Oliver Williams

Source: Roberts, C. R., et al, History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania, 1914, Vol. 3.



(1831 – 1904)


David Williams, a native of South Wales, England, acquired a national reputation by his letters from Mexico, and the United States, published in 1829. In 1833, the family immigrated to this county settling at Schenectady, N. Y., where they remained until 1840, when the removed to Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. Here Mr. Williams, held an important position, with the then newly organized Lehigh Crane Iron Works. He died early in 1845, leaving a son, Oliver Williams.


Oliver Williams, was born in South Wales, April 23, 1831, and was brought to American by his parents, in 1833. He received such education as was afforded by the country schools, and for one year, he attended the Allentown Academy, and for the same period of time, he attended the Moravian School at Bethlehem, Pa. He learned the trade of moulder in the foundry connected with the Crane furnaces at Catasauqua, following the trade until 1849, when he went to Philadelphia, entering the optical establishment of McAllister & Co., where he remained until 1853, when he joined James Queen, forming the firm of Queen & Co.


In 1855, Mr. Williams took Horace Greeley’s advice to go West, settling in Milwaukee, where for a period of three months, he and Chester A. Arthur, then a young lawyer, who had also gone west,, roomed together . Mr. Arthur’s Metropolitan tastes did not take kindly to the West and he returned to New York City, where Mr. Williams visited him at the old Bancroft House. While there he met Peter F. L. Harenburg, with whom he formed a partnership in the leather business, locating in Chicago in 1858. Mr. Williams remained in Chicago until 1867, when he removed to Catasauqua, to become the general manager of the newly organized Catasauqua Manufacturing Company. Mr. Williams, was with the Catasauqua Manufacturing Company as general manger from 1867 to 1879, and from 1879 to 1892, as its president. He saw it begin in a small way and grow to be one of the best known and largest merchant mills in Eastern Pennsylvania. In 1892, he resigned from the Catasauqua Manufacturing Company, giving all his attention to the Bryden Horse Shoe Company, which was organized in 1882.


Mr. Williams took an active part in having the works established in Catasauqua. He was connected with it from the beginning and served it as treasurer and general manger until 1899 and as president and treasurer from then until his death. He had devoted himself to his successful establishment as one of the largest horseshoe manufacturing concerns in three years, Mr. Williams, was the country. At the time of his death, Mr. Williams, was the president of the Cement National Bank, at Siegfried, Pa., vice president of the Whitehall Portland Cement Company, Cementon, Pa. and a director of the E. P. Wilbur Trust Company, South Bethlehem, Pa.


For three years, Mr. Williams was the president of the National Iron Association and for fifteen years president of the Eastern Iron Association. He had a wide acquaintance among iron manufacturers throughout the county, and his genial disposition and ready wit made him hosts of friends. He was a Republican in politics, being his party’s candidate for congress in 1896, in a district normally good for 10,000 Democratic majority but was defeated by about 1,700.


It was during this campaign that the publisher of the Reading Eagle wrote to Mr. Williams, requesting his picture for publication. In sending the picture, Mr. Williams wrote:


“I mail in response to your wish a recent photograph. If Job lived in these days, he would not need to wish. “Oh that mine adversary would write a book”. A surer plant to down him would be to have his photo in the daily papers. I fear this will lose me votes. Truly yours, Oliver Williams”.


He was formerly a Presbyterian, but at Catasauqua he took a deep interest in the Lutheran Church, being thrice sent as a delegate to the General Council, where he proved himself a warm friend of the mission cause. He was an active church worker for many years, being connected with the Trinity Lutheran Church of Catasauqua, of whose Sunday school he was superintendent for many years.


Surely in this centenary history of Lehigh County, which narrates the story of its remarkable development, Mr. Oliver Williams deserves special recognition, who directly and indirectly contributed so much to is life and development. But his influence extended far beyond confines of the county in which he lived. No one in the great commercial Lehigh Valley enjoyed a larger acquaintance with public men and shared their confidence than the subject of hour sketch. Again and Again, was he called to Washington, the nation’s capital, to appear before the finance committee of the house when questions concerning iron industry were under consideration and the experience of practical men was desired. Mr. Williams was a fluent speaker, full of ready wit and quick in repartee which together with extensive travel and vividness of description made him the happy center of many a social hour. His versatility of mind is shown in the wide range of his literary efforts which range from a learned critique on music to a comprehensive article on pig iron., as well from being the superintendent of a Sunday School, a teacher in a bible Class to directing vast business enterprises.


Though sleeping having passed beyond the great divide, his influences are still with us in the church he served, the industries he directed and his descendants who share in their father’s genial disposition and personality and business acumen. Mr. Williams was married In October, 1857 in Germantown, Pa. to Miss Anna Heilig. They had two sons, and four daughters as follows: Mrs. David L. Emanuel: Mrs. R. O. Kohler, and Mrs. George E. Holton, all of Catasauqua, Pa. The two sons died in infancy, and a daughter died at the age of twelve years.


He died in his fine home at Catasauqua, on September 17, 1904.


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