Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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COOPER, Peter, philanthropist, born in New York City, 12 February, 1791; died there, 4 April, 1883. His mother was the daughter of John Campbell, a successful potter in New York, who became an alderman of the City and was deputy quartermaster during the Revolutionary war. Mr. Campbell contributed liberally to the cause of American freedom, and received in acknowledgment a large quantity of Continental money. On his father's side Mr. Cooper was of English descent, and both his grandfather and his father served in the Continental army. The latter, who became a lieutenant during the war, was a hatter, and at the close of the war resumed his business in New York. Peter was born about this period, and he remembered the time when, as a boy, he was employed to pull hair out of rabbit-skins, his head being just above the table. He continued to assist his father until he was competent to make every part of a hat. The elder Cooper determined to live in the country, and removed to Peekskill, where he began the brewing of ale, and the son was employed in delivering the kegs. Later, Catskill became the residence of the family, and the hatter's business was resumed, to which was added the making of bricks. Peter was made useful in carrying and handling the bricks for the drying process. These occupations proved unsatisfactory, and another move was made, this time to Brooklyn, where the father and son again made hats for a time, after which they settled in Newburg and erected a brewery. Peter meanwhile acquired such knowledge as he could, for his schooling appears to have been limited to half days during a single year. In 1808 he was apprenticed to John Woodward, a carriage-maker, with whom he remained until he became of age. During this time he constructed a machine for mortising the hubs of carriages, which proved of great value to his employer, who at the expiration of his service offered to establish him in business. This, however, was declined, and Cooper settled in Hempstead, L. I., where for three years he manufactured machines for shearing cloth, and at the end of this engagement he had saved sufficient money to buy the right of the state of New York for a machine for shearing cloth. He began the manufacture of these machines on his own account, and the enterprise was thoroughly successful, largely owing to the interruption of commercial intercourse between the United States and Great Britain by the war, and also on account of an improvement devised by himself. At this time he married Sarah Bedel, of Hempstead, who proved a devoted wife during fifty-six years of married life. With the cessation of hostilities the value of this business depreciated, and he turned his shop into a factory for making cabinet-ware. Later he entered the grocery business in New York, but soon afterward the profits acquired by the sale of his machines and in the grocer's shop were invested in a glue-factory, which he purchased with all its stock and buildings then on a lease of twenty-one years. These works were situated on the "old middle road," between 31st and 34th streets, New York City, and there the business of manufacturing glue, oil, whiting, prepared chalk, and isinglass was continued until the expiration of the lease, when he bought ten acres of ground in Naspeth avenue, Brooklyn, where the business has since been continued. In 1828 he purchased 3,000 acres of land within the City limits of Baltimore, and he erected the Canton iron-works, which was the first of his great enterprises tending toward the development of the iron industry in the United States. This purchase was made at a time when there was great commercial excitement in Baltimore on account of the building of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. It was feared that the many short turns in the road would make it useless for locomotive purposes. The stockholders had become discouraged, and the project seemed about to be abandoned, when Peter Cooper came to the rescue and built, in 1830, from his own designs, the first locomotive engine ever constructed on this continent. By its means the possibility of building railroads in a country with little capital, and with immense stretches of very rough surface, in order to connect commercial centres, without the deep cuts, tunnelling, and levelling that short curves might avoid, was demonstrated, and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was saved from bankruptcy. He determined to dispose of his Baltimore property, and a portion of it was purchased by Horace Abbott, which in time became the Abbott iron tom pany. The remainder was sold to Boston capitalists, who formed the Canton iron company. He received part of his payment in stock at $44 a share, which he subsequently sold at $230. He then returned to New York and built an iron-factory, which he afterward turned into a rolling-mill, where he first successfully applied anthracite coal to the puddling of iron, and made iron wire for several years. In 1845 he built three blast-furnaces in Phillipsburg, near Easton, Pennsylvania, which were the largest then known, and, to control the manufacture completely, purchased the Andover iron-mines, and built a railroad through a rough country for eight miles, in order to bring the ore down to the furnaces at the rate of 40,000 tons a year. Later the entire plant was combined into a corporation known as the Ironton iron-works. At these works the first wrought-iron beams for fireproof buildings were made. The laying of the Atlantic cable was largely due to his persistent efforts in its behalf. He was the first and only president of the New York, Newfoundland, and London telegraph company. It became necessary to expend large sums in its construction, much of which came directly from Mr. Cooper. The banks were unwilling to trust the corporation, and invariably drew on the president as claims matured. The company was frequently in his debt to the extent of ten to twenty thousand dollars. The first cable lasted scarcely a month, and a dozen years elapsed before the original investments were recovered. In spite of public ridicule and the refusal of capitalists to risk their money, Nr. Cooper clung to the idea, until at last a cable became an assured success. The original stock, which had been placed on the market at $50 a share, was then disposed of to an English company at $90. Mr. Cooper served in both branches of the New York common council, and strongly advocated, when a member of that body, the construction of the Croton aqueduct. He was a trustee in the Public school society first founded to promote public schools in New York, and when that body was merged in the board of education he became a school commissioner. But he is most widely known in connection with his interest in industrial education. His own experience early impressed him with the necessity of affording proper means for the instruction of the working classes. With this idea he secured the property at the junction of 3d and 4th avenues, between 7th and 8th streets, and from plans of his own making "The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art" was erected. In 1854 the corner-stone was laid, and five years later, on its completion, a deed was executed in fee simple transferring this property to six trustees, who were empowered to devote all rents and income from it "to the instruction and improvement of the inhabitants of the United States in practical science and art." A scheme of education was devised which should include "instruction in branches of knowledge by which men and women earn their daily bread; in laws of health and improvement of the sanitary conditions of families as well as individuals: in social and political science, whereby communities and nations advance in virtue, wealth, and power; and finally in matters which affect the eye, the ear, and the imagination, and furnish a basis for recreation to the working classes." Free courses of lectures on social and political science were established; also a free reading-room ; and collections of works of art and science were provided, and a school for instruction of women in the art of design by which they may gain an honorable livelihood. When sufficient funds have been collected, it is proposed to establish a polytechnic school. The building with its improvements has cost thus far nearly $750,000. It has an endowment of $200,000 for the support of the free reading-room and library. The annual expense of the schools varies from $50,000 to $60,000, and is derived from the rents of such portions of the edifice as are used for business purposes. Mr. Cooper devoted much careful thought and study to questions of finance and good government. He became active in the greenback movement, and published several political pamphlets on the subject of the currency. In 1876 he was nominated by the national independent party as their candidate for president, and in the election that followed received nearly 100,000 votes. In all affairs concerning the advancement and welfare of New York City Mr. Cooper was prominent. No public gathering seemed complete without his well-known presence on the platform. He was a regular attendant of the Unitarian church, and liberal in his donations to charitable institutions, to many of which he held the relation of trustee. His various addresses and speeches were collected in a volume entitled "Ideas for a Science of Good Government, in Addresses, Letters, and Articles on a Strictly National Currency, Tariff, and Civil Service" (New York, 1883).--His son, Edward, merchant, born in New York City, 26 October, 1824. He was educated in public schools and then in Colum-bin, but left College without completing the course, and received the honorary degree of A. M. in 1845. Afterward he spent some time in travel abroad, and on his return to the United States became, with his College friend and brother-in-law, Abram S. Hewitt, a member of the firm of Cooper, Hewitt & county Gradually he was associated with his father in his various enterprises, and much of the active management of affairs fell to him. The success of the Trenton iron-works and of the New Jersey iron-and steel-works is largely due to his painstaking, and careful study of the subject. Long experience as an iron-master has made him a practical and scientific metallurgical engineer. Mr. Cooper has also been prominent as a democrat in New York local politics, and was mayor from 1879 till 1881. He was also an active member of the committee of seventy, through whose efforts the Tweed ring was overthrown. In national politics he has served as a delegate to the Charleston convention of 1860, and to the St. Louis convention of 1876. He is a trustee of the Cooper union, and is a member of various corporations. --Peter Cooper's nephew, James Campbell, mineralogist, born in Harford county, near Baltimore, Maryland, 16 June, 1832, a son of James Cooper, received a limited education in the public schools of Baltimore, and for many years has been connected with the development of western railways, holding various offices. Mr. Cooper has taken great interest in the study of geology and mineralogy, and has collected, located, and named fully 50,000 specimens of minerals, including a collection of 9,000 specimens that he presented the University of Kansas. He has added much to the knowledge of the mineral resources of the United States, and has contributed extensively to newspapers and periodical literature concerning his discoveries. Mr. Cooper is a member of several scientific associations.
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