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Jones Wister

By: Autumn Krauss

Jones Wister, one of the six "acclaimed Wister sons" born of William Wister and Sarah Logan Fisher, contributes to the Wister legacy by compiling an extensive list of achievements and crafts including industrialist, inventor, world traveler, early Cricketer, and author. Indeed, Jones Wister’s Reminiscences provides the most comprehensive account of life at the Belfield Estate in the generation after Charles Wilson Peale. A pamphlet advertising the publication of Reminiscences pasted in a Wister family scrapbook kept at the Germantown Historical Society states, "Mr. Wister’s Reminiscences were written by him in earnest solicitation of friends who have heard him tell about interesting places and people of the past and present and recognized that they contained an element of information and amusement worth presenting to the public." Distributed by J. B. Lippincott Company, the pamphlet continues by describing the book as "attractively printed on wove paper and bound in red cloth, with gold design and gilt top: uncut edges. $5.00 net. Delivered, $5.20."

As Jones begins the book by discussing his ancestors in Germantown, the close relationship between Jones and his grandfather John Wister of Vernon becomes apparent. In memory of John Wister, Jones had a statue erected of him at Vernon in 1904. An obituary of Jones Wister in the Wister scrapbook at the Germantown Historical Society says, "To enable a sculptor in Italy to make the statue, Mr. Wister obtained an outfit of old-time Quaker clothes and had himself photographed wearing these." Those actual photographs of Jones Wister in the Quaker clothing, along with letters of correspondence with the Italian sculptor Raeffelli Romanelli, are available in folder 132 under CT 275.W5846 A4 Box 2 of the Wister special collection at La Salle University.

Jones then begins describing his childhood memories. Born February 9, 1839, at Belfield Mansion and named after his uncle Dr. Jones Wister, Jones was the fourth son of William Wister and Sarah Logan Fisher Wister. When talking about Sarah Logan Wister, Jones says, "The guiding star of my life has been my mother. To her I am indebted for good advice and an example of stolid uprightness" (Reminiscences 50). Though Jones’ mother attempted to instill strong Quaker values in her son, he seemed more interested in mischief and considered church service extremely boring. "My chum, George Carpenter, and I, protected from view by the high backs, made diminutive bows from whalebone, and shot arrows at each other from one end of the pew to the other. I regret to say that we also carved our initials on the woodwork" (Reminiscences 32). Jones expands on his devious tendencies by saying he took a "keen delight, when Friends’ Meeting was over, in watching Bill Winterbottom hunting for his hat, which I had mischievously hidden during the quiet and tiresome service" (Reminiscences 32). Moreover, Jones mentions his behaviors as a nine year old child, "As a rule, boys are cruel, desiring to kill, and I was no exception to the rest of them. Saturday, which was a holiday for all boys, found me ready to slaughter innocent robins, blackbirds, flickers, frogs, rabbits, squirrels, any kind of game that I could find" (Reminiscences 71).

Jones’ first experience with mechanics came in 1850 when his great uncle Charles Jones Wister taught him how to use the turning lathe. Describing his initial encounter with the Duncannon Iron Company at the age of ten, Jones relates, "The works had a great fascination for me. I little thought when I was introduced to the wonderful and awe-inspiring furnace I should, in later years, become its manager!" (Reminiscences 88). In his book, Jones also describes how disappointed he was when forced to attend public school instead of Germantown Academy at 14 because his father was elected Director of Public Schools and thought it appropriate that at least one son attend.

Inventions comprised an interesting segment of Jones Wister’s life. In his Reminiscences, Jones states, "Before graduating from the high school I invented a notched steel tire which enabled any wheel to mount hills, even on slippery street-car tracks, without a jolt, and without the noisy friction accompaniment" (102). Beyond the notched tire, Jones also acquired two patents, one for a trench gun in June, 1916 and another for a trunk strap in October, 1916. Described by Jones as the best thing he ever invented, the trench gun received much press from the local papers. In folder 132 of Box 2 of the Wister special collection at La Salle University, a newspaper article from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (entitled "Periscope Tested on Trench Rifle: Prominent Philadelphian Invents Weapon Designed to Protect Marksman" and accompanied by a photograph of Jones with his trench gun) describes how a detachable periscope on the rifle could protect a trench marksman while having an accuracy of 300-400 feet. Jones’ other invention, the trunk strap, consisted of a piece of elastic added to a trunk strap to allow for use on various sizes of trunks. The original patents for both the trench gun and trunk strap survive in the same folder as the newspaper article in La Salle’s Wister special collection.

Jones’ employment began at 4th Street, Philadelphia, for Mr. Cullen, president of the Reading Railroad, as an office boy and secretary. Later, he would himself become president of the Nittany Valley Railroad. On April 6, 1861, Jones left home for the first time to accept the offer as superintendent of the Duncannon Rolling Mills. At that time, his brother John was the manager of the Duncannon Iron Works. Since Jones thought that he was lacking in knowledge of the actual workings of the mill, he decided to become a puddle apprentice in order to be a more effective manager. Throughout his employment at Duncannon, Jones was extremely interested in human relations, particularly in the strikes of the ironworkers.

Though Jones acknowledges that he would have volunteered for the Civil War if he were still in Philadelphia, Jones’ actual participation in the war was minimal. In his Reminiscences, Jones states that in September of 1862, he joined a company of emergency troops as sergeant; however, he was too late to actually be involved in the Battle of Antietam. In addition, he again joined as a recruit in June of 1863 because of the expected invasion of the southern army into Pennsylvania. This troop was disbanded six weeks later when Lee retreated back to the south.

Jones’ close relationship with his brothers is not only mentioned in his book but also is exemplified in his two partnerships with his brothers. Jones writes, "It is seldom that six brothers were as attached to each other as ourselves" (Reminiscences 170). John, William Rotch, Langhorne, and Jones formed a firm called J & J Wister Company and built a furnace at Harrisburg on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Jones continues by saying, "I wonder if there are many partnership agreements such as ours which can show the signatures of four brothers. John and I became the active partners, and I was appointed manager" (Reminiscences 170).

While the manager at J & J Wister Company, Jones met and married his first wife and mother of his children Miss Caroline de Toussard Stocker. Jones writes, "Miss Stocker looked like an angel herself when she sang ‘Angels Ever Bright and Fair,’ and I promptly fell in love with her, and was a fortunate man when she accepted me. We were married October 6, 1868, and went to live at Harrisburg in a house on Chestnut Street, bought for us by my father" (Reminiscences 200). Jones and Caroline had four children: Ella and Alice both being taken early in life, Anne who would later marry William Lyttleton Barclay, and Ethel who would eventually wed Arthur Mason Chichester. (The family papers of Ethel Langhorne Wister Chichester represent the bulk of the manuscripts in the Wister Special Collection at La Salle University.) On June 18, 1884, Jones’ wife Caroline died. Jones describes the devastating effects of his wife’s death on him by saying, "I felt as if the bottom had dropped out of everything, and life not worth living. The world seemed hard and cold, and I never expected to be happy again. Nothing seemed left to me but duty and hard work" (Reminiscences 204). After his wife died, Jones moved with his children to the mansion on Clarkson Avenue of the Belfield property that is presently used by La Salle University as its fine arts studio and is named after Jones’ nieces Mary Channing and Frances Anne Wister. Later when his family and he moved out in 1893, Jones combined households with his brother Frank and his wife at 2221 James Place.

Jones’ second business venture with his brothers occurred after J & J Wister Company was sold to the Reading Railroad in 1882. In his book, Jones records, "I was then invited to enter the firm of L & R Wister & Company, commission merchants, which consisted of Langhorne and Rodman, from which it took its name, J. N. M. Shimer and myself, who were the company. The firm had been selling Wister pig iron and other brands together with a scrap trade. Our business was satisfactory" (190-191). In folder 132 of the second box of the Wister Collection at La Salle, an article states that the business went bankrupt in December, 1912, and that William Rotch Wister had bailed the company out once and was upset that his brothers were unable to successfully manage their business affairs. Before the bankruptcy of the partnership, Jones decided to withdraw from the company because of impaired health. He writes, "On January 1, 1910, being over seventy years of age, and everything seemingly well under Rodman and Shimer, I went out of business and signed a paper to that effect, drawn up by Samuel Dickson. I agreed, however, to let my money remain in the business, and only to draw out what I need for living expenses" (Reminiscences 248).

The later part of Jones Wister’s life is characterized by his second marriage to Sabine J. D’ Invilliers Weightman and much traveling to all parts of the world. Describing his relationship with his second wife after their marriage on June 20, 1895, at the age of 56, "Since then we have been always together, never been separated, companions for each other in our old age, and have never regretted our partnership" (Reminiscences 254). Some of the many places that Jones visited in his later years and that he makes reference to in his Reminiscences include Scotland, Cuba, Mexico, Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Jamaica, and Panama. When discussing his trips, Jones concentrates particularly on the different cultural and religious sights as well as the scenery and landscapes.

Much material is available in La Salle’s Wister special collection about a European tour Jones took in 1900 with his daughter Ethel, his wife Sabine, and her children Ethel and Louisa. Letters home to his daughter Anne and other friends concerning the different religious sects provide insight into what Jones thought was interesting. Also, under CT 275. W5846 A35 1900, Ethel Langhorne Wister Chichester’s photo album consists of photographs and postcards from the trip to Europe as well as handwritten captions. A intriguing photograph of Jones with his family in front of the Sphinx in Egypt is kept in the fifth box of the Wister special collection.

Signed by Jones Wister on July 8, 1876, his scrapbook consisting of various articles, obituaries, and poems occupies folder 127 of the second box of the Wister collection. Within this scrapbook are articles on strikes and human relations, invitations to receptions, obituaries of his parents, poems by his daughter and himself, tables on weather, puzzles, and recipes for home remedies. As do his letters, this scrapbook suggests that Jones Wister was a culturally interested and family oriented man.

Jones Wister died on September 1, 1917, in Chicago on his way home from a vacation to the Pacific coast. The last of the six Wister brothers, Jones willed his estate worth $11,000 to his children. One of the obituaries found in the Wister special collection at La Salle reads, "The death of Jones Wister last week will plunge a large family connection into mourning for, having been a most important personage for more than half a century, and being the unofficial head of the Wister family, his relations and friends were legion." Another article about Jones written at the time of his death, concerned his involvement in the game of Cricket. For many years, Jones Wister was the president of the Belfield Country Club. The article’s author, George M. Newhall, writes, "Jones Wister, as all loyal cricketers always are, was true to the noble game from first to last." Also, Jones spends considerable time discussing the history of cricket as well as his personal involvement with the game in his Reminiscences. Evidence of how lively Jones Wister was up until his last days can be seen in his description of his wife and his trip to St. Petersburg in February, 1917. Jones explains the setting of St. Petersburg when they arrived, "On looking around the dining room, I saw no young people except nurses or daughters who had accompanied an old father or mother. It was depressing; we were accustomed to associating with a younger generation, so I said, ‘We must get out of this, and to a younger place’" (Reminiscences 417). They then left St. Petersburg for Pass-A-Grille where they found a more lively crowd and were pleasantly satisfied.

 

Works Cited

Wister, Jones. Reminiscences. J. B. Lippincott Company, 1953. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Pamphlet Advertising the Publication of Reminiscences. J. B. Lippincott Company. Wister Family Scrapbook, Germantown Historical Society.

"Death of Jones Wister." No Source. Wister Family Scrapbook, Germantown Historical Society.

Photographs of Jones Wister for the Making of John Wister Statue and Correspondence with Sculptor Raeffelli Romanelli. Folder 132, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

"Periscope Tested On Trench Rifle: Prominent Philadelphian Invents Weapon Designed to Protect Marksman." The Evening Bulletin. Folder 132, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Original Patents for Trench Gun and Trunk Strap. Folder 132, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Article Noting Bankruptcy of L & R Wister & Company in December, 1912. No Source. Folder 132, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Letters From Jones Wister to Family and Friends While in Egypt and Other Trips. Folder 132, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Photographs and Postcards of Trip to Europe, 1900. Family Photo Album of Ethel Langhorne Wister Chichester. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Framed Photograph of Jones Wister and Family in Front of the Sphinx in Egypt. Box 5. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Jones Wister’s Scrapbook Containing Articles, Poetry, and Other Collectibles. Folder 127, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Obituaries of Jones Wister and Article on the Value of the Jones Wister Estate. No Sources. Folder 132, Box 2. La Salle University Connelly Library Wister Special Collection.

Newhall, George M. "Jones Wister." The American Cricketer. September 1917, 305-306. Wister Family Scrapbook, Germantown Historical Society.