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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



Starting out in life as a Welsh collier boy, working twelve hours a day, for six pennies, away down deep in the coal mines, and rising from this lowly occupation to an inventor, manufacturer and benefactor to the people of this great state, is the story of the man whose name heads this article, whom destiny has put in a place of prominence among the enterprising citizens of Sacramento. He was born at Wrexham, Denbighshire, North Wales. An ocean and many thousand miles were between the boy and his destiny, but inevitably they would meet, and it happened in 1881, when Thomas Lewis came to Sacramento.

The parents of Thomas Lewis were John and Ruth (Roberts) Lewis. They were not rich in this world's goods, but they were rich in love for their boy and did for him what they could to the end that his way through life might be less rugged than the one they had found. He would necessarily have to labor, but labor under fair conditions would be good for him, and they were determined that he should be able to labor with his head as well as with his hands. Accordingly, they sent him to school, where he got a glimpse of things beyond the dull horizon of his daily life. It should be noted that not all the boys of his acquaintance were thus favored in that time and place. As a boy of seven he had to go to work in a mine as a door boy, and thus he was employed until 1875. At this time he and a partner were working in the bottom of a six hundred-foot shaft, cleaning out the sump; here an accident happened that was a hair- breadth escape. A six-foot steel rail used as a balance on the engine became detached and fell down the perpendicular shaft, but fortunately it entered the side of the shaft above and away from them and buried itself in the rock. When told of their narrow escape they thought it over and the next day started for New York.

Mr. Lewis had heard much of America, where all people were free and where poor people might become independent by honest work and wise planning and careful saving. He had often dreamed of going to that far-off land of promise, and so his dream came true. He traveled in the east, working at landscape gardening until 1880, his companion being Joseph Fardo, a Quaker landscape gardener, and then they went to British Columbia and Alaska. After a year spent there he came to California and settled in Sacramento in 1881. Some of the ideas he had imbibed in his brief schooling had remained and certain of them had been developed by his experience with the world. Not successful in finding employment at his trade, his attention was directed to the profits to be made at digging sewers and cesspools, and sewers and cesspools were even more essential to everyday life than winding paths and banks of bloom, and was he not in America to make his way, was he not here to do the best that he could if that is what he did until he could do better. To some the yielding to such necessity would have been tragic. He did not look at it in that way. So he took the chance that offered and he has prospered. Later he turned to the manufacture of fertilizers and chicken food, and this venture also has been successful. He has not forgotten the joys of landscape gardening. His taste for the beautiful in nature is as fine as ever it was, and he may return to that work, but he is doing so well and building up such a fine business that it is a credit to himself and the city. His manufacturing plant is located one and a half miles southwest of Sacramento, where he makes the Tom Lewis fertilizer, which is shipped all over California. This product is the result of twenty years of study and experimenting, and wherever it is used the fruit produced is superior in size, flavor and quality to that raised by other commercial fertilizers, and the value can best be recognized when one is told that he sold twenty-five tons to Morrows, who are interested in the Armour Packing Company. C. M. Phinney, who has used his fertilizer on his orange and olive groves in Fair Oaks for two years, in a letter of recommendation states that the fertilizer is superior to any other he has experimented with, and that the first year's use yielded him an orange crop fifty per cent greater than in any previous year. A seedling walnut, planted eight years ago, by the use of the fertilizer has grown to very large proportions. It has branches spreading a radius of forty feet, is about thirty-five feet in height and is now bearing a large crop of walnuts. Mr. Lewis is unquestionably a great benefactor to the horticulturists and floriculturists of California, and his product is doing more to build up the farming and fruit interest of the state than any other single article. In his political ideas Mr. Lewis is independent, trusting all parties as far as he can, trusting none of them too far. He is a Methodist, helpful to all of the varied interests of his cosmopolitan and democratic church. He has married twice, and by his first marriage has a son, John Lewis, who is a plasterer. His present wife was formerly Miss Nora Wilson, a native of Nebo, Pike county, Ill., daughter of Austin and Lucretia Wilson, who came to Sacramento, where the father was a builder. The marriage occurred in 1905 in Sacramento, and two children were born to them, Bethyl and Anna. 

History of Sacramento County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: William L. Willis
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1913)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011