FRED R. COATS. - While the honors that may be attained in political and military life are comparatively few, the field of business is limitless and rich prizes are to be won through diligence, unremitting effort and exercise of sound judgment. It is a noticeable fact that in the history of business achievements in America the young men have gained marked distinction. Each community has among its representatives those whose years are not many and yet whose success might well be envied by those who have long traveled life's journey. Mr. Coats has instituted in Springfield a business of importance that has now reached extensive and profitable proportions. He is engaged in the manufacture of watch tools and fittings and he brought to the establishment of his enterprise broad and comprehensive knowledge in this line.
Mr. Coats is a native of the Empire state, his birth having occurred in the town of Bennington, in Wyoming county, September 14, 1866. The ancestry can be traced back to France, where the Coats were representatives of mercantile interests. From that land the great-grandparents of our subject removed to Plymouth, England, where they reared a family of five sons. Two of these, Joseph and Peter Coats, removed to Paisley, Scotland, where they engaged in the manufacture of thread. Among the others was Abel Coats, the grandfather of our subject, who crossed the Atlantic to America and settled in Stonington, Connecticut, where he resided for fifteen years. On the expiration of that period he removed to Varysburg, in the town of Bennington, Wyoming county, New York. He was a cooper by trade and prior to his death he retired from business cares to enjoy a well earned rest, spending his last days in Springfield, Illinois.
In New York was born his son, Rufus C. Coats, who came to Springfield, Illinois in 1873, and entered mercantile circles as a grocer, conducting a growing and profitable business for eighteen years, or up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1895. He married Adelaide Edson, who was born in New York in 1843, and is now living at No. 1505 East Washington street, in Springfield. They became the parents of three children, the daughters being Cecelia and Fanny, the former now the wife of Mr. Ashcraft, and they had three children, of whom one son and one daughter are yet living. Fanny is the wife of James Culbertson, of Hannibal, Missouri, and they have six children. Both daughters were educated in New York.
Fred R. Coats, the youngest member of the family, was but eight years of age at the time of his parents' removal to Springfield. He obtained his early education in the place of his nativity and then continued his studies in the public schools of this city for four or five years. Ambitious to broaden his knowledge he became an earnest reader of instructive books, perusing with especial zest the literature of mechanics, for which department of knowledge he had a decided taste. From the pages of the Scientific American, which was often found in his hands, he gained many an idea destined in due time to materialize in practical results and his entire business experience has been concentrated along this line. After leaving school he accepted a position in the train department of the Illinois Watch Company, where he applied himself diligently to the mastery of the duties assigned him and manifested such skill and understanding that he was rapidly promoted and at the end of two years made assistant foreman of a portion of the department. After filling that position for three years he accepted an offer to take charge of the train department of the watch factory at Aurora, Illinois, and two years afterward he accepted a similar position with the Peoria Watch Company which had removed to Illinois from Fredonia, New York. He remained with the latter enterprise for two years, and within that time designed a new train for one of the watches made by the company. Returning to the Illinois Watch Company, he became the director of the work in the department where he had first been employed as a boy, and there remained for two years. Removing at the end of that time to Columbus, Ohio, he acted as foreman in the train department of the watch factory of that city and while there his inventive faculty, ever on the alert, originated another train for one of their leading designs in watch movements. He continued with the Columbus factory for about three years or until the beginning of a period of great depression in the watch trade, which occasioned the shutting down of many manufactories and curtailed the activities of others.
Returning to Springfield, Mr. Coats entered into partnership with S. M. Clarke, and they established a business for the manufacture of balance staffs for watches. At the end of six months, Mr. Clarke wishing to withdraw, Mr. Coats purchased his interest and immediately proceeded to erect a brick factory building on Fifteenth street. This was in 1895, and he there carried on business for several years. As he found opportunity he extended the scope of his operations until his work covered the fitting of jewels in gold and brass settings. When the new establishment had been in operation for about a half a year, Mr. Coats was solicited by the Lancastershire Watch Company of England to become foreman of the train and jewel department of its factory at Prescott, and with the view of advancing his knowledge in the art of making balance staffs he accepted the offer and spent six months in England. At the end of that period in order to avoid the detriment to his business interests in Springfield, which a prolonged absence would entail, he returned home and reinstated the activities of his own establishment which had been suspended during his sojourn abroad. In 1899 he erected his present building at the corner of Fifteenth and East Washington streets. It is a two-story building and the plant is thoroughly equipped, many of the machines now used being of his own designing. The building is also supplied with all the latest types of automatic machines, and a force of seventy workmen is employed. The business has had a rapid but healthy growth, and the output is shipped to all parts of the civilized world. He has a large mail order trade and the enterprise has become an important one in Springfield, and is returning a good profit to the owner.
Mr. Coats resides with his mother in this city, and they are members of the First Methodist episcopal church. He is also socially connected with the Johnson family, and is a member of the Springfield Mercantile club. In his business career he has manifested a quick utility of opportunities and a ready adaptability of his knowledge to the needs of the trade. He has broad and comprehensive understanding of watch making in all its departments and this combined with his enterprise and laudable ambition have made him one of the most successful of the younger men of this city.