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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor



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Asa Packer

PACKER, Asa, capitalist, born in Groton, Connecticut, 20 December, 1806; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 17 May, 1879. He received a common-school education, and began to learn the tanner's trade, but in 1822 went to Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, and served an apprenticeship with a relative who was a carpenter. He worked at his trade in New York city, but soon returned to Pennsylvania, and when the Lehigh Valley canal was opened established his home at Mauch Chunk, in 182a, became the owner and master of a boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, and acquired an interest in others, but in 1831 gave up boating in order to carry on a store and boat-yard. He took a contract for locks, which he completed in 1837, became well known as a contractor, and in 1838 began to build boats at Pottsville for the transportation of coal to New York by way of the new canal, which soon attracted all the traffic that had before passed through Philadelphia. He became extensively engaged in the mining and transportation of coal, working the mines of the Lehigh coal and navigation company, and purchasing and operating new mines at Hazleton. In 1844 he was elected to the legislature, and secured the creation of the separate county of Carbon, with Mauch Chunk for its county-seat, after which he filled for five years the post of county judge. He projected the Lehigh Valley railroad, secured the necessary subscriptions, and by 1855 had the line completed from Mauch Chunk to Easton, with branches to Hazleton and Mahanoy. Subsequently he procured its extension northward, to connect with the Erie railroad, thus opening up the anthracite region. Mr. Packer was president of the company, and, though financially embarrassed before the completion of the line, shared largely in the profits of the mining and transportation business that was developed, and became the richest man in Pennsylvania. In 1844 he was elected to the state legislature. He was instrumental in forming Carbon county, and for five years was judge of the county court. He was elected to congress as a Democrat, and re-elected as a Nebraska Democrat, serving from 5 December, 1853, till 3 March, 1857. In 1868 he received the votes of the Pennsylvania delegates for the presidential nomination in the National Democratic convention, and in 1869 he was the Democratic candidate for governor. In 1876 he was a commissioner for the Centennial exhibition. Mr. Packer in 1865 gave $500,000 and 115 acres of land to found Lehigh university at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (see illustration), for the purpose of affording young men of the Lehigh valley an advanced technical education without charge. The scheme of studies embraces civil, mining, and mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry, metallurgy, French, and German. By his last will he secured an endowment of $1,500,000 to the university and one of $500,000 to the library. His daughter, Mrs. Mary Packer Cummings, gave a memorial church, which was dedicated on 13 October, 1887, the anniversary of the founding of the university.

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