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Biographical sketches of Edwin H. Fitler

FITLER, EDWIN HENRY (Dec. 2, 1825 - May 31, 1896), manufacturer, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., the son of William and Elizabeth (Wonderly) Fitler. His father was a prosperous leather merchant and tanner. Since his parents were in easy circumstances, young Fitler received an excellent academic education. Planning to adopt the law as a profession, he entered the office of Charles E. Lex, a prominent lawyer of Philadelphia, but after four years of legal study he decided that his natural tastes were for mechanical pursuits. Accordingly, he abandoned law for a more congenial occupation, and obtaining a position in the cordage house of his brother-in-law, George J. Weaver, began to lay the foundation of his life-work. Two years later, at the age of twenty-three, he was admitted to partnership in the firm, known first as George J. Weaver & Company and later as Weaver, Fitler & Company (Philadelphia Cordage Works). Under his management labor-saving machinery was introduced, much of it being of his own invention. These inventions were not patented but were freely offered to the trade and many were adopted by other cordage manufacturers. By 1870 he had purchased the interests of most of his other partners and the firm name was changed to Edwin H. Fitler & Company (Philadelphia Cordage Works). At the time of his death, the factory, situated in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia, was one of the largest cordage works in the United States.

Fitler was one of the most successful and best-known business men of his time. He was noted for his keen perceptions and the rapidity and correctness of his decisions. His position in the trade is attested by the fact that he was repeatedly elected president of the American Cordage Manufacturers Association. His relations with his employees were of the most cordial character. It is said that he never had labor troubles in his plant. He was intensely patriotic and at the outbreak of the Civil War threw the whole weight of his influence into the Union cause, and personally outfitted a company from among his employees. He took an active part in the work of projecting and organizing the Centennial Exposition and in 1875-76 was a member of its board of finance. He was also one of the founders of the Philadelphia Art Club.

Until 1887 he successfully avoided public office, but in that year was prevailed upon to run for mayor of the City of Philadelphia and was elected by nearly 30,000 majority. He was the first mayor under the new city charter and during his administration many reforms were instituted and many improvements were made in all branches of the city government. Rigidly adhering to his own ideas and his own policies regardless of political or other pressure, he won the confidence of the whole community. At the Republican National Convention held at Chicago in 1888 he received the vote of the entire Philadelphia delegation, also of several delegates from other parts of Pennsylvania and a few from other states, as their choice for president of the United States. After his retirement from the mayoralty in 1891 he again devoted himself to his business. He was a director of the National Bank of the Northern Liberties and served as both vice-president and president of the Union League. He died, after a long illness, at his country estate near Philadelphia. His wife, whom he married in 1850, was Josephine R. Baker.

[from THE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY, edited by Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1931 Volume 3, Part 2, pages 431 - 432]




EDWIN H. FITLER, the tenth president of the Union League, was born in Philadelphia, in the old district of the Northern Liberties, on December 2, 1825. After receiving an academic education in the schools of his native city, he determined to adopt the law as his profession, and entered the office of Charles E. Lex. A natural aptitude for mechanics, however, asserted itself, and at the end of four years he gave up the study of law and entered the employ of George J. Weaver, the proprietor of the old cordage works situated at Germantown Avenue and Tenth Street. In a few years Mr. Fitler had mastered the details of the business and was taken into the firm. In 1859 he purchased Mr. Weaver's interest, and the firm became Edwin H. Fitler & Company. The business prospered to such an extent under Mr. Filler's careful and conservative management as to necessitate the removal of the plant to Bridesburg, where it now covers more than fifteen acres of ground.

Mr. Fitler's support of the Federal Government during the War of the Rebellion was deserving of the highest commendation. He threw the whole weight of his influence in favor of the Union cause, and under his personal supervision organized, equipped, and sent to the front a military company composed of his employees. On account of his sterling integrity and keen business foresight, Mr. Fitler was both prominent and influential in civic affairs. In 1875 he was selected as a member of the Centennial Board of Finance, and in 1887 was elected mayor of the city by the Republicans. This position was attended with more than usual difficulty. The new city charter, known as the Bullitt Bill, had just been adopted, by which the whole government was changed, and the mayor's duties and responsibilities greatly increased. His devotion to the interests of the city, and his independence of action, won for him the respect of his fellow-citizens, and at the Republican National Convention in 1888 he received the vote of the Philadelphia delegation for nomination as President of the United States.

Mr. Fitler became a member of the Union League, February 17, 1863, and took a very active part in its affairs. He served as a director in 1874, 1879, and 1880, as vice-president from 1880 until 1890, and as president in 1891 and 1892. He was also president of the board of trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Medical College, a director of the National Bank of Northern Liberties, one of the managers of the Edwin Forrest Home, and a director of the North Pennsylvania Railroad. He died at his country seat at Torresdale on the 3ist of May, 1896.

[From CHRONICLE OF THE UNION LEAGUE, 1862 to 1902, - no author - Philadelphia, 1902 ]

Edwin H. Fitler

Courtesy of
The Library Company of Philadelphia