Harry Clay Trexler

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"Colonel Harry Clay Trexler with His Irons in the Fire." From Newspaper Artists Club, "As We See 'Em" (1911).

Henry Clay Trexler (April 17, 1854 – November 17, 1933) was an American industrialist who built a business empire in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Early life[edit]

Harry Clay Trexler was born in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Allentown businessman Edwin W. Trexler and Matilda (Saurbuck) Trexler. He was a descendant of Peter Trexler (died 1758), one of the early Pennsylvania German settlers of the Lehigh Valley.

After attending Allentown public schools and Tremont Seminary in Norristown, he joined his father's lumber business. In 1885, Trexler married Mary M. Mosser of Allentown (Fink 1925; Hall 1981).

Career[edit]

When Trexler began his career, in the late 1860s, Allentown, the commercial center of the agriculturally rich Lehigh Valley region, was undergoing a tumultuous economic transition. The town's first burst of growth had been fueled by the construction of the Lehigh Canal, by the boom in anthracite coal, and by the growth of an extensive local anthracite iron industry. In the early 1870s, the invention of Bessemer steel-making technology, the discovery of bituminous coal in western Pennsylvania, and the national depression following the Civil War destroyed the local economy (Folsom 1981; Hall & Hall 1982, 1987a).

Led by a visionary Board of Trade, in which Trexler was active, Allentown determined to diversify its economy, giving generous incentives to enterprises willing to locate in the city (Gobron 1916). The success of this initiative set off a housing boom from which the Trexler firm profited enormously. By the first World War, Trexler's lumber business was among the largest in the United States, owning tracts of timber and sawmills in Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, with distribution yards in Portsmouth, Virginia and Newark, New Jersey (Hall & Hall 1987).

Allentown's diversified economy and ethos of cooperation, which Trexler did so much to foster, enabled it to escape the worst ravages of the Great Depression. In 1939, Allentown actually had more enterprises in operation than it had during the boom of the 1920s (Hall & Hall 1987b).

In 1911, he was appointed Colonel and Quartermaster General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, and in 1916, he served during the mobilization of troops on the Mexican border. In 1917, he prepared troops for service in WWI and retired in 1918 as a Brigadier General.

Business diversification[edit]

Trexler began to aggressively expand his interests beyond lumber in the 1890s. With partners John D. Ormrod and Edward M. Young, he organized the Lehigh Portland Cement Company, which became one of the largest cement producers in the world, with twenty plants operating in ten states. He consolidated scattered electric railway properties into the Lehigh Valley Rapid Transit Company, one of the most innovative and efficient traction companies in the Northeast. He similarly consolidated the region's electric utilities, forming the Pennsylvania Power & Light in the 1920s. He purchased dozens of telephone properties, consolidating them into the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania.

He was also active in banking, finance, and real estate development. Inspired by the City Beautiful movement, he used his combined interests to promote city planning — turning Allentown into a model of balanced development (a dramatic contrast to industrially ravaged Bethlehem and Easton) (City Planning 1963; Hall 1981; Friede 1974, 1978).

In 1927, Trexler donated land to the Boy Scouts of America in Jonas, Pennsylvania. That land is now known as the Trexler Scout Reservation in memory of him, and is home to Akelaland Cub Scout Camp and Settlers Camp, a Boy Scout resident camp.

Social vision[edit]

Fearing the power of Philadelphia interests and their traditional hostility to the Pennsylvania Germans, Trexler worked with New York financiers to curtail the Philadelphians' power and to create an economic climate favorable to local control of the city's business life.

Legacy[edit]

Following his death in an automobile accident, the terms of his will created a private foundation to benefit the citizens of Allentown and Lehigh County. The Harry Clay Trexler Estate (now the Harry C. Trexler Trust) supports the City of Allentown's park system and various Lehigh County charities including the Boy Scouts of America Minsi Trails Council.

In 1988, Muhlenberg College named its newly constructed library in honor of Trexler.[1] Allentown's 134-acre (0.21 sq mi; 0.54 km2) Trexler Memorial Park is also named in his honor, as is Allentown School District's Trexler Middle School and DeSales University's Trexler Library.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Lindsey Aspinall. "The history of Haas College Center". The Muhlenberg Weekly. Retrieved 2008-06-13. 

Sources[edit]

  • Brossard, James H. 1918. The Churches of Allentown: A Study in Statistics. Allentown: Jacks, The Printer.
  • City Planning in Allentown: Its Past, Present, and Future. 1963. Allentown: Allentown City Planning Commission.
  • Fink, Leo G.. 1935. Memoirs of General Harry Clay Trexler. New York: Paulist Press.
  • Folsom, Burton W. 1981. Urban Capitalists: Entrepreneurship and City Growth in the Lehigh and Lackawanna Valleys, 1800-1920. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Friede, E.B. 1974. "The Impact of the Great Depression on Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1930-1941." Unpublished dissertation. New York University.
  • Friede, E.B. 1978. "Cooperation Conquers: The Response of Allentown's Entrepreneurial Community to the Great Depression of the 1930s." Leigh County Historical Society. Proceedings XXXII, 114ff.
  • Gobron, L.C. 1916. Souvenir of Allentown. Allentown: Allentown Board of Trade.
  • Hall, Peter Dobkin. 1981. "The Community Foundation and the Foundations of Community: Harry Clay Trexler and the Creation of Modern Allentown." In A Salute to General Harry C. Trexler. Occasional Papers. Lehigh County Historical Society.
  • Hall, Karyl Lee Kibler, & Hall, Peter Dobkin. 1987a. "History of Allentown, 1874-1900." In Mahlon Hellerich (ed.), Allentown, 1762-1987. Allentown: Lehigh County Historical Society, I: 289-339.
  • Hall, Peter Dobkin, & Hall, Karyl Lee Kibler. 1987b. "Allentown, 1930-1941." In Hellerich, Mahlon 1987. Allentown, 1762-1987. Allentown: Lehigh County Historical Society, II: 82-246.
  • Hellerich, Mahlon 1987. Allentown, 1762-1987. Allentown: Lehigh County Historical Society.
  • Kibler, Karyl Lee, & Hall, Peter Dobkin. 1981. The Lehigh Valley: An Illustrated History. Woodland Hills: Windsor Publications.
  • Marushak, Donald R. 1981. "Parks Are for People: A Tribute to General Harry C. Trexler". In A Salute to General Harry C. Trexler. Occasional Papers. Lehigh County Historical Society.
  • Harry C. Trexler, 1854-1833. 1981. Occasional Papers. Allentown: Lehigh County Historical Society.
  • Ryan Hinton, Akelaland Program Director and Teacher