Norman Wait Harris

National Cyclopedia of American Biography

HARRIS, Norman Wait, banker, was born in Becket, Berkshire co., Mass., Aug. 15, 1846, son of Nathan Wait and Charity Emeline (Wadsworth) Harris. The town of Becket was originally ceded to four or six individuals, among whom was his mother 's great-grandfather. His first American paternal ancestor was Thomas Harris, a native of England, who settled at Charlestown, Mass., in 1630. From Thomas Harris and his wife, Elizabeth, the line of descent is traced through their son Thomas, who married Martha Lake; their son Ebenezer and his wife Christo-bel Crary; their son Nathan and his wife Suzanna Rude; their son Daniel and his wife Lucy Fox; their son Nathan and his wife Hulda Brega, of Brecket, Mass., who were the grandparents of Norman Wait Harris. Norman Wait Harris was educated in the Westfield (Mass.) Academy, and when eighteen years of age began his business career as soliciting agent for a life insurance company at Cincinnati, O. Two years later he became the general agent of the Equitable Life Assurance Society at Cincinnati. In 1867 he organized the Union Central Life Insurance Co. and became its secretary and general manager, continuing as such for thirteen years, when on account of threatened ill health he disposed of his interests in the company and went to Europe for rest and recreation. At that time he was the largest individual stockholder in his company, which was the second largest in the West. Returning from Europe in 1881, he located in Chicago, Ill., and established the banking house of N. W. Harris & Co., with branches in New York city and Boston, Mass. This company made a specialty of dealing in state, county, city, and public service corporation bonds, the business of the firm extending throughout the United States. During 1907-13, Mr. Harris was president of the Harris Trust & Savings Bank of Chicago, and was also president of Harris, Forbes & Co. of New York and N. W. Harris & Co., Inc., of Boston. Aside from his business activities, Mr. Harris was also a leader in other fields. For many years he was a member of the International Committee of the Young Men's Christian Association, to which he was a large financial contributor, and was vice-president of the board of trustees of the Young Men's Christian Association of Chicago. He was president of the board of trustees of the Chicago Training School for Home and Foreign Missions, the largest training school of its kind in the country, to which he gave the land upon which its principal buildings are located, and erected its chapel and one of its main buildings known as Harris Hall. He also was president of the board of trustees of the Deaconess Pension Fund, which he founded, eontributing thereto $100,000, and was a trustee of Northwestern University, to which he donated $250,000 in 1913 to erect and maintain a building known as Harris Hall of Political Science and History. In 1911 he gave $250,000 to the public school extension of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He was a prominent member of the Methodist church, and was connected with many societies of a charitable and benevolent nature. He was a member of the Union League Club of Chicago, the Chicago Club, and the Lawyers', Metropolitan and Sleepy Hollow Country clubs of New York. Though his early education was somewhat limited, he possessed a good mind, and was unusually well informed upon the current literature of the day and matters of public interest generally. Of a quiet disposition, he possessed exceedingly strong domestic tastes, and was much attached to his home. He was a shrewd, active and energetic business man, and had a spotless reputation. Affable and genial in manner, he had a large circle of friends and acquaintances. Mr. Harris was married three times: (I) Jan. 1, 1867, to Jacyntha Vallandingham of Cincinnati, O., who died July 22, 1873; (II) January 28, 1875, to Clara Cochnower, who died July 1, 1876, and (III) April 21, 1879, to Emma S., daughter of Dr. Jonathan G. Gale of Newton, N. H., and great-granddaughter of Dr. Josiah Bartlett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was survived by his wife and five children: Hayden Bartlett, Stanley Gale, Pearl E., who married M. Haddon MacLean, Albert W. and N. Dwight Harris. H died at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, July 15, 1916.


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