Representative Men of Michigan

American Biographical Sketch of Self-Made Men of Michigan

Cincinnatti, Ohio - 1878

SMITH, JOHN W. H., Manufacturer, of Charlotte, Michigan, was born in Brown County, Ohio, August 16, 1831. His father, Benton Smith, was a farmer, who moved to Spencer County, Indiana, in 1837, and died in 1846. John W. H. Smith attended the common schools during the winter months until his father's death, after which he was thrown upon his own resources. Being desirous to obtain an education, he went to live on a farm, where he could attend school, doing chores in the morning and evening, and chopping wood on Saturdays, to defray his expenses. After a time, his cousin, Samuel D. Smith, who had a general store in Enterprise, Indiana, sent for him to become an assistant. He remained there one year, acquiring his first business experience. In 1848 he went to Cincinnati, and entered Herron's Seminary, then an excellent institution, under the management of Professor Joseph Herron. He was studious and gentlemanly, and soon obtained the strong friendship of the professor. He remained here most of the time until the spring of 1851, paying his way by attending to collections for Professor Herron, and hearing some recitations. He married, October 9, 1851, Miss Rosanna Holt. In the following winter, he spent a few weeks as clerk in a mill office. In February, he formed a partnership in the retail hardware trade, which lasted one year. He afterwards engaged as clerk in various kinds of business, at very low wages, until the summer of 1853. He then formed a partnership in the hardware business, which continued until 1864, when the firm was dissolved, Mr. Smith retiring. During the existence of this firm, Mr. Smith was solicited by Tyler Davidson & Co., one of the leading wholesale hardware firms in the West, to enter their employment as salesman. After some consideration, he declined. In January, 1858, he accepted the position of cashier and confidential book-keeper with the same firm. He continued with them, enjoying their fullest confidence, until 1860, when he returned to his own occupation. He immediately set about erecting a building suitable for the increasing demands of his trade; when completed, this was one of the most attractive stores in Cincinnati for the display of goods. Having disposed of his interest in this establishment in 1864, he removed with his family to Oxford, Ohio, where he resided until 1868. While there, he formed a copartnership in the hardware trade, and built the first really first-class business house in Oxford. In 1865 he again engaged with Tyler Davidson & Co., and continued with them until the death of the senior partner. He remained with the successors of the firm until 1867. In the latter part of 1866, he entered upon the lumber business and the manufacture of handles, in the village of Buchanan, Michigan. After severing his connections in Cincinnati, he became actively engaged in Michigan, still continuing his business in Oxford, Ohio. He remained a member of the Oxford firm until the death of his partner, in 1874, and closed it out by a sale in 1875. In 1868 he removed to Michigan, and has since been a resident of Buchanan, Niles, and Charlotte. He became the sole proprietor of the handle and lumber manufactory in 1869, and moved it from Buchanan to Charlotte in 1870. While thus engaged, his attention was directed to a new and valuable invention known as the "Willard Patent Double-Stave Barrel." As this, in his judgment, was an article of great merit, he began its manufacture in 1872. He conducted this business in his own name until May 1, 1875, when the "Michigan Double-Stave Barrel Company" was organized. Mr. Smith owns one-half of the stock, and is Secretary of the company. He removed his handle and lumber business to Vandolia, Michigan, in 1874, in order to make room for the extensive manufacture of the double-stave barrel, his being the only manufactory of its kind in the State. The business at Vandalia is conducted under the firm name of J. W. H. Smith & Co.; W. F. Bort, the son-in-law of Mr. Smith, and H. S. Cone being partners. Mr. Smith is a man of decided convictions, and great executive and business ability. He is strictly honorable in his dealings. Although he started in life with great disadvantages, he has gained for himself and enviable reputation, and is a man of great personal popularity. He knows no such word as fail, never allowing himself to be conquered by circumstances. His great tenacity of purpose, purity of character, and iron will, make him a citizen of whom Michigan may well be proud. Mrs. Smith is of English birth and parentage, having been brought by her parents to this country when a child. They have four children, - three sons and one daughter, all living. The daughter, Amelia Frances, was married in December, 1870, to W. F. Bort, of Vandalia, Michigan.