Moran, of Decatur, Illinois, deceased; and Maud, now the wife of Edwin White. The members of this family were educated in the city schools of Springfield and three are graduates of the high school. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Edwin White have been born three children: Joseph F. C., Ursula Adeline and Sarah Carlow.
Thomas White has not only been active in the material upbuilding of Springfield, but has also figured prominently in political and public office, ever finding time for the faithful performance of his duties of citizenship in a manner that will contribute to the general welfare. For eleven terms of two years each he has been elected to represent the sixth ward as city alderman, has served on all of the important committees of the city council, has been chairman of many and has ever exercised his official prerogatives to advance improvement, reform and progress here. He has been a strong advocate of paving the city with brick and has been found as the champion of many beneficial measures. He was the representative of Springfield to the paving congress at Buffalo, New York, and at Indianapolis, Indiana, and he and Alderman Newman were sent to Butte City, Montana, as delegates from Springfield to the national mining congress, which met in
September, 1902. He gives his political support to the Democracy and has frequently been delegate to the county, congressional and state conventions, for his views carry weight, because they are practical and bear upon the best interests of the party organization. Mr. White is also a distinguished and honored charter member of Stephenson, Post No. 30, G.A.R., but has never consented to hold office in that organization. He belongs to the Immaculate Conception Catholic church and he has a beautiful home at No. 1501 East Jackson street, which was erected in 1874 and remodeled in 1901 after plans which he made himself, while he did the work. Mr. White has been witness of almost the entire growth of Springfield and in all lines of public improvement he has left the impress of his individuality. He is a man of strong character and one who has wielded a wide and beneficial influence. A self-educated and self-made man, he owes his broad information to the reading of good literature. He finds his greatest
delight when amid his books and he keeps well informed on matters of general interest. He has, too, a knowledge of law seldom equaled by those outside of the profession. The example of such a man should serve to encourage and inspire others. With no special family or pecuniary advantages to aid him at the outset of his career, he has progressed steadily, winning success and at the same time commanding the respect of his fellow men by an upright life and by devotion to the general good.