Monday, January 29, 2007

Aaron French

Aaron French
March 23, 1823 - March 24, 1902

Aaron French, president of the A. French Spring Company of Pittsburgh, controlled one of the largest industries of Western Pennsylvania, manufacturing springs for cars in this country and in Europe. French was born in Wadsworth, Medina County, Ohio, on March 23, 1823 (1880 census indicates 1826), a son of Philo and Mary (McIntyre) French, and was named for his paternal grandfather.

Philo French, his father, was born in West Springfield Mass in 1795. After receiving his education in the public schools, he engaged in powder-making with his father. The mill in which father and son were interested exploded about 1817, and they moved to that part of Ohio then known as the Western Reserve of Connecticut, settling at Wadsworth. The place at that time was a wilderness, and the highways for commerce and travel were paths through the woods marked by blazed trees. Philo French cleared a farm in Wadsworth, and he added to his income by traveling as agent for an Eastern powder-house. He died in October 1823, aged 28 years. His wife was a daughter of William McIntyre, a Highland Scotchman. She was the youngest of a family of 14, all of whom lived to be of 75. She herself attained the advanced age of 91, passing away in 1877. She was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Her union with Mr. French was blessed by 3 children: Philo, born February 11, 1819; Henry who died a the age of 27; and Aaron, the subject of this sketch. After Mr. French’s death, she married David Stearns of Ohio, by whom she had seven children – John M (deceased) and Lucy (twins), William L. David E, Frank N. Daniel M. (deceased) and Charles L.

Aaron French attended school until 12 years of age, and then went to work on the farm. He began to learn the blacksmith’s trade when he was 13 year old and followed it a few years, next entering the employ of the Ohio Stage Co. at Cleveland, with whom he remained two years. The following year he was employed in the Guyaoso House Memphis Tenn. And he was next engaged as agent in the West by the American Fur Company. While earning his livelihood he did his best to make up for the defects in his early education, and the year that he was 20 he attended the Archie McGregor Academy at Wadsworth, Ohio. He left the academy in the fall of 1844 to vote for Henry Clay, and after the election was over, went South. In 1845 he was in St. Louis and he was subsequently engaged in the manufacture of wagons with Peter Young in Carlyle, Clinton County, Illinois. Here he was attacked with chills and fever and was ill three or four months. Carried back to Ohio by his brother, he spent four years in comparative idleness, being too weak to attend to business. After his recovery he entered the employ of the Cleveland, Columbus and Lake Shore Railroad Co. at Cleveland, Ohio. His first work for them was the erection of the iron work of the Painesville Bridge. He was connected with this company until the summer o f1854, hen he went to Norwalk, Ohio. There he worked in a blacksmith shop during the year of the cholera epidemic, being the only able-bodied man to remain through the season; and the following year he had charge of the blacksmith department at the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad at Wellsville. His nest position was that of superintendent of the blacksmith business of the Racine & Mississippi Railroad at Racine, Wis.; and a part of the time he acted as master mechanic. When the war broke out he offered his services but he failed to pass the physical examination. In 1862 he was elected Sheriff of Racine County, Wisconsin; and he was in office two years.

Before the expiration of his term of service, he started in the manufacture of car springs in Pittsburgh, with (future fellow South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club member) Calvin Wells as partner, using the firm now name so widely known, the A. French Spring Company. When he started in business, he rented a small place opposite the Union Depot, forty by one hundred feet in dimension, and employed only eight or ten men. The manufacture was at first limited to elliptic springs of the Hazen patent. In four years the business had increased so that the firm was obliged to provide larger accommodations and erected the part of their present plant known as No. 1; and in 1893 the working force was over three hundred. The output at present (1897) embraces all styles of spiral and elliptical spring for locomotives and passenger and street cars. Quantities of springs are sent to Sweden, and until recently this company furnished all the Pullman equipment in Europe. It is said that this is the largest manufactory of the kind in the world. The works occupy two blocks between Nineteenth and Twenty-first Streets. Mr. Wells was a member of the firm for 20 years. After his withdrawal the company was reorganized and regularly incorporated under the laws of Pennsylvania with the present name, the A. French Spring Company. It is hardly necessary to state that Mr. French is one of the ablest businessmen in the country. He is a prominent member of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

In 1843 he was married to Euphrasia Terrill of Liverpool, Modina County, Ohio, who died in 1871. She was the mother of five children:

- Lucie, wife of Carl Retter

- Ida (deceased), wife of William Phillips

- Clara, wife of Charles Kaufman of Lancaster, Pa.

- Philo N.

- Aaron (deceased)

Mr. French subsequently married Caroline B. Skeer of Chicago, by whom he had one child:

- Mary A. (who died at age 18)

In politics Mr. French is a strong Republican. He was made a Mason in Racine Lodge, No 18, in Racine Wis., and is now Past Master of St. John’s Lodge of Pittsburgh, belonging to Zerubbabel Chapter of Pittsburgh and is Past High Priest of the Chapter in Wisconsin. He is also a member of Tancred Commandery of Pittsburgh and he belongs to the Duquesne Club. He attends and supports the Calvary Episcopal Church of Pittsburgh of which is wife is an active worker.

Source: Biographical Review, volume 24; 1897.

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In 1880, the family lived in Allegheny (the North Side) where S F F & H C members James W. Brown and A V Holmes were near-neighbors.

Aaron French died the day after his 79th birthday on March 24, 1902 in his home at 6826 Penn Avenue, in Pittsburgh.

Aaron French was 66 at the time of the Johnstown Flood.

You may see a portrait of Mr. French at the following website:

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