By Blaise Rogers, MC ‘07
William Hanna was one of the most dominating people in the history of Warren County. He came from humble backgrounds only to make himself into a very wealthy and prestigious man. He only persevered through his determination and ambition. His energy and willingness to put his reputation on the line was unmatched by any other man or woman of his era. These qualities are what he is remembered for both as a mayor of the people and as a businessman.
William Hanna was born on June 19, 1827, in Fayette County, Indiana. His parents, John Hanna and Sarah (Crawford) Hanna had migrated west to Indiana from their original place of birth. John Hanna was a native of North Carolina and Sarah Crawford came from Virginia. The Hanna’s were part of the migration from the traditional coastal United States to the West. William was the third oldest of eleven children that John and Sarah had together. In 1835, John moved his wife and eldest children to Warren County. Here they settled on a farm located twelve miles northwest of Monmouth. According to the Warren County Plat Book, this land that they bought was in the very northwest corner Warren County in Tompkins Township. At the time, this distance from anything resembling an urban center was too distant for their means of transportation to reach. This explains why William had quite a meager upbringing on his father’s farm.
In the early years of William’s life he learned the importance of hard work. His father demanded a lot from him on the farm. Young William would toil all day until schools were opened in the rural area which allowed him to receive some education. According to historian Louis Frank Meek III, “(William) received such education as the subscription schools of the neighborhood afforded.” These schools taught things that hadn’t already been taught in the home. Many rural farm parents usually took it upon themselves to teach their children to read. This can be explained simply in two ways. First off, life on the farm led to there being a lot of down time and the children would have nothing better to do than read books they had shared with their parents or other children their age. Secondly, the area was dominated by the Protestant religion and therefore parents would teach their children to read the bible. William felt that he was educated enough to prepare himself for his next journey in his life, one that would take him even father west from Fayette County.
In 1849, gold was discovered on the American River near Sutter’s Mill in California. With his father’s permission, William hitched up the family’s oxen and joined a train of “forty-niners” heading to California. According to his biographical information in the Album of Warren County, Illinois, William “quickly made a few thousand dollars worth of gold in the American River.” After he made this money, he bought a ranch along the Feather River. His work that he put in on his father’s farm back in Warren County prepared him for this lifestyle out west. He excelled at it and became a very knowledgeable and successful rancher in California and he continued mining for gold at an almost leisurely pace. According to the family biographer, “He continued to prospect for gold on the Yuba and American Rivers, remaining in the West until 1851, when he returned to Illinois with a few thousand dollars.” This money would prove to be the start of his very prosperous and influential life back in Illinois.
The return to Illinois was a triumphant one for William Hanna because he was now well off financially and able to support himself. In fact, just two weeks after his return from the Pacific coast, he and Sarah Findley were married on June 26, 1851. Sarah Findley came from a family of strict Irish descent. Like the Hanna family, the Findley’s had moved from the Eastern seaboard to Indiana before finally settling in the Warren-Henderson County area. According to Meek, “Life was difficult for Sarah Findley. She lived at home with her father, spinning, weaving, using flint stones, and other pioneer methods.” In other words, her young life somewhat resembled that of William before he left on his journey for California. Both were educated in the home life and could survive on their own. Shortly after their marriage, William and Sarah moved from William’s farm in Henderson County into a house inside the city limits of Monmouth, where they built one of the most envious houses inside of the city. William then changed from blue the collar life to the white collar life. He wanted to trade in the gloves and tools that shaped his calloused hands for a desk and pen that would help him reach the summit the Monmouth business scene.
William and Sarah both came from large families, each being one of eleven siblings. Having their own children was something that was very important for the both of them; they had three children: J. Ross Hanna, Mary J.E. (Brereton) Hanna, and Sarah Frances. Sarah died in infancy for unknown reasons. It will later be seen that J. Ross would be very active in his father’s fiscal affairs and businesses. Mary would marry highly esteemed citizen of Monmouth, Mr. W.D. Brereton. Brereton would later become entrusted by William and they would together with J. Ross form the Monmouth Pottery Company in 1892.
William, Sarah, and their two children had a life of relative luxury throughout the years of the Civil War. Shortly after, in 1867, according to a biographical excerpt,
William Hanna formed a joint-stock company with Mr. W.S. Weir and Dr. W.B. Boyd for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing farm implements and machinery. The original value of this corporation was twenty five thousand dollars.
This is very appropriate for this time in the history of the Midwest as a whole. The railroad was being used on a much larger scale, so that people were able to farm for cash and not only subsistence. The average size of a farm grew much larger in this time period. The need for farm equipment and machinery was rising and the Weir Plow Company supplied these demands. According to Meek, “(Hanna) served as the company’s treasurer from 1867 until 1886 when he bought out William Weir’s interest and became president, an office that he held until 1892. According to historians Moffet and Rogers, it was at this time that “Hanna sold three-fifths interest of the company to Martin Kingman and Associates of Peoria.” However, he remained on the board of directors, but took a much more hands-off approach than previously. At the time of the sale, the capital stock had increased to $1,000,000.” In twenty-five years, under Hanna, Weir, and Boyd the company progressed into a well-respected financial powerhouse in West-Central Illinois. Much of this success can be attributed to the railroad allowing them to sell their products to farmers from distant places, but William Hanna’s leadership as treasurer and later as president proved to be the Weir Plow Company’s greatest asset.
The Weir Plow Company was just one of many businesses that William Hanna was involved with. The combination of all these respective specialties would coagulate as the Hanna Industries. First off, William and J. Ross bought out the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company in 1877 and William became its president. It was after the sale to the Hannas that author Jeff Rankin claims, “The Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company became one of the leading manufacturers in the United States with three hundred men being employed continuously.” Never before had Warren County had this many open jobs for their citizens and this also became one of the great appeals of the area. Immigrants recently removed from their native lands and people from other parts of the United States flocked to the area for the jobs that were created by the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company. This company found very large, valuable clay deposits in rural Monmouth. Rankin claims, “a barrel of this clay was sent to Ohio for analysis and was there pronounced the finest ever seen.” This company no longer exists due to a fire that destroyed the entire facility long after William passed away.
William also bought the Maple City Soap Works in 1890. According to Meek, “William succeeded in May of (1890) in incorporating the business, and soon the Maple City “Self-Washing” Soap - recommended for washing woolen goods and use in hard water – was known and distributed nationwide.” Not only did the clay from his mining interests garner national attention but he helped Monmouth’s soap industry to the forefront as well. At the time of his death, the Maple City Soap Works employed nearly seventy men and was shipping soap orders all across the United States. The soap industry was basically a side occupation for William and he did not devote as much time to this endeavor as he did to the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company. J. Ross felt the same way apparently, for he sold out his share of the corporation just seven years after his father’s fatal accident.
In 1892, William Hanna, J. Ross Hanna, and W.D. Brereton organized the Monmouth Pottery Company. This company was a larger than the Maple City Soap Works in both production and employee size. In fact, the leadership under Hanna put another one of Monmouth’s industries on the national and world map. Louis Meek wrote that:
The factory, termed “the largest stoneware pottery in the world,” began operations with 150 employees during the spring of 1894, the ware being fired by oil flame. With a capacity of 6 million gallons of ware a year, the plant manufactured crocks, jugs, churns, jars, and many other stoneware products and shipped two railroad cars daily. Trade extended to both coasts and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
With this industry, Hanna was able to bring more people to Monmouth and the rest of Warren County. According to the Monmouth Review Atlas, “the factory was destroyed by fire in 1897, but rebuilt in much larger measure, and now (December 19, 1900) is the largest plant of its sort in the world.” This was probably a blessing in disguise because of the growing size of the corporation. The building was probably too small for the growing production rates and this new larger building allowed the corporation to expand to the level it was at when he passed away. It was around this time that he also bought out and was named president of the Monmouth Blanket and Saddlery Company.
William Hanna was also involved with the booming railroad industry of the time. Shortly after the Civil War, the railway became the new, faster way for transport. Hanna saw this as an opportunity to expand. He was a large player in the manufacturing industry in the Midwest and wanted to use the rail to distribute his products to people in other parts of the United States. Therefore, it was a win-win situation for him to get involved in the railroad and transportation business. According to historian and author Ralph Eckley,
He had been president of the Keithsburg Bridge Co., and was president and treasurer of the Burlington, Monmouth, and Illinois River Railroad, and consolidated with the Iowa Central Railway Co. He became a member of the board of directors (it later became the M & St. L. and finally the North Western.)
Also according to Moffet and Rogers, “he was President and Treasurer of the Peoria & Farmington Railway Companies during their construction and until their consolidation with the Iowa Central. He later became a director of the Central Railway Company.” These were all smaller rail industries that were later bought up by the larger dominant railroad corporations of the Midwest. The Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois credits him with being directly responsible for the growth of the railways in Warren County.
He served many other purposes than industrial ones during his tenure in Monmouth. In 1871, he helped organize the Monmouth National Bank and served as its original president. He had already been largely successful with the Weir Plow Company and that is how he gained the esteem to hold such a position. Furthermore, he was both a trustee of the Warren County Library and of Lombard University which had its campus in Galesburg, Illinois.  In politics, Ralph Eckley claims that William was a very staunch Democrat and the Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois holds that theory to be true claiming that he had steadily voted the Democrat ticket since his move to Warren County. He was twice voted the Mayor of Monmouth, in 1880 and then again in 1881, as a Democrat. In this position he was very energetic, but he had to balance the political job with making sure all of his business endeavors ran efficiently and profitably. In fact, holding the office of Mayor was a minor attribute to the life of William Hanna. This is proven in his autobiographical article where he makes no reference to his political career and only minor note of his political affiliation. This article states:
I was born June 19, 1827, in Fayette county, Indiana. My mother's name, prior to her marriage, was Crawford. She had one brother and ten sisters, ten of whom, including my mother, lived to be married, raising families amounting in the aggregate to eighty-seven children: forty-four boys, and forty three girls. Each of the ten sisters was an honor and a blessing to the man who married her. My father showed his good sense by marrying a Crawford, although three of his brothers had married into the same family before he did. It was a trait of my father's family, when they had found a nest of good eggs to take them all. If there had been ten Hanna men, I have no doubt but that all would have wedded Crawfords; true, the girls would have had something to say about it, too, but as my father and his brothers never asked for anything buy what was right, they usually got it. Had this been the case, I have no doubt that they would have succeeded, and the last one would have got just as good a wife as the first one. Mrs. Jeremiah Bake, my mother's youngest sister, who settled in Henderson county in 1836, will be remembered by all the old settlers as one of the best women who ever lived in the county. My father settled in Warren county in 1835, which then included Henderson county, near where Little York now is. Our family at that time consisted of father, mother, six children, and one hired man. We wintered the first winter in a log cabin 16 X 16 feet square, cooked, ate, and slept all in the same room, and had plenty of space left to keep everybody who came to see us. My mother was noted for being a good cook, and having a faculty of making a stranger feel at home; people used to go out of their way to get to say over night with us; of course, we used short bedsteads. This reminds of an incident, though a small matter itself, still it shows in a strong light the accommodating disposition of my father. We used the short bedsteads for some years after we had plenty of house room. On one occasion, when there was a long, land fellow, by the name of Robert Hutchison, whom the old settlers will remember as being about eight feet high, had come to see my sister; they called it sparking in those days. My father showed him to bed, and as he did so, remarked: "Mr. Hutchison, I am sorry that we haven't a bedstead about the house long enough to accommodate you, but I will shove a table up to the foot of the bed, and when you are tired of lying doubled up just run your legs out on the table and rest them." Whether Mr. Hutchisoon took this provision for his comfort as kindly as my father meant it, I never new, but I do know that he did not marry my sister; however, he did as well, perhaps, by marrying my cousin, Elizabeth Hanna. My father gave his children as good an education as the county afforded at that time. In the winter of 1835-6, the people of our neighborhood built a school-house of round logs, with greased paper for windows, instead of glass, hewed puncheons for seats, and a door hung with leather hinges. I commenced my education in that house, with a dirt floor under me, in 1835, and finished at Pleasant Green in a frame school-house twelve years later, having learned about all the teachers of those days were capable of teaching in a district school at that time. In fact, the teachers had to study of nights and Sundays to keep ahead of the scholars. The worst of it all is, I have had to unlearn a great portion of what little I learned at school. For instance, geography taught me there were twenty seven states in the union, and that the "great American desert" commenced at the Missouri River, and extended to the Rocky Mountains. A glance at a map of today stamps at the atlas that I studied as an unmitigated fraud. I drove an ox team across the plains to California in 1849; made a few thousand dollars at mining and keeping "ranch", returning in 1851.
"I married Miss Sarah Findlay, daughter of James Findlay, who settled in Warren county in 1832. We have two children living and one dead. Our son is known as J. Ross Hanna. I settled on a farm of my own in Henderson county in 1841, and followed farming on what is known as Cedar farm until the fall of 1864, when, being somewhat disgusted with the kind of implements farmers had to work with, especially plows and cultivators, I resolved to go into the manufacturing business. In that year, Messrs. W. S. Weir, Dr. W. B. Boyd, and myself, formed a joint stock company for the purpose of manufacturing farm implements, with a capital stock of $25,000. At the end of fourteen years we found our capital had increased to $1,000,000, after having paid dividends to the amount of $163,000. In order to do this we have had to make good goods and lots of them, and inasmuch as we warranted our goods to give perfect satisfaction or no sale, I flatter myself that we have been doing some good, not only to ourselves, but to our fellow-men. We have a shop capacity for about six hundred men, and still we have a demand for all we can make. I am now president of the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company, and have been for some years. Since my connection with it we have gradually been paying off the indebtedness, and we are now, although about $19,000 in debt, increasing our capacity about fifty per cent, by yearly enlarging our buildings and putting up more kilns. We have learned, by seven or eight years' experience, how to make good goods. This gives us a demand for all we can make, and more too. There is no investment that a farmer can make which will bring a better return than to buy tiling and under drain his wet land. I am, and have been, president of the Monmouth National Bank for seven or eight years past. While I can compliment our patrons on the fact that we have lost less then $500 by them in all this time, I am proud to be able to say that they have not lost anything by us, and I trust they never will. I am now engaged in building a railroad from Peoria, Illinois, to Keithsburg, on the Mississippi. We commenced this enterprise in 1875. I was elected president at our first meeting, which position I still hold. We commenced with an empty treasury, and have held our own pretty well ever since. I speak advisedly on this point, as I am treasurer as well as president. We now have twenty-five miles of road completed and are running two trains daily each way from Peoria to Farmington. We have most of the grading done on the entire line, ties paid for, and the bridging completed for fifty miles, costing us so far about $450,000, and no bonded debt, except $13,000. To every man who subscribes a dollar or more, we issue certificates entitling the holder to a credit of twenty-five cent on each each bill for freight, or in payment for one-thousand-mile tickets, so that all subscribers will lose will be the interest on their subscription from the time they pay it until they can ride or ship it out. When this is done, who will own the road? Do you ask. I answer that the men who had the nerve to advance the necessary money, until such time and to such a point as will enable them to realize on their bonds. I have been twice mayor of the city of Monmouth. In matters of religion, I believe that the grace of God will finally restore to happiness the whole family of mankind. I believe that holiness and happiness are inseparable connected, and that the only way to be happy is to be good. I have never connected myself with any church or religious society, neither with a secret organization of any kind. I was born a democrat, raised a democrat, and expect to die a democrat, if the old party does not die before I do. I would like to say a few words to those who are finding fault with railroad, banking, and manufacturing corporations, and middle-men generally. I have been on both sides of the counter, and know of a truth how it is by experience, the best of teachers. I have plowed corn from early morn till dewy eve, row by row, three times in row with an old rusty iron shovel, bought directly from the country blacksmith, which I had stocked myself, without the intervention of a middle-man, and fed the corn thus raised to hogs, and sold them in the metropolis of Henderson county for $1.50 per hundred, net. I have swung the cradle to cut our wheat, bound it with bloody fingers, threshed it out by driving horses over it, with an ox team hauled it to market to Chicago, 200 miles away, and sold it for forty-six cents a bushel. I know by experience that we had not made this county, and a combination of capital has enable manufacturers to put in improved machinery and manufacture goods of a quality and a price never dreamed of by a cross-roads mechanic. The true policy, in my opinion, and I charge nothing for it, is for every man to follow the vocation for which he is best fitted by nature, if it is nothing but raising pop-corn, and exchange his products with some one who is better fitted to supply his other wants. Every article should be raised or manufactured where it can be the best and cheapest, and sold where it will bring the greatest net results, without restriction in any way, or, in other words, free trade between man and man, this wide world over.
He even spends most of the time writing about his businesses than he did with politics. This shows that his services as a businessman were much more important to him than was the service as a politician.
Tragedy struck Monmouth on December 18th, 1900, when William Hanna was killed in a freak accident. The description and abruptness of his death can only be captured in his obituary. It is contained in both the records of the Monmouth Review Atlas and the Monmouth Cemetery Book:
William Hanna- was thrown from his buggy six miles east of MONMOUTH the afternoon of December 18, 1900, and died a few hours later as a result of the injuries sustained. He had driven to the PEACH MILLER home six miles east and a mile north to get Mr. MILLER to bring his steam wood saw to MONMOUTH and saw Mr. HANNA’s winter supply of wood. He had stopped in front of the house and had just risen from the seat of his buggy to get out, when the horse saw the white cover on the wood-sawing machine and gave a quick jump. As Mr. HANNA was standing up this threw him backward over one of the front wheels and he struck full on his head. The horse ran away leaving him lying on the road unconscious. He was carried into the house and word was sent to his folks in town, but he did not regain consciousness and passed away at 6:30 o’clock.
Mr. HANNA was born in FAYETTE county, INDIANA, June 19, 1827, and came here with his parents in 1837, settling in HENDERSON county 12 miles northwest of MONMOUTH. In 1851 he married Miss SARAH FINDLEY and three children were born to them, two of whom survived him, J. ROSS HANNA and Mrs. MARY J.E. BRERETON, both of MONMOUTH. Mr. HANNA came to MONMOUTH in January of 1868 to make his home, having the year before become one of the stockholders of the WEIR Plow company, with which he was associated until the plant was sold to the KINGMANS of PEORIA in 1893. In 1884 he and his son had bought a controlling interest in the MONMOUTH MINING and MANUFACTURING company, and later with others he formed the Maple City Soap works, and still later the MONMOUTH Pottery. He was president of these three institutions. He was also one of the promoters of the BURLINGTON, MONMOUTH, & ILLINOIS RIVER railroad, afterwards changed to the PEORIA and FARMINGTON, and now the MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL road.
He helped organize the Monmouth National Bank, now the National Bank of MONMOUTH, was president of the WARREN county fair association, the first mayor after the organization of MONMOUTH under general law, and active in many other lines of work. His funeral is held at the FIRST UNITED PRESBYTERIAN church, conducted by Dr. T. H. HANNA, and burial is in the MONMOUTH cemetery.
This accident shook the whole city of Monmouth because he was thought of as one of the most influential, popular, and valuable citizens in Warren County. Part of an article in the Monmouth Review Atlas also described the last hours of William Hanna’s life. It is entitled “Mr. Hanna Thrown From His Buggy on His Head” and it states:
The trip which had the fatal ending was started by Mr. Hanna after noon yesterday, and his destination was Peach Miller’s home, six miles east and a quarter mile north of Monmouth. The object was to bring his steam wood-saw to Monmouth and saw Mr. Hanna’s winter supply of wood.
Mr. Hanna drove the gray horse belonging to his grandson, John. The Miller home, the David R. Shelton farm, was reached about 2:30 o’clock. Mr. Hanna stopped in front of the house to hitch, and had just risen from his seat to get from the buggy. As he was standing up, the horse saw the white cover on the wood-sawing machine, and gave a quick jump. This threw Mr. Hanna backward over one of the front wheels and he struck full on his head. The horse ran away, leaving him lying still in the road.
The accident was seen from the house by Mr. Miller’s mother, a lady 83 years of age. She and her little granddaughter, the only ones at the home, ran to the assistance of the unfortunate man. He was unconscious, and Mrs. Miller tried all the remedies at her command to revive him. The little girl was sent for aid, and after a time Mr. Hanna was carried to the house. It was some time before anyone came who knew him, but then word was brought to the relatives at Monmouth and medical aid taken out. Mr. and Mrs. Brereton reached his side before 5 o’clock.
Mr. Hanna seemed to suffer a great deal, but did not regain consciousness, and breathed his last at 6:30 o’clock. From the first all who saw the unfortunate man realized that his injuries were very serious, and feared for the results. The doctors in attendance did all they could for him, but there was a concussion of the brain and they could not relieve it. A lump over the left ear showed where he struck the earth and was the only mark on the body.
Just like that the most influential man in Monmouth was dead at the age of 73. To honor his life, Mayor W.A. Sawyer made a town wide proclamation that read:
To the citizens of Monmouth-
A mighty man has fallen. Our city has sustained an irreparable loss. William Hanna for a third of a century was at the forefront in the advancement of the material interests of Monmouth. He was ever unsparing of his efforts in the promotion of every enterprise having for its purpose the betterment of our community. It is fitting, therefore, that all should desist from their usual avocations during this funeral hour, and thus pay a tribute of respect to Monmouth’s benefactor.
I therefore ask that all places of business be closed between the hours of 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, A.D. 1900.
William Hanna died a very wealthy man and he had already prepared a will for the distribution of his estate. He was worth $215,330.60 in Illinois, $12,848.38 through mining interests in Colorado, and $18,436 through cattle and ranching in Texas. Overall, his personal property and assets had him valued at $246,614.98 when he was killed by the runaway horse. However, he did still owe $69,846 through bills and interests at the time as well. His wife, Sarah Hanna, gained $61,995.66 through his will and each of the children received $57,386.66. J. Ross Hanna took over control of the business where his father had been the president beforehand.
The life of William Hanna was very productive for the area of Warren County and to be more general, Monmouth. He brought in jobs for people and spawned an era of economic flourish and stability. He took a chance in 1949 and came back to the area as a wealthy man who could put his plans in motion for all of his successful enterprises. His family life remained solid despite the fact that he was a workaholic. No matter how wealthy he was, he never was accused of being a robber baron or taking advantage of his rung on the social ladder. His legacy is one of being a prominent person in the growth of Monmouth and bringing the railroads to the area. His accidental and untimely death created a deep sadness that shut down the city for a few hours shortly after it occurred. That was just one way to salute the man who was so important to a city that was in its relative infancy.
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Moffet, Hugh and Thomas Rogers. The History of Warren County, IL, Munsell Publishing Co., 1903. Chicago, IL. pp 830-831.
“William Hanna’s Life is Ended.” The Monmouth Review Atlas. 19 December 1900. 1-2.
Warren County llinois Genealogical Society. “Warren County Illinois 1850 Complete Federal Census Complete Version.” 23 November 1850. p 188.
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Rankin, Jeff. Born of the Prairie: Monmouth, IL, 1831-1981, Kellogg Printing Co., 1981. Monmouth, IL.
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Eckley, Ralph B. “Cabeen Photo Depicts the Old Hanna House.” The Monmouth Review Atlas. 19 July 1977.
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Hanna, William. The History of Mercer and Henderson Counties: Together With Biographical Matter, Statistics, Etc. Furnished by the Mercer and Henderson County Historical Societies, Interviews with Old Settlers, County, Township, and Other Records, and Extracts from Files of Papers, Pamphlets, and Such Other Sources as have been Made Available. Oquawka Township. (Chicago, H.H. Hill & Company Publishers, 1882.) 121.
Accessed on 4/26/07
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 Author N/A. “William Hanna’s Life is Ended.” The Monmouth Review Atlas. 19 December 1900. P 2.
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 Author N/A. “William Hanna’s Life is Ended.” The Monmouth Review Atlas. 19 December 1900. 1-2.
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