Perry H. Smith

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Perry H. Smith (March 18, 1828 – March 29, 1885) was an American businessman and politician.[1]

Born in Augusta, New York to Timothy Smith and Lucy Avery Smith, Smith graduated from Hamilton College second in his class and at the age of 18[2]. He then studied law and was admitted to the New York Bar.[3] In 1845, he moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin[3] and then to Milwaukee and Appleton, Wisconsin.[3] At the age of 23[2], he was elected the first county judge for Outagamie County, Wisconsin.[3] He served in the Wisconsin State Assembly 1855, 1858–1859 and the Wisconsin State Senate 1856–1857 as a Democrat.

In 1851, Smith married Emma (maiden name not known). They had four children, Perry H. Smith, Jr., Ernest Fitz Smith, Emma Keeney Smith, and Dunlap Smith[4].

In 1857, Smith became vice president of the Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad. The assets of that railroad were purhcased in June 1859 by the new Chicago and North Western Railroad, and Perry was named as vice-president of that. A locomotive of the new line was named in his honor, but it was wrecked in an accident on November 1, 1859 when an ox ran onto the track[5].

In 1860, he moved to Chicago, Illinois.[3] He became a director of Crystal Lake Ice Company, formed to bring ice from Crystal Lake in McHenry County to Chicago via the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad[6]. In 1866, Perry donated half of the $25,000 cost for a new library building at his alma mater, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, and participated in the laying of the cornerstone on July 18[7]. The building was completed and opened in 1872 as the Perry Hiram Smith Library. It later became the Perry Hiram Smith Hall, and today is Morris House[8].

In 1869, he left the railroad and went into private business. He organized an excursion party from June 22 to July 29, 1869, over the new Union and Central Pacific Railroad lines to California for 28 leading businessmen, statesmen, judges, lawyers and railroad executives[2][9]. In October 1869, he took his family on an extended trip through Europe, based in Brussels[2] and parts of Asia and Africa. He returned to the U.S. in November for business and to visit his father, and rejoined his family in December[10]. They were in Moscow when the Franco-Prussian war began, and in August 1871 the family returned to the U.S.[2][11]

In 1876, Smith ran for Mayor of Chicago and lost the election to Monroe Heath. Later that year he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, where he worked for the nomination of his personal friend, Samuel J. Tilden[2].

Perry's health declined following a trip to Europe in 1882, with his mental condition deteriorating[2]. He was committed to a sanitarium in Wisconsin[2] in 1883. He died of congestion of the liver in Chicago, Illinois on March 29, 1885[2], and was buried in a family plot at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. After the great Chicago fire of 1871, he built a home at Pine (now Michigan Avenue) and Huron at a cost of some $200,000. That home was torn down around 1918 to make way for the widening of Michigan Avenue[4]. His estate, including the home, was variously valued at $5 million[3][12] and from $750,000 to $1 million[2]. His will was filed in April 1885 and set the value at $600,000, half of that in real estate.[13] Perry H. Smith, Jr., later built a mansion at 1400 N. Astor St. which still stands as of 2018.


  1. ^ Birthdate is March 18, 1828, on his passport application, 1867
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Perry H. Smith Dead". Chicago Tribune. March 30, 1885. p. 8. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Perry H. Smith". Janesville Daily Gazette. March 31, 1885. p. 1. Retrieved January 5, 2016 – via  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ a b "Perry H. Smith's Widow is Dead in California". Chicago Tribune. May 8, 1918. p. 19. 
  5. ^ "Terrible Railroad Accident: Excursion Train on the Chicago & Northwestern R. R. Thrown off the track". Chicago Tribune. November 2, 1859. p. 1. 
  6. ^ "The Crystal Lake Ice Company". Chicago Tribune. November 9, 1863. p. 1. 
  7. ^ "Commencement - Exercises at Hamilton College". Chicago Tribune. July 24, 1866. p. 3. 
  8. ^ "Hamilton College Archives, Campus Building and Renovation Chronology". Retrieved May 17, 2018. 
  9. ^ "The City in Brief". Chicago Tribune. July 30, 1869. p. 4. 
  10. ^ Personal letter, Nov. 4, 1869
  11. ^ "The City in Brief; Personal". Chicago Tribune. August 4, 1871. 
  12. ^ Death of Perry H. Smith - Career of the Railroad Manager and Politician, New York Times, March 30, 1885.
  13. ^ "In General ... Perry H. Smith's Will". Chicago Tribune. April 7, 1885.