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Aubrey Thomas 1934 Centennial
Issue of the Niles Daily Times.
“Niles Is Still My Home”, W. Aubrey Thomas, Famous
Ore Operator Tells Times
Former Congressman Was Staunch Supporter of Canal Plan
“Niles is still my home.”
W. Aubrey Thomas industrial leader and former congressman
was quick to acknowledge this fact during a brief interview while
he was visiting in this city little more than a week ago.
Born in Y Bynea, near Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales, Thomas
immigrated to the United States in 1868 with his parents, who
settled in Niles, Ohio. He attended the public schools of Niles,
Mount Union College, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where
he majored in metallurgical chemistry.
W. Aubrey Thomas, son of John R. Thomas,
was the organizer of the Mahoning Valley Steel Company. In 1903,
he was the first president of the newly organized Dollar Bank.
After four years there, he resigned his position at the bank to
run for the U.S. Congress. He was the only U.S. congressman from
Niles, and first elected from Trumbull County; served from 1904-1912
John R. Thomas
John R. Thomas family lived in a mansion acquired in
1877(which the family called Brynhyfryd, meaning Pleasant Hills)
at 503 Brown Street in what is now the home of the Niles Historical
Society. His children included T.E. Thomas, John M. Thomas,
W. Aubrey Thomas, Mrs. Margaretta Clingan and Mrs Mary
And Niles is just as quick to claim him as a
native son not only for what he accomplished in the industrial
and financial world but for his contributions as a former citizen,
councilman, and Congressman.
“Up until the depression, the John R. Thomas
family lived in what is Niles was in a fair way to become a very
important and prosperous city,” remarked Mr. Thomas. Naturally,
when the depression came industries closed, men were thrown out
of employment, and things have not been so cheerful. When I was
in Congress there never more loyal, energetic, enthusiastic supporters
than the ones I had.”
Mr. Thomas smiled with satisfaction as he recalled
the W. Aubrey Thomas Marching club which went to Youngstown to
compete against clubs from Toledo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Youngstown
for a large flag. “Our club came home with the flag,”
Mr. Thomas concluded. “I always look back
with pleasure to the way Niles supported me and I have the warmest
feeling for the city, he commented. He expressed regret at being
unable to be here for the Centennial Celebration and hopes that
it might be happy and successful occasion.
The Thomas family always has held an important
place in the industrial development of Niles, John R. Thomas established
the Niles Firebrick Co., and today his son, W. Aubrey, points
with pride to the record which the company has made in withstanding
strenuous periods which saw the failure of several other companies.
Thomas Furnace Company was located
on the east bank of the Mosquito Creek, south of the Erie RR,
it was originally the William Ward and Company, built in 1870.
After the failure of the Ward Company. John R. Thomas bought it
in 1879 and enlarged it. It was acquired and enlarged again by
the Carnegie Steel Co. in 1900 and dismantled in 1925.
Niles Firebrick No. 2
the elder Thomas began with the Thomas Furnace Company, the capacity
was 22 tons daily, and at the time the company was sold to U.S.
Steel the capacity had increased to 350 tons daily.
It was in the furnace company laboratory that
W. Aubrey Thomas became chemist after he had finished his training
in Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1890. He had been graduated
from the local high school in 1833 and then took preparatory work
in Mt. Union College. He served as chemist for two years and then
became superintendent of the plant. He was one of the youngest
superintendents in this part of the country at that time.
John R. Thomas is remembered for his loyalty
to Niles. During the later part of his life he served on the council
and was succeeded by his son W. Aubrey. It was after the younger
Thomas had become a member of the council that Niles was changed
from a village to a city. Until that time, the mayor had presided
over the meetings. When Niles became a city it was necessary to
elect a president. Mr. Thomas was chosen.
While he was head of this body the question of
paving Main Street came up. During one of the meetings a petition
opposing the improvement because of the assessment, signed virtually
by every merchant was presented. “I pushed the petition
in the stove; the proposed paving was approved and inside of a
year there wasn’t one merchant who would have given up the
pavement for twice what it cost,“ Mr. Thomas relates.
The first sewage system and the first water works
were inaugurated while he was a councilman. Evidence of great
general improvement in the city, Mr. Thomas finds, in the fact
that when he was in council it was a fight even to get good sidewalks.
The Honorable William Howard Taft was
the main speaker at the dedication of the McKinley Memorial on
October 5, 1917.
When the charter for the Memorial was obtained,
by an Act of Congress, it was signed into law by President Taft.
Niles Viaduct dedicated in 1933.
during this time that Mr. Thomas was serving in Congress(republican
nominee to fill vacancy created by the resignation of Rep. Charles
W.F. Dick, 58th Congress) that the canal question seemed solved.
A survey was made from the Ohio River through Lake Erie, and it
was planned to have equipment which had just completed building
the Panama Canal brought up to do work on the proposed water route.
The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce was going to finance the project.
Mr. Thomas recalls the day on which the bill was introduced. The
session was drawling to a close and the bill hadn’t been
called. Frantically he rushed down to the man who was to call
it. The man feared opposition from an Alabama group. Mr. Thomas
hastened to the delegation from the southern state. He explained
that he was backing the bill, that it was not the plan of their
opponents. The bill was called and passed.
The canal seemed a reality. Then what was known
as the Theodore Roosevelt depression came along. Plans for the
canal were dropped.“ It was a great disappointment,”
Mr. Thomas commented, since public opinion was strongly in favor
of the canal.”
Mr. Thomas considers it a high tribute to William
McKinley that the bill granting a charter to the Memorial association
was the only one passed without a dissenting vote during the session.
At first Mr. Thomas said, the Democrats were opposed , but after
he had explained that the memorial would not cost the treasury
a cent they fell in line and voted for it.
Speaking of changes which have taken place in
Niles, Mr. Thomas stated, “Today when I go to town I cross
the viaduct which I worked 25 years to get.”
While he was in Congress, Mr. Thomas was influential
in securing the present post office site, in having the river
stocked with fish and freed of snags. During the last dozen years.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas have lived in the sole owner and operator
of iron ore, limestone, marble, and coal mines and coke ovens.
At the present time he is president of the Mahoning Valley Steel
Co. of Niles and a director of the Niles Firebrick. Mr. Thomas
is a member of the Masonic Order having been the youngest Master
in Ohio at one time.