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                                     DAVID J. POWERS
                                    Cook County, Illinois


Information contributed for use in Cook County ILGenWeb by
        Sherri Hessick, added May 2001.


Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County,
Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended
(Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 63-65

DAVID JOHNSON POWERS, among the foremost and most active
pioneers of the Northwest, was born at Westminister,
Vermont, June 3, 1814.  His lineage is traced from a Norman
named Poore, who came into England with William the
Conqueror.  Through gradual changes and modifications the
name has assumed its present form, in which it came to
America very early in the history of the Colonies.  His
grandfather, Josiah Powers, as well as the father of his
mother (Esther Johnson), bore a part in the struggle for
American independence.

Nathaniel Powers, father of David, was a farmer in
Westminister nearly all his life.  Both he and his good wife
joined their son at Palmyra, Wisconsin, in 1846, and died
there at the ages of seventy-three and seventy-two years,
respectively, the wife surviving her husband about one year.
All of their twelve children grew to maturity.  The ninth of
these, and the subject of this biography, is the only one
now living.

He grew up in his native town, supplementing the training of
the district school by one term at an academy in Chester,
Vermont.  In his seventeenth year he left home, going on
foot to Woodstock, Vermont, where he apprenticed himself to
a machinist, under a contract for five years.  The
stipulated remuneration was very small, but at the end of a
year he had become so proficient and useful to his employer,
that the time was reduced to four years at double the
original salary, board being furnished.  When he completed
his apprenticeship, at the age of twenty, he had been for
some time in charge of its machine-shop, and his pay,
including extras, had amounted to $460.  He accepted in part
payment a note for $375, which was ultimately paid.  Being
ambitious for a larger field, he went to West Poultney,
Vermont, where he was made foreman of the machine department
of a large stove foundry.  Late in 1836 he went to New York
city, where he spent the winter in a vain search for
employment.  He improved the time, however, in study and
sight-seeing, and in the spring of 1837 he went to Nashua,
New Hampshire.  The financial panic of that period was
probably the most crushing in the history of the United
States. President Jackson had upset the United States Bank,
and scattered its deposits of United states funds, and thus
created a great panic and wild speculation, bringing almost
to a standstill all active business.  Arriving at Nashua,
however, he began work in a machine-shop without
compensation, as the only alternative except remaining idle.
At the end of two weeks he had demonstrated such skill and
energy, that he was gladly engaged at a liberal salary, to
count from the start. After remaining there a few months he
was placed in charge of the machinery of a large
muslin-delaine factory at Hookset, New Hampshire.
In the fall of 1838 he was seized with the Western fever,
and, much against the wishes of his employers, set out on an
exploring tour, arriving at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 5
of that year.  Thence he set out on foot through the
country, and soon found a location which pleased him, at
what is now the thrifty little city of Whitewater,
Wisconsin.  Here he bought a claim, and engaged in farming
for about a year and a-half.  He built the first hotel at
that place, which he conducted and afterwards sold.  He was
appointed Postmaster by President Van Buren, and held the
office through the four years of his residence there,
through the administration of W. H. Harrison and a part of
that of John Tyler.

In 1842 he became the founder of the present village of
Palmyra, thirty-seven miles west of Milwaukee, where he
built mills and work-shops, and remained eight years.
During this time he became a director of the Milwaukee &
Mississippi Railroad Company, and secured the location of
its line through Palmyra.  He became for the time being the
first Master Mechanic of this road, and sold out his
interests at Palmyra and moved to Waukesha, where he lived
two years.  During this time he visited the East and secured
bridge and car builders, and a permanent corps of practical
railroad operators.  The firm of Bean, Clinton & Powers, of
which he was a member, furnished at onetime one hundred and
forty thousand cross ties for this railroad, and also
contracted and executed the excavations for several miles of
the line through the bluffs east of Palmyra, considered
quite a heavy job at that time.

In 1852 Mr. Powers returned to Palmyra, and was elected to
the Lower House of the Legislature the same year, by a very
large majority, taking his seat in January, 1853.  He was
also a member of the special session which tried the
impeachment case of Judge Hubbell.  During his term he
removed to Madison, where he continued to reside fifteen
years.  He occupied the first half of this period in the
improvement and cultivation of a section of prairie land,
then and still known as “Seventy-six Farm.”  He became the
editor and proprietor of the Wisconsin Farmer, which had
been established two or three years before in a small way.
He also served as Secretary of the State Agricultural
Society, and by correspondence succeeded in inducing Abraham
Lincoln to address the society and people of the state at
the State Fair in Milwaukee in the fall of 1859.  He still
treasures among his most valued possessions the autograph
letters of Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Powers became a resident of Chicago in 1868.  By
unfortunate business vicissitudes he had become involved in
debt to the extent of about twenty thousand dollars, and was
urged by his attorney to go through bankruptcy, which he was
assured could be completed for $250.  This he refused to do,
as most of his creditors were justly entitled to the sums
due them, and set out at the age of fifty-four years to
retrieve his fortune.  He invented and set up a loom for
weaving wire mattresses.  Having demonstrated the practical
ability of his idea, he was enabled to organize a company
with a small capital, whose first year’s business resulted
in a profit of seventeen thousand dollars.  This concern was
known as the Union Wire Mattress Company, of which Mr.
Powers was, and still is, President.  It is among the most
successful manufacturing establishments of Chicago, and is
capable of turning out one thousand mattresses, and many
other kinds of goods, per day.  Within a short time after
the establishment of this business, the last obligation of
Mr. Powers was discharged to the mutual satisfaction of
himself and his creditors.

Mr. Powers was and is a natural-born machinist and inventor,
and has always been making inventions in mechanical devices
and machines.  He says he seldom sees a machine that cannot
be improved in some respect.  He has applied for some fifty
patents for his own inventions, numbers of which have proved
quite valuable, and gone into permanent use.  He has also
been a  prominent mechanical and scientific expert in patent
litigation, having testified in that capacity in from one to
two hundred litigated suits in the federal courts.  He has
made a snug fortune in his later life out of his ingenuity
and industry, instead of speculation in real estate or
betting on the markets.

He is now, in the opening of his eighty-second year, a man
of vigorous mental and physical powers, and relates many
interesting reminiscences of pioneer days in the West.  For
over twenty years he attended the services under the
ministry of the late David Swing, which indicates the
liberality of his religious principles.  His creed may be
condensed in seven expressive words, “Behave well, and you
will fare well.”  He was among the Whigs in his early
manhood, and joined the Republican party at its inception.
His first observation of administrative affairs was in
connection with the inauguration of John Quincy Adams as
President, in 1825.

In the fall of 1837 Mr. Powers was married to Miss Eliza A.
Harris, daughter of Capt. J. A. and Lucy (May) Harris, of
Canaan, New Hampshire.  Mrs. Powers was the companion and
helpmate of her husband until July 30, 1888, when she passed
away, at the age of seventy years.  Two of their three
children were born at Whitewater, Wisconsin, and the third
at Palmyra.  Loraine Eliza, the eldest, is the wife of John
H. Griffith, residing at Cleveland, Ohio.  William P. and
Frank A. are residents of Chicago, the latter being active
business manager of the Union Wire Mattress Company, and the
former another successful inventor.

Mr. Powers is a most genial and affable gentleman of the old
school, and his open-hearted, humanity-loving character is
the only obstacle that has stood between him and great
wealth.  Having learned many lessons by experience, he is
now enjoying the fruits of his later years of activity in
quiet contentment, and the story of his life is worthy the
perusal of every ambitious youth of to-day, and its lessons
of courage and industrious energy should be heeded by all
who are desirous of success in life, and are willing to work
and wait for it.  Time, patience and industry will almost
always win a fair, if not a high, degree of success.

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