Open main menu

Elbert Henry Gary (October 8, 1846 – August 15, 1927) was an American lawyer, county judge and corporate officer. He was a key founder of U.S. Steel in 1901, bringing together partners J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Charles M. Schwab. The city of Gary, Indiana, a steel town, was named for him when it was founded in 1906. Gary, West Virginia was also named after him. When trust busting President Theodore Roosevelt said that Gary was head of the steel trust, Gary considered it a compliment. The two men communicated in a nonconfrontational way unlike Roosevelt's communications with leaders of other trusts.

Elbert Henry Gary
Elbert Henry Gary circa 1915.jpg
Gary circa 1915
1st President of U.S. Steel
In office
Succeeded byJames Augustine Farrell, Sr.
Personal details
Born(1846-10-08)October 8, 1846
Wheaton, Illinois
DiedAugust 15, 1927(1927-08-15) (aged 80)
Manhattan, New York City
Julia Emily Graves
(m. 1869; her death 1902)

Emma T Townsend
(m. 1905; his death 1927)


Elbert Gary was born near Wheaton, Illinois, on October 8, 1846, to Erastus and Susan Abiah (Vallette) Gary. He attended Wheaton College and graduated first in his class from Union College of Law in 1868. The school later became the Northwestern University School of Law. Gary started to practice law in Chicago in 1871 and also maintained an office in Wheaton.[1] He was a co-founder (with his uncle, Jesse Wheaton) of the Gary-Wheaton Bank that merged with Bank One Corporation in the middle 1990s.

While he was working as a young corporate attorney for railroads and other clients in the years after the Great Chicago Fire, Gary was elected president of Wheaton three times, and when it became a city in 1892 he served as its first mayor for two terms.

He served two terms as a DuPage County judge from 1882 to 1890. For the rest of his life he was known as "Judge Gary." It was a common custom in the nineteenth century for men to be addressed by military, political, or academic titles after those titles were no longer current.

Gary practiced law in Chicago for about twenty-five years. He was president of the Chicago Bar Association from 1893 to 1894. It was while he was hearing a case as a judge that he first became interested in the process of making steel and the economics of that business. In 1898 he became president of Federal Steel Corporation in Chicago, which included a barbed wire business, and retired from his law practice. Federal and other companies merged in 1901 to become U.S. Steel, and Gary was elected chairman of the board of directors and the finance committee.

In 1900 at the age of 54, Gary moved from Wheaton to New York City, where he established the headquarters of U.S. Steel. Gary served as chairman of the board of America's first billion-dollar corporation, U.S. Steel, from the company's founding in 1901 until his death in August 1927. In November 1904, with a government suit looming, Gary approached President Roosevelt with a deal: cooperation in exchange for preferential treatment. U.S. Steel would open its books to the Bureau of Corporations; if the Bureau found evidence of wrongdoing, the company would be warned privately and given a chance to set matters right. Roosevelt accepted this "gentlemen's agreement" because it met his interest in accommodating the modern industrial order while maintaining his public image as slayer of the trusts.[2]

Emma T. Townsend (1916)

The town of Gary, Indiana, laid out in 1906 as a model home for steel workmen, was named in his honor. Despite this, Gary had no lasting personal connection with his namesake, which by the time of his death was approaching a population of 100,000.

From 1906 to 1908, he served as president of the Illinois State Society of New York, a group of Illinois expatriates living in New York who got together for social reasons a few times each year. They held an annual Lincoln Day Dinner in February at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and a Chicago Fire Remembrance Day each October at Delmonico's Restaurant in Manhattan.

In 1914 he was made chairman of the committee appointed by the Mayor of New York, John Purroy Mitchel, to study the question of unemployment and its relief.

His second wife was a member of the New York State Commission for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915; and acted as one of the official hostesses at the New York Pavilion during the exposition.[3]

When America entered World War I in 1917, he was appointed chairman of the committee on steel of the Council of National Defense. Through his connection with a business essential to producing munitions of war, he exerted great influence in bringing about cooperation between the government and industry. He was interested in strengthening the friendship between America and Japan. In 1919, he was invited by President Wilson to attend the Industrial Conference in Washington, and took a prominent part in it as a firm upholder of the “open shop,” of which he was always a strong advocate.

Elbert Gary died on August 15, 1927 in Manhattan, New York City.


His first wife, Julia Emily Graves, whom he married on June 25, 1869, died in 1902; they had two daughters, Gertrude and Bertha, who survived him. Gary was also survived by his second wife, Emma T. Townsend, whom he had married on December 5, 1905.[1]

In 2011 Gary was inducted into the inaugural class of the American Metal Market Steel Hall of Fame ( for his work in the steel industry and as the longest-serving CEO of U.S. Steel.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Gary Born on Farm. In Politics Early, Was First Mayor of Wheaton, Ill. Became a Judge, Acquiring Title He Bore Through Life. Scion of Puritan Stock. Practiced Law for 25 Years in Chicago Before He Met Morgan, Which Started Career in Steel". The New York Times. August 16, 1927. Retrieved 2011-11-05. Elbert Henry Gary was born on Oct. 8, 1846, on the farm of his father, near Wheaton. Ill. He was the son of Erastus and Susan A. (Vallette) Gary, and came of old New England stock. His father was descended from the Massachusetts Puritans and his mother was a descendant of an officer of Lafayette's army.
  2. ^ Abrams, Richard M. "Cooking up the square deal: Theodore Roosevelt". Profiles of the U.S. Presidents. Advameg.
  3. ^ State of New York at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915 (Albany, 1916; pg. 28)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit