Downtown 1958

Downtown 1958

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A. J. Webster

Born in 1829, in Cabot, Vermont, Andrew J. Webster grew up as a farm boy and became a machinist at age 21, moving around several manufacturing cities in Vermont and New Hampshire. Following his marriage to Helen Vance in 1855 the couple moved to Racine and came to Menasha in 1856.   He was described by his friend, P. V. Lawson, as a proud young man with merely an ordinary education and no wealth, his whole capital of $500 being furnished by his wife. He was one of the many who came out west with lots of energy and dreams of making a fortune.  
Shortly after his arrival in Menasha, Webster purchased a small spoke factory and became the sole owner and employee. When the factory became stabilized, Lawson became his partner. The demands of the Civil War for wagon parts caused the partners to aggressively expand, becoming the second largest manufacturer in the area.   Sitting on the same land today that we find the marina (and where the former First National Bank resided), the Webster Manufacturing Company by 1879 occupied ten acres of land and employed 175 men full time.   The company turned out the material for 150 wagons and 100 cultivators each day.
As Webster prospered so did his involvement with other businesses and social activities. In 1870 he served on the first library board. He was elected as a popular mayor for three terms between 1879 and 1884. It was while he served that the arrangement for payment of Milwaukee and Northern Railroad bonds was made. However, his efforts to have the saloons closed on Sundays failed.
In 1880 the Webster-Lawson partnership dissolved. Lawson believed the needed raw materials were declining, as the company required six million feet of lumber each year. Webster's other activities included assisting in the organization of the Bank of Menasha.
Webster was widowed in 1876 and later married Mary Fratt of Racine, a cousin of Francis Kimberly. The Webster home on Washington Street was a show place near the Neenah border where St. Thomas Episcopal Church now stands.  Residents of Menasha were shocked when Webster, without any notice, moved his chair operation to Superior, Wisconsin, leaving 200 individuals unemployed.
Webster died in 1903 in Redlands, California. 

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