J. E. PORTER. (1831-1902)
J. E. Porter stands at the head of one of the leading industrial concerns of Ottawa. Everywhere in our land are found men who have worked their own way from humble and lowly beginnings to places of leadership in the commerce, the great productive industries and the management of the veins and arteries of the traffic and exchanges of the country. To this class belongs J.E. Porter, and today he stands among the representative business men of LaSalle county, enjoying not only the fruits of his toil, but also the respect and esteem of his fellow men, for his reputation is unassailable.
The Porter family is of Irish lineage, the great-grandfather of our subject, in company with two brothers, having sailed from the Emerald Isle in the early part of the seventeenth century to become members of a Massachusetts colony near Boston, where two of the three brothers reared their families. John Porter, the grandfather of our subject, was the eldest child of his father’s family and was born January 7, 1756. He emigrated westward, locating in Washington county, Pennsylvania, where he married a Miss Hossack, a lady of Scotch parentage who was born November 17, 1758.
They had six sons and three daughters, the youngest child being Joseph, the father of J. E. Porter. He was born in Washington county, Pennsylvania, in 1798, and during the war of 1812 assisted in taking care of the wounded and other unfortunate soldiers, although only a lad of fourteen summers at the time. On attaining his majority he sought a home in the west, becoming a resident of Adams county, Ohio, in 1822. There he formed the acquaintance of Miss Eliza Moore, and on the first of April, 1824, they were married. She was born February 27, 1805, near Lexington, Virginia, ‘and died June 22, 1840. Her father, David Moore, was born May 10, 1773, and was a son of Captain John Moore, one of the noted families of Moores that furnished so many valiant soldiers to Virginia regiments during the Revolution. His wife, Ann Ewing, was born June 18, 1782, and was a member of the Ewing family that also took an active part in the war for independence, Joseph and Eliza Porter became the parents of five sons and two daughters, of whom two are now living: Joseph E. and a sister, Sarah E., now the wife of Henry Moffett, of Ransom, Illinois.
Joseph E. Porter, the only living male representative of this family, was born in Brown county, Ohio, May 1, 1831, and has lived in Ottawa for the past forty-five years. On the 22nd of March, 1860, he married Miss Margaret Hossack, daughter of John Hossack, who was the eldest son of John and Margaret (Forsythe) Hossack. He was born in Elgin, Scotland, December 6, 1806, and went to Canada when twelve years of age. His wife, Martha Hossack, was the eldest daughter of Cord Lens, who was born in Germany, in 1786, his wife being Ann Lens, who was born December 4, 1786, and was a daughter of William and Ann Gilly, nee Banks, of England. Mr. and Mrs. Lens were married in England in 1810, but soon afterward removed to Scotland, where Martha was born, November 28, 1813. In 1818 they emigrated with their family to Quebec. Mr. and Mrs. Hossack were married in Quebec, Canada, in 1833; in 1838 removed to Chicago, and in 1849 took up their abode in Ottawa, where Mr. Hossack engaged in merchandising, dealing in lumber and grain. He purchased the latter commodity from the farmers and shipped it by rail to Chicago. There were born to Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Porter, eight children: Elizabeth, born March 7, 1861, married William F. Jacobs, February 18, 1890; Jessie F., born November 16, 1862, married George W. Yentzer, November 5, 1888; Lincoln Ewing, born February 26, 1865, married Anne Combs, May 23, 1889; Annie L., born June 5, 1867, married Arthur S. Hook, June 10, 1892; Josephine, born April 30, 1870, married Charles P. Taylor, October 31, 1894 (all the above mentioned now living in Ottawa, Illinois); John H., born January 4, 1873, and now living at Buffalo, New York; Louise C, born July 14, 1876, still at home; and Sidney S., born September 18, 1880, is at school.
It was in the fall of 1852 that Joseph Porter came from Ohio to Ottawa. He was first employed as a clerk by J. G. Nattinger, who was at that time one of the leading merchants of the city, but Mr. Porter did not see a favorable outlook for a clerkship, and being of an inventive turn of mind, he gave his attention first to the study of the daguerreotype art in 1854, and was one of the first inventors of photography. This he followed for a number of years.
Visiting his father’s farm during the fall of 1856, he was called upon to assist in storing away the hay, the work at that time being done by the common pitchforks and manual labor. Thinking that better methods could be secured he at once entered upon the work of inventing an easier way for storing hay. and as a result produced the famous Porter Hay Carrier, which has gained for him a national reputation as an inventor and manufacturer of hay tools, and in that occupation he has continued since 1869. Being without capital he at first began manufacturing them by hand, doing all of the work himself. After working until he had a sufficient quantity on hand he would make a tour of the country, exhibiting the tools and taking orders from the dealers. In this way he worked until 1872, when the demand for his goods had so increased that he was obliged to employ help in the manufacturing department. The excellence of his machines commended them to the trade and to the public, a fact which is evidenced by the large demand at the present time and the number of medals that have been awarded him by state fair associations and foreign exhibitions. He was awarded the first premium at the World’s Columbian Exhibition, held in Chicago in 1893.
His manufacturing interests have steadily grown until at the present time the J. E. Porter Company occupies large and commodious brick buildings and gives employment to a large number of workmen. The output of the plant is extensive, and the business has been so ably conducted that it returns an excellent income to him who is at the head. Mr. Porter is a man of resourceful ability, and in connection with his factory interests in Ottawa in 1894 he was instrumental in organizing the Inland Steel Company, whose mill is located at Chicago Heights. Mr. Porter was elected president of the organization and occupied that position for four years, when he resigned. His son, J. H. Porter, is now the secretary of the company and one of the active managers of the mill, the business of which has constantly grown until to-day the enterprise is one of the few rolling mills in the west, producing all kinds and shapes of steel used in the manufacture of agricultural implements. Mr. Porter certainly deserves great credit for his success, which has resulted from deep thought, careful investigation and untiring labor.
From “Biographical and Genealogical Record of La Salle County, Illinois,” Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1900. Pages 740-742: