St. Louis – The Fourth City, Volume 4 – Walter Barlow Stevens
This is not a book of dates. It does not abound in statistics. It avoids controversies of the past and prophecies of the future. The motive is to present in plain, newspaper style a narrative of the rise and progress of St. Louis to the fourth place among American cities. To personal factors rather than to general causes is credited the high position which the community has attained. Men and women, more than location and events, have made St. Louis the Fourth City. The site chosen was fortunate. Of much greater import was the character of those who came to settle. American history, as told from the Atlantic seaboard points of view, classed St. Louis as “a little trading post.” The settlement of Laclede was planned for permanence. It established stable government by consent of the governed. It embodied the homestead principle in a land system. It developed the American spirit while “good old colony times” prevailed along the Atlantic coast. Home rule found in St. Louis its first habitat on this continent. This is volume four out of four, giving a historical review from the founding of the town to its great days.
St. Louis – The Fourth City, Volume 4
Excerpt from the text:
Samuel Cupples is a merchant and manufacturer of St. Louis. His business career has been characterized by a spirit of general helpfulness. He has displayed many of the methods of the pioneer resulting in benefit to the business interests of the city at large, and along lines from which no personal profit has accrued he has labored to the benefit of the general public. The Manual Training School of St. Louis owes its existence in large measure to him and the lines upon which it was established have served as a model for practically all of the training schools of the country.
Mr. Cupples was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 13, 1831, his parents being James and Elizabeth (Bigham) Cupples, both of whom were natives of County Down, Ireland, whence they emigrated to the United States in 1814. The father was an educator of considerable note and the son was qualified for a business career in a school which his father established at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. When fifteen years of age he made his way westward to Cincinnati and there entered the employ of Albert O. Tylor, the pioneer dealer in woodenware in the west. Industrious, painstaking and withal a capable youth, he quickly mastered the details of the business and won the confidence of his employers until the management of the Cincinnati business was practically entrusted to him.
In 1851 he came to St. Louis and established a woodenware house in this city. The business as originally organized was conducted under the firm style of Samuel Cupples & Company. In 1858 Thomas Marston became associated with him under the firm name of Cupples & Marston. The succeeding twelve years constituted an epoch of prosperity for the house, after which the partnership was dissolved to be succeeded by the firm of Samuel Cupples & Company, the junior partners being H. G. and R. S. Brookings and A. A. Wallace. A reorganization of the business in 1883 led to the adoption of the firm name of Samuel Cupples Woodenware Company, of which Mr. Cupples became president and has so continued to the present writing in 1909. This establishment is the largest of its kind in the United States. There are many subsidiary companies which cluster around and contribute to the growth and prosperity of the city. Chief among these are the St. Louis Terminal Cupples Station & Property Company, now belonging to the Washington University by gift of Samuel Cupples and Robert S. Brookings, and the Samuel Cupples Envelope Company. The “Cupples Station” as it is called, is an institution more valuable to the merchants of the city than any other established for their benefit within the memory of the present generation. To avoid expense and delay incident to the carting of goods to and from the various depots of the city, Mr. Cupples and Mr. Brookings purchased a large tract of land adjacent to a point at which practically all the railroads of the city have a junction and there erected a system of warehouses, the basements of which are traversed by a network of railroad tracks. Here a vast business center has been created, at which merchants of St. Louis receive and reship goods, aggregating in value many millions of dollars annually, while the expense of handling such goods has been reduced to a minimum. The growth of the woodenware business, of which Mr. Cupples is still the head, has been phenomenal. From the first Mr. Cupples gathered around him, as all captains of industry do, a host of able lieutenants, and to them is accorded by him much of the credit of the wonderful growth of the business. To other fields he has extended his activities in developing the manufacturing interests of the city.
While the work he has accomplished in commercial fields would alone entitle him to distinction, Mr. Cupples has also been active in promoting the public welfare and the general interests of the city. He has labored earnestly to further the religious, educational and charitable institutions of St. Louis and has been particularly interested in the development of the public-school system.
For more than half a century Mr. Cupples has been actively and prominently identified with the Methodist Episcopal church South. Immediately after he came to the city in 1851, he joined the “Old Fourth Street” church, the second Methodist church established in St. Louis and then located on Fourth street and Washington avenue, where the Boatmen’s Bank is now. Mr. Cupples took a class of the Sunday school work the day he joined. His most notable and far-reaching Sunday school work was in connection with the Cote Brilliante development. When Mr. Cupples opened a Sunday school in that northwestern suburb, which was coming into prominence for homes of people doing business in the city, there was neither church nor Sunday school west of Grand avenue. Mr. Cupples organized a Sunday school in an old schoolhouse and carried it on until, through his efforts, a lot was bought and a chapel erected. Mr. Cupples was the superintendent of that pioneer Sunday school and the active head of the religious organization in Cote Brilliante twenty-one years, until he moved into the city. The chapel was transferred to the Presbyterians, who now have a fine church on the site. Within the district from Grand avenue to the Six-Mile House and from Olive street road to the cemeteries, the Cote Brilliante chapel was at first the only church. The enrollment in the only public school in the district—the Cote Brilliante school—was one hundred and thirty-two children. Today, in that same district, there are fifteen or more churches and twenty-two thousand school children. Mr. Cupples led the movement for better school facilities in Cote Brilliante until by special taxation a building considered a great improvement in those days was erected. He did not relax until a tract containing three and one-half acres was acquired from the funds thus raised. The idea at the time was to provide a good playground. That tract is now occupied by one of the finest school buildings of St. Louis.
Mr. Cupples was always deeply interested in education and soon after the old “Thirteenth Ward” became a permanent part of St. Louis, Mr. Cupples was chosen a member of the board of public schools; and a most valuable member he was. During 1877-78 he made the acquaintance of Professor C. M. Woodward, of Washington University, then a member of the same board. From Professor Woodward he learned of his proposal to establish a Manual Training School as a sub-department of Washington University. He was greatly pleased with the theory and plan of the scheme as outlined in a reprint of an address by Dr. Woodward before the Missouri State Teachers Association at Carthage in August, 1878. Believing that the scheme proposed was practical, he took the lead in the establishment of the school, offering to support the experiment for five years. Accordingly, he was placed on the first managing board when the act of establishment was passed by Washington University on June 17, 1879. Thus Mr. Cupples became officially associated with Washington University. In this move he was heartily seconded by Messrs. Gottlieb Conzelman, Edwin Harrison, Ralph Sellew and Dr. William G. Eliot, president of Washington University.
The history of the Manual Training School, the pioneer of the new departure in secondary education, has been given elsewhere. Suffice it to say that as the school grew in strength and popularity the interest of Mr. Cupples increased. In 1884 he proposed and secured for the school a special endowment to which Mr. Ralph Sellew, Mr. Conzelman and himself were equal contributors. Mr. Timothy G. Sellew, of New York, the nephew of Ralph Sellew, generously carried out the intention of his uncle, who died during the negotiations. The definite purpose of this endowment was to promote the attendance of bright boys in straitened circumstances.
The next logical step for Mr. Cupples to take after providing for an increasing attendance in the Manual Training School was to provide for the higher technical education of the graduates thereof. He was delighted, and possibly surprised, to find that the discipline and culture of the Manual Training School, in spite of its very practical side, served generally to inspire a strong desire for more and higher education, usually of a technical character. Mr. Cupples then saw that the success already gained was but the beginning of a greater success to be gained in the higher department of the university. His intimate acquaintance with Professor Woodward, the dean of the School of Engineering and Architecture, gave him every opportunity to study the needs of the university and to appreciate the splendid opportunity there presented for service to the cause of higher education.
Various plans for carrying forward the work were drawn, discussed and laid aside as the horizon widened and the magnitude of the undertaking came into view. Finally, when the great university leader appeared in the person of Mr. Robert S. Brookings, the problem, how to build and equip a great university which should appeal not to a class or a few select classes, but to all classes—not to humanists alone, but to humanity—was solved.
This is not the place to speak of the magnificent work of Mr. Brookings in reestablishing and developing Washington University, but it is proper to add that Mr. Cupples was and is his worthy partner, not only in business, but in this great educational enterprise he is to be credited not only with the gift of his half-ownership in Cupples Station (q. v.) but with the gift of three splendid university halls—”Cupples I” for Civil Engineering and Architecture; “Cupples II” for Mechanical and Electrical Engineering; and the Engineering Laboratory. They stand today as monuments of his wisdom and his liberality.
The educational work of Mr. Samuel Cupples will he finished only with his life. His benefactions to struggling institutions outside the city have been neither few nor small, and his helping hand, when help has been sorely needed, has been truly a godsend to those responsible for the administration of Central College, at Fayette, Missouri; Vanderbilt University, at Nashville, Tennessee; the St. Louis Manual Training School and the technical department of Washington University.
The same bent of mind which has enabled Mr. Cupples to develop his business interests and which has inclined him toward the most practical and useful forms of educational facilities has characterized his philanthropic and charitable work. Mr. Cupples has been for many years an officer and is now the head of the St. Louis Provident Association, which has expended for the relief of the poor of St. Louis one million three hundred and twenty-six thousand and three hundred and nine dollars. Perhaps in all of the history of charitable work a like amount has not been expended elsewhere for relief of distress with less of waste or more of deserved benefit. The organization of this association has been perfected under the study and supervision of Mr. Cupples and other business men like him to do the most for the worthy and to prevent imposition upon the generous by the unworthy. A cardinal principle of the Provident Association is to investigate all cases, to encourage people to help themselves and to discourage pauperism.
Mr. Cupples was married in 1860 to Miss Martha S. Kells, of St. Louis, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Finney) Kells. For a considerable portion of her married life Mrs. Cupples gave almost her entire time to philanthropic work. She devoted herself especially to the Girls Industrial Home when it was located upon Eighteenth and Morgan streets and to the Methodist Orphans Home. Mr. Cupples shared the interest of his wife during her lifetime in this work. After Mrs. Cupples’ death, Mr. Cupples continued to give a great deal of attention to the institutions.
Perhaps the strongest tribute that could be paid to Mr. Cupples as a philanthropist has been the selection of him to carry out the wishes of several citizens of St. Louis desiring to do something for their kind. Dr. Bradford gave his estate toward the support of the Methodist Orphans Home. The beautiful structure on Maryland avenue, one of the handsomest and best equipped “Homes” in the country, was erected by Mr. Cupples as a memorial to Mrs. Cupples. The estate of Dr. Bradford became a notable part of the endowment. The administration of the Bradford bequest was left largely to the business judgment of Mr. Cupples. When Mr. Barnes decided that his estate should go to found a splendid hospital in the city of his adoption and lifelong business success, Mr. Cupples was one of those he consulted and selected to carry out the provisions of his will. When Richard M. Scruggs died, a partnership in good work of a third of a century was dissolved, but the business did not stop. Between Mr. Scruggs and Mr. Cupples had existed an extensive cooperation in benevolence. Mr. Scruggs had been president of the Provident Association. Mr. Cupples took up the responsibility. He has passed his seventy-seventh milestone, but his relationship to his business, to the educational institutions, to the church, to the philanthropies, is still active and potent. Samuel Cupples, as the years go by, instead of passing out of the knowledge of his fellow citizens, seems to grow intellectually and morally upon the whole community.