1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hewitt, Abram Stevens

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

HEWITT, ABRAM STEVENS. (1822-1903), American manufacturer and political leader, was born in Haverstraw, New York, on the 31st of July 1822. His father, John, a Staffordshire man, was one of a party of four mechanics who were sent by Boulton and Watt to Philadelphia about 1790 to set up a steam engine for the city water-works and who in 1793-1794 built at Belleville, N.J., the first steam engine constructed wholly in America; he made a fortune in the manufacture of furniture, but lost it by the burning of his factories. The boy's mother was of Huguenot descent. He graduated with high rank from Columbia College in 1842, having supported himself through his course. He taught mathematics at Columbia, and in 1845 was admitted to the bar, but, owing to defective eyesight, never practised. With Edward Cooper (son of Peter Cooper, whom Hewitt greatly assisted in organizing Cooper Union, and whose daughter he married) he went into the manufacture of iron girders and beams under the firm name of Cooper, Hewitt & Co. His study of the making of gun-barrel iron in England enabled him to be of great assistance to the United States government during the Civil War, when he refused any profit on such orders. The men in his works never struck — indeed in 1873-1878 his plant was run at an annual loss of $100,000. In politics he was a Democrat. In 1871 he was prominent in the re-organization of Tammany after the fall of the “Tweed Ring”; from 1875 until the end of 1886 (except in 1879-1881) he was a representative in Congress; in 1876 he left Tammany for the County Democracy; in the Hayes-Tilden campaign of that year he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and in Congress he was one of the House members of the joint committee which drew up the famous Electoral Count Act providing for the Electoral Commission. In 1886 he was elected mayor of New York City, his nomination having been forced upon the Democratic Party by the strength of the other nominees, Henry George and Theodore Roosevelt; his administration (1887-1888) was thoroughly efficient and creditable, but he broke with Tammany, was not renominated, ran independently for re-election, and was defeated. In 1896 and 1900 he voted the Republican ticket, but did not ally himself with the organization. He died in New York City on the 18th of January 1903. In Congress he was a consistent defender of sound money and civil service reform; in municipal politics he was in favour of business administrations and opposed to partisan nominations. He was a leader of those who contended for reform in municipal government, was conspicuous for his public spirit, and exerted a great influence for good not only in New York City but in the state and nation. His most famous speech was that made at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. He was a terse, able and lucid speaker, master of wit and sarcasm, and a fearless critic. He gave liberally to Cooper Union, of which he was trustee and secretary, and which owes much of its success to him; was a trustee of Columbia University from 1901 until his death, chairman of the board of trustees of Barnard College, and was one of the original trustees, first chairman of the board of trustees, and a member of the executive committee of the Carnegie Institution.