Biography - WILLIAM THOMAS
To be satisfactory, success in life must have been won worthily and with due regard for the rights of the public. Such an honest and well merited success is that which has crowned the worthy efforts of William Thomas, one of the leading business men of Ottawa, who for more than forty years has been closely and prominently connected with the development and prosperity of Illinois.
William Thomas, president of the Thomas Electric Light and Power Company, Ottawa, Illinois, was born February 20, 1821, at Bristol, Ontario county. New York, a son of Silas and Bethia (Crooker) Thomas. His father, who was of Welsh descent, was born in Maine and served his country as a soldier in the war of 1812-14. His mother was a daughter of Noah Crooker, who did gallant service in the Revolutionary war in defence of American liberty. Mr. Thomas died in 1852, aged seventy-two years, and Mrs. Thomas died in 1881. They were zealous and helpful members of the Christian church. Of their ten children nine grew to manhood and womanhood: Deborah, Silas P., Frederick F., Mary Ann, Noah C, William, Minerva, Maria and Bethia. William Thomas received a common-school education, and at the age of fifteen removed with his parents to Grass Lake, Michigan, and, after aiding them to clear up a farm, returned to New York, where he learned the carpenter and joiner's trade, and worked at it until 1854, when he came to Will county, but again returned to New York. In 1857 he came west once more, and located at Lockport, where he was employed on the Illinois and Michigan canal as a bridge builder, but the same year he was made overseer of the repair shop at Lockport. In 1862 he was advanced to the position of assistant superintendent of the canal, with headquarters at Ottawa, since which time he has been largely identified with that city. He was also in charge of the construction of the canal in Camden. Illinois, in 1871, and of several other important engineering works. December 1, 1871, he was promoted to the position of general superintendent of the canal, with his office at Lockport, and retained the position until July, 1885. At that date he resigned in order to devote his time to the interests of the Thomas Electric Light and Power Company, of which he was the founder. Since that time he has devoted his active energies to assisting in the work of the company. This is an incorporated concern, with a capital of fifteen thousand dollars, which operates the dynamos that furnish light to the city.
February 22, 1844, Mr. Thomas was married, at Bristol, Ontario county, New York, to Miss Phoebe D. Wilder, a daughter of John Wilder. Mrs. Thomas died in Ottawa in 1889. leaving a daughter, who is the wife of Colonel Douglas Hapeman. the secretary and treasurer of the Thomas Electric Light & Power Company. The only other child of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas died in infancy. Mrs. Thomas was a woman of fine abilities and great benevolence, and was an active and zealous worker in the Congregational church; and in its Sunday-school for many years she taught an ever-changing class of young boys, to many of the members of which she was a spiritual mother. Dr. Lempke, now one of the prominent physicians of Chicago, was one of the many upon whom she exerted powerful influence for good. Her sunny disposition and her many acts of kindness made her a favorite with all. Mr. Thomas has been a member of the Congregational church for more than thirty years, helpfully devoted to all its interests. Politically he is a Republican. He became known early in life as an abolitionist, and cast his first presidential vote in 1844, for James G. Birney. In 1856 he voted for John C. Fremont and in 1860 for Abraham Lincoln, and since then he has been actively identified with progressive Republican work. Mr. Thomas is a member of the Masonic fraternity, being a Knight Templar. He is also a member of the Society of Sons of the Revolution.
The life of William Thomas has been a busy one from boyhood. He was scarcely sixteen when he began his business career, and now, at the age of seventy-eight, he is still able and active, and is honored as one who has done well for himself and the community in which he has lived and upon whom the reward of business success has most deservedly fallen.
Extracted by Norma Hass from Biographical and Genealogical Record of LaSalle County, Illinois published in 1900, volume 1, pages 103-104.