Louis Severance

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Louis Henry Severance
Louis Severance.jpg
Born (1838-08-01)August 1, 1838[1]
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Died June 25, 1913(1913-06-25) (aged 74)[2]
Cleveland, Ohio
Nationality American
Occupation Treasurer of Standard Oil Company; investor; philanthropist
Employer Standard Oil Company, Commercial National Bank
Organization Union army volunteer, in the defense of Washington D.C.
Known for Leading sponsor of Ohio education, the YMCA, and Presbyterian missions; church elder
Net worth Increase$305 million in 2006 dollars.[3]
Movement Anti-Slavery
Spouse(s) Fanny Benedict Severance, Florence Severance
Children John, Elizabeth, and Anne Belle
Parent(s) Solomon Severance, Mary Severance
Relatives Grandfather, David Long (Cleveland's first physician); nephew, Allen

Louis Henry Severance (August 1, 1838 – June 25, 1913), oilman and philanthropist was a founding member of the Standard Oil Trust, the first treasurer of Standard Oil,[4] and a sulfur magnate.


Severance was born in Cleveland on August 1, 1838; his father, Solomon, having died that July.[5] He and his brother Solon were raised by the widow Mary Severance,[6] in the Cleveland home of her father,[7] David Long (Cleveland's first physician).[8] Louis picked up his mother's commitment to the Presbyterian mission and the anti-slavery cause.[9]

He attended public school, and at 18 (in 1856)[7] joined the Commercial National Bank.[5] The following year a friend from his church introduced Severance to the Norwalk belle Fanny Benedict;[10][11] they married in 1862, producing John Severance in May 1863.[7] That year Severance became a 100-day Union army volunteer,[12] in the defense of Washington D.C.[7]

His bank lent to John D. Rockefeller's oil business, and in 1864 Severance started an oil exploration,[4][7] and refinery business himself, in the oil boom town of Titusville, Pennsylvania.[13] The family prospered; Elizabeth was born in 1865,[14] and Anne Belle in 1868,[15] but by 1881 Severance's youngest daughter was registered both as "Anne Belle" and "Annie Belle" in the Oberlin College calendar (p. 78), and appears as "Annie B. Severance" in the 1880 Cleveland census. Her life is recorded in the book In memoriam: Annie Belle Severance (1896).[16] Her death on the Isle of Wight, aged 28, is recorded as "Severance, Annie Belle".[17] In 1872 their last child was stillborn, and Fanny died in 1874.[7] After this, he returned to Cleveland,[18] where the children's uncle, Solon, raised them with his own three children.[4] (Louis Severance later supported his nephew, Allen; funding his lifelong study of theology.)[19]

By 1876 Rockefeller's Standard Oil had a near industry monopoly and Severance joined as the Ohio company's treasurer. While at Standard, he founded another company, mining sulfur, and because it held the patent on the Frasch process it too monopolized a profitable industry.[13]

He retired in 1894,[20] a very wealthy man,[13] and married the equally rich Florence Severance (only daughter of the Standard Oil millionaires Stephen and Anna Harkness).[21] Florence Severance died within a year of the marriage. Her estate increased his fortune further,[4] and in retirement he was a leading sponsor of Ohio education, the YMCA, and overseas Presbyterian missions. He was a church elder and in 1904 the vice moderator of its General Assembly; he paid for chapels in Cleveland, as well as missions, colleges, and hospitals in Asia,[18] and donated $50,000-$100,000 annually directly to the church.[22] His son-in-law wrote "While his philanthropies were very broad and he responded to appeals of every sort, he seems to have been dominated by one fundamental idea,—the building up of the Christian church."[23]

Dying suddenly,[5] and intestate,[24] his estate was divided between his two surviving children (Annie Belle having died in 1896).[15] His heirs were: John L. Severance (a businessman,[18] who became an important patron of the arts in Ohio)[25] and Elizabeth S. Allen (a philanthropist, who became Elisabeth Severance Prentiss, and established the public health charitable foundation of that name).[26]


In addition Severance Hall is named for him and his wife Elisabeth [32]


  1. ^ Frazier, Ian (2002). Family. Picador. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-312-42059-8. 
  2. ^ Died in his daughter's home, in the care of his son in law, Dr Dudley P. Allen, after being taken suddenly ill. See: White (1913).
  3. ^ With 1,923% price inflation his final estate (reported by the NY Times) had a purchasing power equivalent to $305 million in 2006.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Foundation - History". 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-28.  (Charitable foundation established by Louis Severance's daughter.)
  5. ^ a b c d White, S. (1913). Missionary review of the world. 36. p. 896. 
  6. ^ "Solon Severance". www.genealogybug.net. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Barton, Dave. "Fanny B Benedict". www.genealowiki.com. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  8. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: MEDICINE". ech.cwru.edu. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  9. ^ Avery, E. M. "A history of Cleveland and its environs; the heart of new Connecticut (Volume 2)". www.ebooksread.com. p. 323. Retrieved 2010-05-31. The home of Mrs. Severance was a center for some of the agitation and work done in Cleveland in the anti-slavery cause. 
  10. ^ Barton, D. W. "Ch. 15: Life in Norwalk in the 1850s, A New Generation". Retrieved 2010-06-01. [Fanny's brother, Dave Benedict] took Louis to Norwalk to visit his family, and introduced him to his sister Fanny. Fanny was seventeen at the time, and liked the looks of this young bank employee from Cleveland. The feeling was mutual, and Louis started to court her. 
  11. ^ Wickham, Captain William S. (1918-12-25) [1901]. "Norwalk, Its Men and Women, and Some of the Girls I Have Met". The Firelands pioneer. XX. Norwalk, Ohio: The Firelands Historical Society. p. 2085. OCLC 2446934. The most beautiful of all the pretty girls—and there have been many first and last—who ever left Norwalk as a bride was Fanny Benedict. She was the undisputed belle of the town. She married Mr L. H. Severance 
  12. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: SEVERANCE, LOUIS HENRY". Case Western Reserve University. 1997-05-22. Retrieved 2010-05-30. Severance Family Papers, WRHS [source] 
  13. ^ a b c d Frazier, Ian (2002). Family. Picador. pp. 160–163. ISBN 978-0-312-42059-8. He added millions from sulphur to the $8 million he already had from oil. 
  14. ^ a b "History of the Hospital, the Allen Family, & Elisabeth Severance". The Allen Community Hospital Foundation. Retrieved 2010-06-19. 
  15. ^ a b The children's birth names are recorded in Avery, E. M. (1918). Book. p. 326. 
  16. ^ In memoriam: Annie Belle Severance, April 24th, 1868, September 25th, 1896. 1896. OCLC 46919160. 
  17. ^ "Index entry". Freebmd.org.uk. Avery, E. M. (May 31). A history of Cleveland and its environs; the heart of new Connecticut. FreeBMD. ONS. pp. 324, 325.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help);
  18. ^ a b c d "II Biography". Chicago, New York: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1918. OCLC 455335602.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Avery" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  19. ^ "Origins and Early Development ". Case Western Reserve University - Department of History. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  20. ^ The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History gives 1894 as the year Severance retired both from Standard Oil and the Union Sulphur company. These are based on the Severance Family Papers and give the year he stopped working. Other sources — like White, S. (1913) & Avery, E. M. (1918) — give the official retirement year: 1895
  21. ^ "Florence Harkness Memorial Chapel". Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  22. ^ "Presbyterians Vote Against Domination of Executive Affairs by Few Men. CREATE NEW COMMISSION From Which Paid Agents of Church Boards and Permanent Officers of the Assembly Are Excluded". The New York Times. 1908-05-29. 
  23. ^ Allen, Dr. D. P. (October 1913). Oberlin Alumni Magazine.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ "SEVERANCE ESTATE WORTH $14,508,984" (pdf). The New York Times. 1913-11-27. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  25. ^ "Art: Final Severance". Time. 1942-06-06. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  26. ^ "History of Philanthropy in Cleveland, Ohio". WRHS. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  27. ^ Dunn, W. H. (1912-05-30). "The New Gymnasium at Wooster". New York Observer: 691. born in Cleveland in 1838 
  28. ^ "The College of Wooster GLO Situation, February 13, 1913". 
  29. ^ Chung, S. S. (2009). "History of Stereotactic Surgery in Korea". Textbook of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery. p. 171. ISBN 978-3-540-69959-0. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-69960-6. 
  30. ^ "Severance Chemical Laboratory (1901- )". Oberlin College. 2009-11-16. Retrieved 2010-06-19. 
  31. ^ "Severance Chemical Laboratory, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.". Retrieved 2010-06-19. [A postcard] of the Severance Chemical Laboratory, a gift of Mr. Louis H. Severance 
  32. ^ http://www.clevelandorchestra.com/plan-your-visit/severance-hall/