Joseph G. Butler Jr. at the age of 11 from a
daguerreotype taken in Warren in 1851. PO1.1090
Joseph G. Butler, Jr. 1841-1927 PO1.1091
When recalling the most prominent citizens of
Niles, Joseph Green Butler Jr. would have to be near
the top of the list. Wikipedia describes him as an industrialist,
philanthropist and popular historian.
Many are familiar with his Butler Institute of
American Art in Youngstown which he established in 1919 with his
personal art collection. It was the first art museum dedicated
to American Art and is known worldwide today.
He is also known for spearheading the construction
of the McKinley National Birthplace Memorial in downtown Niles
honoring his boyhood friend William McKinley Jr.
Butler was integrally involved in the transition
of the iron industry as it turned into steel production in the
Mahoning Valley. He was a founder of the Ohio Steel Company which
eventually evolved into a part of U.S. Steel. He served on the
board and was a director of many businesses and industries. All
these activities led him to being personally acquainted with every
president from Abraham Lincoln to Calvin Coolidge.
Joseph Green Butler Jr. was born December 21,
1840 in Mercer County, PA where his father, Joseph Green Butler
Sr. had constructed a blast furnace. The furnace had been
named “Temperance” for his wife, Temperance Orwig
Within a few months of Joseph Jr.’s birth
the Butler family moved to Niles so the father could manage the
company store for James Ward and use his expertise in
iron making. Such a close relationship formed between the two
families that Joseph Jr. always referred to the Wards as “Uncle
James” and “Aunt Eliza”.
The younger Butler’s only formal education
consisted of a few months each winter at the old “White
School House”. However it was here that he formed a life-long
friendship with his younger classmate, William McKinley who would
later become the 25th President of the United States.
Butler related the story that the two friends
would often go swimming and one day McKinley got behind his depth.
Joseph tried to save William and had it not been for a mill worker,
Jacob Shelar, they both may have lost their lives.
The last time the two friends talked, McKinley
was on his way to Buffalo and Butler urged him to be more careful
about his safety. After the assassination of McKinley, Butler
felt the need to pay tribute to his friend. Using his own money
and soliciting donations from many others, the McKinley Memorial
was erected on the very site of their boyhood school.
Niles Village school - copied from
Butler's "Men & events." The little white schoolhouse
is the only school shown on the map of 1844 and was located where
the McKinley Memorial now stands. This is the school William McKinley
attended until the age of nine and where he was a pupil of Maria
Bolin Kyle and Abbe Sanford. The girls were seated
on one side of the room and the boys on the other side. PO1.1169
Residence of Jacob Shelar,
a contemporary and personal friend of both William McKinley and
Joseph Butler. Shelar was credited with saving the lives of both
men in a drowning incident. The home was located in south Niles.
President McKinley's first grade
teacher in carriage. This was taken at a parade in Niles (unknown
date) taken by May Unger John, mother of George John.
Butler began working for his father in the rolling mill store
of James Ward and Company at the age of thirteen. He would clerk
from early morning until 9:00 in the evening. Here he taught himself
Welsh to better help his many immigrant customers from Wales.
Part of Butler’s duties included the care of the company’s
buggy which he could borrow when not in use. This enabled him
to visit the local girls in style. Needless to say the rig was
well taken care of.
One day in 1856 Mr. Ward came to the rolling
mill store looking for a boy to replace a drunk shipping clerk.
He picked Joseph over several older boys. Butler successfully
completed the task of loading the canal boat and suggested several
cost-cutting measures. This led to his eventually becoming manager
of the rolling mill and thus sparking the desire to become an
On the occasion of Joseph Butler’s 21st
birthday, Colonel Josiah Robbins and his wife hosted
a reception in their home, the first built on Robbins Avenue.
It was attended by many friends and associates. Butler
stated that, “he would strive in his life to be worthy of
the many fine things said to him that night.” He would make
good on that promise.
When “Uncle James” approached him
to become business and office manager of the company, Joseph felt
he did not have enough education. So he attended Duff’s
Commercial College in Pittsburgh, completing a 6 week course in
3 while staying with Jerod Brush, a future mayor of Pittsburgh.
About this time his father was elected Sheriff
of Trumbull County. Joseph Jr. did not move with his family to
Warren. He chose to stay with his job in Niles and took up residence
with “Uncle James” and “Aunt Eliza”. His
friendship with James Ward Jr. deepened and was a groomsman when
Ward married. Ironically, it was Sheriff Joseph Butler Sr. who
went to Canada to retrieve the suspects who murdered James Ward
Sr. Joseph Butler Jr. served as a pallbearer at the funeral to
his foster father. Butler saw a need to aid in the education of
the local youth while managing the company. So he conducted night
school for the boys working in the Niles mill at no charge. There
was an overflow crowd even on Saturday night.
Although three of the Butler boys fought in the
Civil War, Joseph felt he could better serve the Union by increasing
iron production. In 1863 Joseph began his notable career outside
of Niles. He was offered a job with Hale and Ayer of Chicago as
they were looking to invest in steel in the Mahoning Valley. This
offer was only considered when it was determined the James Ward
Jr. could assume his duties at the company. This led to Butler’s
association with Brier Hill Steel, the Ohio Steel Company, Youngstown
Sheet and Tube and various other concerns as a successful businessman.
In his book, Recollections of Men and Events,
Joseph Butler states that, “There is no doubt in my mind
that ’Uncle James’, as we all affectionately called
him, although he was not a relative by blood, changed the course
of my life and that I owe him the opportunity to succeed, as well
as much of whatever is worthwhile in my later life.” In
his personal life, Joseph was married to his wife, Harriet
Ingersoll, for almost 60 years and enjoyed being a father
to two daughters and a son, Blanche, Grace and Henry.
Just as Joseph Butler never forgot Niles, his
hometown always remembered him. Saturday October 23, 1920 was
declared Butler Day by Mayor Charles Crow. The community
celebrated with a mile long four division parade. This culminated
in the unveiling of a bust of Butler himself.
Joseph Green Butler Jr. died December 20, 1927
on the eve of his 87th birthday. Niles Mayor Harvey Kistler
urged workers to stop work for two minutes at 3:00 p.m. on the
day of his funeral, “to reflect and meditate on the life
of this great man and his influence both on the nation and this
community". Flags were flown at half-mast and it was dedicated
as Joseph G. Butler Day. Niles mourned the loss of their ‘Uncle
Joe’ as he was lovingly known to his friends, colleagues
and the citizens of Niles. Thelma Snyder NHS
A photo made of a picture in the
newspaper of the children of the "Little White Schoolhouse"
where President McKinley attended. Among others, Joseph
Butler and Maria Heaton are in the front row.
Dated August 27, 1909.
The Dollar Savings Bank Company
building is in the background. PO1.1772
A drawing of the Ohio - Pennsylvania canal
taken from the Joseph Butler book; "Men & Events".
Postcard of the front view of the McKinley
Memorial shortly after its completion. PO1.2029
James Ward-pioneer ironmaster of the
Mahoning Valley. Born November 25, 1813 in Staffordshire, England
and came to America in 1817. He came to Niles from Pittsburgh
in 1841 and founded James Ward & CO. He was shot to death
on July 24, 1864. PO1.1118
The building of the Memorial was made possible
by the donations of many people. The donations ranged from pennies
from the school children to the $50,000.00 from Henry Clay
Niles Daily News - October 23,
A photo of the front page on a
when Niles honored Joseph Butler, Jr. PO1.1092
$50,000 check donated by Henry Clay Frick.
Mr. Frick's donation was specifically to be used for a library
inside the Memorial. PO1.765