William Edenborn

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William Edenborn
William Edenborn portrait.jpg
William Edenborn (ca. 1880s)
Born(1848-03-20)March 20, 1848
Plettenberg, Westphalia, Prussia
DiedMay 13, 1926(1926-05-13) (aged 78)
Residence(1) Emden Plantation
Winn Parish, Louisiana (2) New Orleans, Louisiana
OccupationBusinessman; Inventor
Spouse(s)Sarah Drain Edenborn (married 1875–1926, his death)
ChildrenTwo daughters who died in childhood

William Edenborn (March 20, 1848 – May 13, 1926)[1] was a businessman, inventor and philanthropist born in Plettenberg in the Westphalia region of the Ruhr River Valley of the former Prussia, since Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1866 as a "financially poor youth yet rich in vision and courage"[2] and eventually became a citizen.

Early years[edit]

In 1860, Edenborn began an apprenticeship with a steel wire maker.[3] After his arrival in the United States, Edenborn first settled in Pittsburgh, where he found work as a mechanic in the wire industry.[4] He eventually made his way to St. Louis, where he built the first wire mill west of the Mississippi river in 1870 and married the former Sarah Drain (1856–1944) in October 1876.[3]


In 1882, Edenborn invented a machine that dramatically simplified the manufacturing process for barbed wire,[5] as well as a new type of barbed wire that was less likely to injure cattle.[4][6] These inventions brought success to Edenborn's company, which soon merged with that of John Warne Gates and ultimately became the American Steel and Wire Company, which held a monopoly on the steel wire industry in the United States. Edenborn served as the president of the American Steel and Wire Company until it was acquired by J.P. Morgan in 1901 during the formation of U.S. Steel.

Railroad executive[edit]

In 1898, Edenborn had launched construction of the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company, which extended from Shreveport to New Orleans and linked areas of his adopted state where the lack of transportation had prevented the development of industry. The railroad cost some $20 million. The project pumped $50 million into the state's economy. The obituary describes Edenborn as "fearless in this giant undertaking and was entirely unaided by finances other than his own."[2] In addition to Emden in Winn Parish, the Edenborns maintained a residence in New Orleans, where they spent most of their later years to be near the railroad business office.[1]

He was also a chairman of the board of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.[7] With William Buchanan and Harvey C. Couch, Edenborn also owned the short-line, the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway.[8]

The Edenborns owned two steamships named for themselves, the S.S. William Edenborn and the S.S. Sarah Endenborn. The former was scuttled in 1962 in Cleveland, Ohio.[9]

C. Geoffrey Mangin, in an article in North Louisiana History, refers to Edenborn as a "robber baron."[10]

Sedition Act[edit]

In April 1918, Edenborn was arrested in New Orleans for alleged violation of the Wilson administration's Sedition Act, which forbade one from speaking "disloyally" about the United States military effort amid World War I.[11]

Here are excerpts from the speech given by the 70-year-old Edenborn:

There has been much talk about Germany coming over here and attacking the United States. We need have no fear that Germany will ever attack the United States. It would take a maritime nation to do that, because America is surrounded by water. America can look to other countries for any attacks in the future. Recently a certain prime minister (David Lloyd George) stated, 'Our nation is mistress of the sea, our nation has been mistress of the sea, and always will be mistress of the sea.'[11]

The U.S. government claimed that Edenborn, mentioned in its complaint as "the father of the wire industry," had

breathed the arrogant spirit of Prussianism in its most hateful form [which constituted] seditious treason, being in effect pro-German propaganda of the most cunning, insidious, and demoralizing sort to the morale of the American people, having the direct effect of sowing seeds of discord, discontent, and hatred against a great government (Great Britain) with whom we are associated in bonds of brotherly love.[11]

Death and legacy[edit]

Willian Edenborn (pre-1923) as he appears in the Ascension Parish Bicentennial Hall of Fame in Gonzales, Louisiana

Edenborn died in a Shreveport hospital on May 13, 1926 after having been felled by a stroke eight days earlier at Emden.[2] At his death he was counted among the wealthiest men in the United States by the Wall Street Journal. His funeral may have been the largest in the history of the large Forest Park Cemetery in Shreveport. Mourners sent twelve truck loads of flowers to his funeral and lined a concourse fifteen blocks long at the cemetery to pay their respects.[1]

Henry E. Hardtner, a leading forester in the American South, and founder of the Natchez, Urania and Ruston Railway,[12] a logging railroad, said of his friend Edenborn:

He brought millions of dollars to Louisiana, which he used for the development of latent natural resources. He was honest, temperate, charitable, and above all a just man.

He asked only reasonable service of his employees and was never fault-finding. Poor and Democratic in life; rich and powerful in death, he approached the grave as one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.[2]

Sarah Edenborn succeeded her husband as the head of the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company on May 19, 1926, the first woman in such a position in the state.[2] The couple had two daughters, one adopted, and neither lived to adulthood. One was accidentally killed by a street car while horseback riding in St. Louis; the other died of diphtheria.[4] Sarah was buried beside her husband on her death in 1944.

His obituary further describes him:

Always honest, always dauntless, always tireless, always a student and with a vision of his possibilities and duties, he forged constantly onward and upward from a penniless apprentice boy to the million dollar head of one of the greatest steel and wire industries of the world, his inventions and economics saving billions of dollars to humanity.[2]

Edenborn Avenue in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie in Jefferson Parish is named in his honor.[1] Because of the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company coming through Ascension Parish, the city of Gonzales, Louisiana, was briefly named "Edenborn" in his honor.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d "William Edenborn". findagrave.com. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Maude Hearn O'Pry, Chronicles of Shreveport and Caddo Parish, 1928, p. 349
  3. ^ a b "Barbed Wire Inventors: William Edenborn". Antique Barbed Wire Society. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Davies, Greggory E. (July 1997). "William Edenborn of Winn Parish, La". Legacies & Legends of Winn Parish, Louisiana. Winnfield, LA: Winn Parish Genealogical & Historical Association. 1 (2). Retrieved March 31, 2014.
  5. ^ US 270,646, Edenborn, William & Gustav Griesche, "Barb-wire machine", issued 16 January 1883 
  6. ^ US 271,693, Edenborn, William & Gustav Griesche, "Barbed fence-wire", issued 6 February 1883 
  7. ^ "Kansas City Southern; John Lambert Succeeds William Edenborn as Chairman of the Board". The New York Times, May 6, 1900. May 6, 1900. Retrieved October 30, 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  8. ^ James R. Fair, The Louisiana and Arkansas Railway: The Story of a Regional Line. Northern Illinois University Press. 1997. p. 158. ISBN 0-87580-219-2. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  9. ^ "S.S. William Edenborn". wrecksite.eu. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  10. ^ C. Geoffrey Mangin, "A Robber Baron in Louisiana: William Edenborn," North Louisiana History Vol. 3, Nos. 2–3 (Spring-Summer 2002), pp. 66–76
  11. ^ a b c "Railway President Held as Seditionist; William Edenborn, Naturalized German, Accused of Disloyal Speech in Louisiana, April 28, 1918". The New York Times, April 28, 1918. April 29, 1918. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  12. ^ Hawkins, Ralph W. "Natchez, Urania & Ruston Railway". HawkinsRails.net. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  13. ^ "William Edenborn". Ascension Parish Bicentennial Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 30, 2010.