John Irvin Beggs
– October 17
) was an American
entrepreneur, industrialist and financier associated closely with the electric utility boom under Thomas Edison
. He was also associated with Milwaukee
, St. Louis, Missouri
and other regional rail and interurban trolley
systems. Beggs is also known for developing modern depreciation
techniques for business accounting and one of the early directors of what became General Electric
John Irvin Beggs was born in Philadelphia
, September 17, 1847
, the son of James and Mary Irvin Beggs. Both of his parents were of Scottish descent
but had emigrated to America from the north of Ireland.
His early life was spent in the neighborhood of Philadelphia and, his father having died when he was seven years old, Mr. Beggs was obliged to go to work soon after to assist in the support of his widowed mother laboring in a brickyard and as a cattleman and butcher.
As a young man he taught accounting and handwriting in the Bryant & Stratton Business College
in Philadelphia and an opportunity having developed to get into business, he went to Harrisburg, Pa
at the age of twenty-one where he became identified with the Mitchell & Haggerty Coal Co.
as an accountant. He afterwards entered the real estate and fire insurance business in Harrisburg. Early in his manhood Mr Beggs joined the Masonic
fraternities at Harrisburg and maintained his membership in them until his death.
Electric Light Industry
When the electric light industry was in its infancy, assisted in the organization of the Harrisburg Electric Light Co., he built and managed the plant for this company which was ‘’’the first commercially successful electric light plant in the United States’’’. Mr. Beggs’ interest in electric lighting arose from the fact that he was the active head of the building committee of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church and that the problem of lighting the church aroused his interest in the new and untried method.
He was married in Harrisburg to Sue Elizabeth Charles, who died March 14, 1902. One child, Mary Grace, was born of this union.
Called to New York
On account of his success in Harrisburg as an electric plant manager, he was called by J.P. Morgan
to New York
in 1887 as manager of the Edison Electric Illuminating Co.
of that city. He remained in New York for about five years during which time he built the Pearl Street Station
and Twenty-Sixth Street. Stations
. With Pearl St. providing electricity for the first time to Wall Street's stockbrokers. In this work he was closely associated with Thomas A. Edison
and consequently became one of that small group known as Edison Pioneers
. When Henry Ford
first met Thomas Edison
and presented his idea for the automobile, Beggs was one of the Illuminating Company Directors present at the meeting.
From New York he went to Chicago
as Western Manager of Edison Company
where he remained until the Edison Company was merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company
to form what is now the General Electric Company
The North American Company, which had just been organized, had acquired certain electric lighting interest in Cincinnati and after leaving Chicago Mr. Beggs went to Cincinnati in charge of these interests. The North American Company shortly afterward acquired the electric railway and lighting companies in Milwaukee, and for several years, Mr. Beggs divided his time between these cities. In 1897, the Cincinnati interests were sold and Mr. Beggs moved to Milwaukee to devote his entire time to the utilities of that city.
In 1903, The North American Company began to acquire electric lighting interests in St. Louis. Mr. Beggs first visited St. Louis to advise concerning these interests, and then as they became more important began to divide his time between the two cities. At one time, Mr. Beggs was President of the St. Louis electric lighting company, the gas company, and the street railway company, as well as President and General Manager of the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company.
While Mr. Beggs was President of the Milwaukee Companies he built the Public Service Building in Milwaukee in the auditorium of which his funeral services were conducted by the Employees’ Mutual Benefit Association. He also constructed the important systems of interurban railways radiating from Milwaukee.
In 1911, Mr. Beggs resigned his official connection with the Milwaukee companies, having acquired a controlling interest in the St. Louis Car Company , moved to St. Louis. He still maintained many business connections in Milwaukee and continued to spend much time in that city, although his residence was in St. Louis.
In the spring of 1911, Mr. Beggs purchased and named Beggs Isle an island in Lac La Belle at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. This he maintained as a summer residence for himself and his daughter’s family, and one of his greatest pleasures was in the development of this place. He devoted his spare time and energy to the work, and beautiful Beggs Isle was one of the monuments he left. Beggs turned this island into a state showcase and botanical garden bringing in exotic plants. Remaining today are the Egyptian papyrus plants trained to last through the long Wisconsin winters. Beggs relished time spent with his grandchildren and would make special efforts to purchase large commercial grade fireworks for their Fourth of July celebrations.
In 1915, he became interested in some water powers in northern Wisconsin and began to spend more time in that state, although still maintaining his residence in St. Louis. In 1920 he was again elected President of the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co., which position he still held at the time of his death.
Mr Beggs was a man of great energy. At the time of his death he was a director in fifty-three corporations, many of which he actually managed. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the North American Company and took active interest in its affairs. He also devoted much time to the affairs of the First Wisconsin National Bank in which he was largely interested. In addition during his last decade he directed the construction of the second largest paper mill in the country; engineered the reorganization of the J. I. Case Plow Company, arranged to finance a hotel in Atlantic City, and conducted a large Florida real estate transaction. He maintained his business activities up to the end of his life and did so often at the cost of great physical suffering.
He died in Milwaukee on October 17, 1925 at the age of seventy-eight years and one month. He was buried in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Director and Officer
At the time of his death, Beggs was an active Director or Officer of 53 companies, including:
- North American Edison Company, Director (Now called General Electric)
- The North American Company, Director, Member of Executive Committee
- The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company, Director, President, Member of Executive Committees
- Wisconsin Gas & Electric Company, Director, Vice-President
- Briggs & Stratton Corporation, Director, Chairman Executive Committee
- St. Louis Car Company, Director, Chairman of Board
- J. I. Case Plow Works Company, Inc., Director
- Southern Improvement Company, Director, President
- First Wisconsin National Bank, Milwaukee, Director, Member of Executive and Finance Committees
- First Wisconsin Company, Milwaukee, Director
- Grand & Sixth National Bank, Milwaukee, Director, Member of Executive and Finance Committees
- First National Bank in St. Louis, Director
- Milwaukee Northern Railway Company, Director, President
- Wisconsin Traction, Light, Heat & Power Company, Director, President
- Peninsular Power Company, Director
- North American Utilities Investment Corporation, Director
- West Kentucky Coal Company, Director
- United Railways Company of St. Louis, Director
- Wisconsin Securities Company, Director, Member of Executive Committee
- Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, Director
- Menominee & Marinette Light & Traction Company, Director
- Wisconsin Railway, Light & Power Company, Director
- Land & Sea Investment Company, Baltimore, Director
- Oil Transport Company, Baltimore, Director
- Wisonsin Power, Light & Heat Company, Director
- Wisconsin River Power Company (Hydro-Electric), Director
- Southern Wisconsin Power Company (Hydro-Electric), Director
- Northwestern Casualty & Surety Company, Director, Member of Executive and Finance Committees
- The Newport Company, Director
- Milwaukee Coke & Gas Company, Director
- Globe Electric Company, Director, President
- Globe Real Estate Company, Director, President
- Wisconsin Real Estate Development Corporation, Director, President
- Grand & Sixth Building, Inc., Director, President
- Central Utilities Securities Corporation, Director, President, Treasurer
- Midland Oil, Gas & Refining Company, Director
- Lane Oil Producing Company, Director
- Johnson & King Coal Company, Director, President
- Raven Mining Company, Director
- American Granite Company, Director, President
- Shotwell Manufacturing Company, Director
- East Coast Development Company (Florida), Director, President
- Louisiana Pulp & Paper Company (Bastrop, LA.), Director, President
- Frankenberg Refrigerating Company, Director
- Prescott & Northwestern Ry. Company, (Prescott, Ark.), Vice-President
- Montana Railroad Company (Clarksville, Ark.), President
- President Apartment Hotel Company (Atlantic City), President
Edison and Beggs remained friends throughout their lifetimes. On Beggs' 75th Birthday Celebration on Beggs Isle, Edison presented Beggs with a large handsome grandfather clock and a cheeky signed photograph addressed "To my hustler friend, (signed) Thomas A. Edison".
At the time of his death in 1925, Beggs was reported to be the wealthiest man in Wisconsin, with an estimated net worth of over $20M. He passed this incredible fortune to his grandchildren: John Irvin Beggs McCulloch(1908-1983), Robert Paxton McCulloch(1911-1977), and Mary Sue McCulloch(1913-1996) each going on to have incredible lives:
- Grandson Robert was responsible for McCulloch Chainsaws, the Paxton Supercharger, founding Lake Havasu City, Arizona and moving the London Bridge to Arizona. He married Barbra Ann Briggs, whose father was Stephen Foster Briggs of Briggs and Stratton.
- Granddaughter Mary Sue McCulloch "Suzie Linden", author of Suzie's Story, was inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame for founding in 1957, and operating for forty years, the Green Gables Croquet Club in Spring Lake, NJ - recognized as the first on the east coast, and now the oldest continuously running club in the USA. Also, a founding member of the USCA. In 1931, She first married Whip Jones who went on to found Aspen Highlands in Aspen, Colorado. Subsequent husbands were New York Investment Banker/Attorney James Lowell Oakes (the father of the famous judge), WWII veteran Bruce Lister Knight, and Portland banker Carvel Cabel Linden.
- Grandson John became fluent in over 10 foreign languages. After graduating from Yale, in 1933 he married Whip's sister Elizabeth Ten Broeck Jones. He became a foreign political analyst and a prolific writer of books and articles in many languages. Later in his career he supported the English Speaking Union pushing for the wider use of English.
These three had another notable grandfather Robert McCulloch (Capt) (1841-1914) who was the only confederate officer to survive the Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Both grandfathers were active in Freemasonry.
- - 1986 Documentary Film, Directed by Louis Rugani Through the use of archival footage John I. Beggs 'stars' in this look at the history and survival efforts of this small anachronistic Wisconsin trolley line since 1907, and an overview of its relationship to the surrounding area, the now-dissolved parent company which built it, and the vanished traction empire of which it was a small part.