Walter Loomis Newberry

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Walter Loomis Newberry
Born (1804-09-18)September 18, 1804
East Windsor, Connecticut
Died November 6, 1868(1868-11-06) (aged 64)
at sea
Occupation businessman and philanthropist
Known for Newberry Library

Walter Loomis Newberry (Sepbember 18, 1804, East Windsor, Connecticut – November 6, 1868 at sea) was the son of Amasa and Ruth (Warner) Newberry.[1] He was an American businessman and philanthropist, best known for his bequest that resulted in the creation of the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Newberry received an appointment to the United States Military Academy, but had to decline for health reasons. In 1822, Newberry and his brother Oliver went into the shipping business in Buffalo, New York. They moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1826 and founded a successful dry goods company. Newberry joined a syndicate that included William Astor and Lewis Cass, investing in real estate in what would become Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay; he moved to Chicago in 1833 and continued to prosper in banking and real estate. He became President of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, the first railroad built from Chicago.

Newberry died in 1868 on the steamship Periere while en route to France. His will provided for his wife and daughters during their lifetimes, and further provided that if his daughters Julia Rosa and Mary Louisa died without issue, half his remaining estate would go to found a public library in Chicago. Mary Louisa died in 1874, and Julia Rosa in 1876, neither having married or had children. By the time that Newberry's widow, Julia Butler Newberry, died in 1885, the Chicago Public Library was already well-established as a circulating library. The trustees of Newberry's will therefore used the bequest to establish the Newberry Library as a noncirculating reference library.

Newberry was the uncle of U.S. Congressman John Stoughton Newberry.[2][3]


Oliver Newberry (born East Windsor, Connecticut, 17 November 1789; died Detroit, Michigan, 30 July 1860), a brother of Walter Loomis Newberry, served during the War of 1812, and also during the Black Hawk War. In 1816 he settled in Buffalo, New York, but in 1820 he went to Detroit, where he established himself in business. Soon after his arrival in Detroit, he secured government contracts to furnish all supplies to the numerous forts and Indian trading-posts in the northwest. He was unable to obtain suitable transportation, and was compelled to build a vessel for his own use. Afterward, he constructed other vessels during successive years until he became one of the largest owners of shipping on the lakes.

In 1833, he built the “Michigan,” his first steamboat, which was the largest that until that time had been launched for the lake trade. Several warehouses were constructed by him along the river front in Detroit, where his various schooners, brigs, and steamboats were loaded. He was elected an alderman in Detroit in 1831, and he was associated in the early history of Michigan railroads. For many years, he carried all of his business papers in his hat, and was rarely seen uncovered. He was known as the “commodore” of the lakes, and was sometimes called “the steamboat king.”


  1. ^ Newberry Genealogy, The Ancestors and Descendants of Thomas Newberry, J. Gardner Bartlett, Published for Limited Circulation by the Author for John Strong Newberry, Boston, Mass. 1914, p. 80, Newberry Library collection, Genealogy Case E 7 .N423
  2. ^ Davies, Pete (2014). American Road: The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age. Henry Holt and Company. p. 19. 
  3. ^ Wilson, James Grant and Fiske, John (1888). Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography: Lodge-Pickens. D. Appleton and Company. p. 502. 

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