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Ward Cheney (23 February 1813 Manchester, Connecticut - 22 March 1876) was a pioneer manufacturer of silk fabrics.



Ward Cheney was principal founder of the house of Cheney Brothers, and was most active in its business management. He first engaged in the dry-goods business in Providence, Rhode Island, with his brother Charles. When Charles moved to Ohio, Ward returned to South Manchester and found several brothers raising a Chinese mulberry, Morus multicaulis. The success of the experiments led him and brothers Frank and Rush to start a silk culturing operation in Burlington, New Jersey. In 1838 he and his brothers Ralph, Rush and Frank established the manufacturing firm of Cheney Brothers in South Manchester.[1]

Cheney Brothers had many obstacles with which to contend, and the factory was suspended after three or four years, but was revived in 1841. The business was finally organized as a joint-stock company, retaining the firm name, and Ward became president of the corporation. The brothers worked harmoniously in building up by slow steps an extensive business, with mills at South Manchester and Hartford, employing 2,500 operatives. The sewing silks manufactured by them were considered by competent judges superior to the best qualities made in Europe, and found a special demand for use in sewing machines on account of strength, uniformity of twist, and fine finish. They afterward made great progress in weaving silk goods with power-looms, and made printed as well as plain-dyed fabrics.[2]

On their father's farm, the brothers established the model manufacturing village of South Manchester, with cottage homes, and a spacious and architecturally elegant hall and theatre where dramatic and other entertainments were given gratis and religious exercises were held on Sundays. The village also had a school, a library and reading room, boarding houses, and pleasure grounds. Here all the brothers had their homes, and their relations with their workmen afforded a rare instance of cordiality and affection. From time to time skilled operatives were brought over from England and settled in South Manchester.

Ward Cheney was known in business circles as a generous and progressive man, and frequently aided young men beginning mercantile life. He was president of the Silk Association of America.


His brother Seth Wells Cheney was an artist. His brother John Cheney excelled as an engraver of heads. His fine engraving work was praised by curator S. R. Koehler at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but the interest in line engraving was in decline.[3]

Brothers who joined Ward at Cheney Brothers were Charles, Ralph, Rush and Frank:[1]

Charles Cheney (26 December 1803 - 20 June 1874) went to Tolland, Connecticut as a clerk when he was about fourteen years old, and before he was of age engaged in mercantile business on his own account in Providence. In 1834, he moved to Ohio and established himself as a farmer at Mount Healthy, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained eleven years, during which period he became interested in the anti-slavery movement. In 1847 he joined his brothers at Cheney Brothers in South Manchester. He spent a considerable portion of his time in Hartford, where they had also extensive manufactories. He served in the legislature for one or two terms, and was distinguished for his public spirit and generous charities.

Ralph Cheney (13 January 1806 - 16 September 1869) As well as joining his brothers in the silk enterprise, he was fond of agricultural pursuits, and devoted most of his life to farming.[4]

Rush Cheney (25 April 1815 - 7 June 1882) He possessed inventive talent and capability in the application of mechanical principles to manufacturing; and thus contributed a very important element to the building up of the manufacture of silk fabric, in which he was engaged most of his life.[4]

Frank Cheney (born 5 July 1817) A natural mechanic, he joined with his brother Rush in the invention and construction of machinery which made the family business successful.[4]

Sons of the brothers who joined the enterprise were Frank Woodbridge and Arthur:

Frank Woodbridge Cheney (born 5 June 1832) was a son of Charles. After graduation at Brown University in 1854, he joined the Cheney Brothers operations at Hartford. He volunteered for the Civil War in 1862, and became lieutenant colonel of the 16th Connecticut Volunteers. The regiment went to the front on 29 August, 1,010 strong but undisciplined and almost wholly ignorant of drill. The Confederates were beginning the invasion of Maryland that ended in repulse at Antietam, and all available troops were hurried forward to meet them irrespective of experience as soldiers. On 12 September, Frank Cheney led his regiment of recruits in a skirmish that proved preliminary to the battle of Antietam, in which engagement he was severely wounded, late in the afternoon, while endeavoring to rally his men, who, never having had a battalion drill, had been thrown into disorder by the enemy's fire. Cheney's wound proved so serious that he was obliged to retire from the service on 24 December 1862. He travelled in Europe, China, and Japan, studying the silk industries of those countries, and joined Cheney Brothers as its treasurer. Is eldest son Horace B. Cheney followed in his footsteps.

Arthur Cheney (14 January 1837 - December 1878) was the youngest of Ward's three children. He interested himself in the drama and built the Globe Theatre, Boston, originally called Selwyn's Theatre. It was managed with varying success by Selwyn, Floyd, and others, and, when it was burned, was rebuilt by Arthur and carried on at a loss.

In addition to Arthur, Ward Cheney also had two other children, Louis and Alice.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Harold U. Faulkner (1958). "Cheney, Ward". Dictionary of American Biography. II, Part 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 56. 
  2. ^ American Business BSA Merit Badge Guide, 22 Jun 2015.
  3. ^ R. P. Tolman (1958). "Cheney, John". Dictionary of American Biography. II, Part 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 52–3. 
  4. ^ a b c d Charles Henry Pope (1897). The Cheney Genealogy.