WHEELER, LAKE, GRIFFITH
Posted By: Annette Lucas (email)
Date: 5/23/2021 at 08:01:51
SOURCE: Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties, Iowa; W. S. Dunbar & Co., Publishers, 1889
WILLIAM W. WHEELER, President of the Shelby County Bank, and one of western Iowa's leading hardware merchants, is one out of a thousand men who, without the aid of others, has by his own native tact and energy become the possessor of a good fortune in almost a phenomenally short period; he has won through actual merit the good-will and high esteem of both business and social acquaintance in a wide circle. As will be observed in the following sketch, three traits of character have been prominent in his life—faithfulness, self-reliance and perseverance. His whole career from boyhood has been exemplary and eminently fitted to become a pattern for any youth having an ambition for success in life. He is the second son and fourth child of Norman E. and Harriet (Lake) Wheeler, natives of Connecticut, and of Puritan ancestry. Mr. Wheeler was born October 4, 1856, at Sharon, Litchfield County, Connecticut. He was reared on his father's farm, where they remained until 1867 and then moved to Millerton, New York, where they engaged in the hotel business, following this until 1870. The mother and one sister died in 1869. From New York the family, with the exception of one sister who was then married, removed to Fulton, Whiteside County, Illinois, where the father still resides. William W. attended the common schools at the different places he had lived, and finally graduated from the high school at Fulton, Illinois, in 1875. After he had entered the high school he left his studies and for about two years worked in a printing office, but being convinced that that art would not be what he cared to follow through life, he left the printer's case and again entered school, with a new ambition to finish his education and enter some business pursuit. The year prior to his graduation he clerked evenings and Saturdays in the hardware store of his uncle, Charles N. Wheeler, thus partly paying for his education. He then went to Clinton, Iowa, where he engaged to clerk in the hardware store of George Spencer, with whom he remained until January, 1879. As an evidence of his self reliance, it may be stated that when his uncle learned that he had hired to work for $5 per week in the Clinton hardware store, he told him that he was missing it, and that he could make more money to go out and work on a farm, as the inexperienced youth was to pay the whole amount of his wages for his board. But having determined to become a hardware merchant nothing could turn him from his chosen calling, so he thanked his uncle, but used his own judgment, believing his employer would soon raise his wages, which he did the first Saturday night. He worked to please and did his work well, hence was amply rewarded from month to month. His brother, E. H. Wheeler, and himself established a grocery business at Maquoketa, Iowa, in 1877; W. W., however, remained at Clinton in the hardware store during the existence of the partnership, which continued eight months there and finally ceased at Prophetstown, Illinois. In December, 1878, he came to Harlan, Iowa, his brother following the succeeding March. The two brothers were again to be engaged in mercantile trade, this time in the hardware business. E. H. bought a business lot and contracted for a frame store building, which they were to occupy in the spring. He then returned to Illinois and remained till February, when he shipped in a $5,000 stock and opened it in the building prepared for them, which, together with the lot upon which it stood, cost $2,000. The one-half interest in this $7,000 investment had been earned and kept by our frugal subject from the salary he had received during the four years previous to this date, with such amounts as his savings had made him by wise investments in a building association, etc. Mr. Wheeler and his brother came to Harlan the same year in which the railroad was built, and they were the leading hardware firm among three trading in the town, which then only had a population of about 600 people. They soon won an extensive and profitable custom, which was the foundation of what has come to be one of the largest institutions in this section of Iowa. On account of his brother's failing health, the partnership was dissolved November 5, 1881, William W. purchasing the other half of the stock and business building. By 1885 his business had assumed such proportions that he was obliged to have larger quarters, and during that year he erected a fine business house containing three floors. It stands on the north side of the public square, and is a model of solidity and convenience; it is 24 x 120 feet, with two high stories and a deep basement where stoves and iron and heavy hardware are kept. By the use of an elevator the three floors become as easy of access as though on a level. The building and ground upon which it stands cost Mr. Wheeler $10,000. At present he has a large, well-selected stock of goods of all sorts belonging to the trade, including the finest line of heating and cooking stoves in Iowa, of which he has always seemed to be the leader. His stove sales amount to $500 per year, while the barbed wire he handles runs upon an average of seven car-loads. As the country develops he keeps adding to his already large stock. In 1882 his sales amounted to the handsome sum of $50,000. In connection with his other affairs he has purchased 1,000 acres of land, situated in Iowa, Nebraska, Dakota and Kansas, and twenty town lots in the city of Chicago, which is no small estate for a man of thirty-two years of age to possess. He became one of the stockholders in the Shelby County Bank at Harlan, and in 1883 was made one of the directors, holding that position until 1887, when he was elected president of the concern, having already purchased the former president's stock, in addition to the above named property. Mr. Wheeler owns considerable town property, including his charming residence, which he built in 1883, on the corner of Victoria and Third streets, at an outlay of $5,000. For a life companion Mr. Wheeler chose Miss Kate Griffith, a native of Bridgeport, Ohio, and the daughter of B. B. Griffith, St., now of Harlan, Iowa. They were united in marriage September 1, 1880, under the following laughable surprise: A short time before the event took place, his brother went to Chicago to buy goods, and told William W. that he expected to be married before his return; so in due time wedding cards were sent on to Harlan, and as soon as they came, and thus fixed the exact date of the marriage, our subject took the cards to the home of Miss Griffith (to whom he was engaged), handing her the cards sent by his brother, and remarking, why can't we be married the same time here in Harlan? It was agreeable all round, and the ceremony was performed at the same hour in which his brother was being married at Morrison, Illinois. His brother telegraphed him to meet them at the train in Harlan, and upon their arrival he introduced him to his bride, and in turn William W. surprised them both by introducing them to his wife! Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler are the parents of one child — Charles Lake. In politics Mr. Wheeler is a Republican, but has never been an aspirant to public office, always deeming his own business of more consequence. At present he is a member of the school board of Harlan independent district, vice-president of the Harlan Business Association, and vice-president of the Harlan Coal and Mining Company. He and his estimable wife are both members of the Congregational church and consistent Christian workers, he having been church trustee for several years. He is also an acceptable member of the Masonic fraternity, belonging to the A. F. & A. M., Parian Lodge, No. 321; Olivet Chapter, No. 107, and Mount Zion Commandery, No. 49. The reader must have been impressed with the thought, while tracing this most successful business man's career, from his start in the hardware store of George Spencer in Clinton to the statement of his fortune, that he is indeed an exceptional character, possessing in his make-up the finest elements which enter into the composition of a grand and successful life. He has ever been a hard-worker, yet seldom tiring in his labors. Whether in his store midst iron, nails and stoves, whether assisting in the banking house with which he is connected, whether attending to his lands, whether in public or private life, this genial, whole-souled, Christian gentleman is the same earnest, faithful friend of whom the world has none too many.
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