February 9: Hon. William E. Dodge [1805-1883]

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” (Gen. 13:2, ESV)

William E. Dodge, who became a prominent elder in the Presbyterian Church, was born in Hartford, Connecticut on September 4, 1805, his father being a cotton manufacturer, near Norwich, in that State. After attending the common school, William worked awhile in his father’s mill, and then, the family having removed to New York, the lad of thirteen entered a wholesale dry goods store, where he remained until he attained adulthood. From that point he engaged in the same business, but on his own account, and continued in this line until 1833, when he became a member of the firm of Phelps, Dodge & Co. This firm was engaged in the importation of tin plate, pig tin and copper, and soon became the largest company in the country pursuing this trade. Mr. Dodge retained an interest in the company until 1881, and even up until the time of his death would frequently visit his old office.

Mr. Dodge was both shrewd and industrious, and his business career was one of almost unbroken prosperity. As time progressed, he became interested in many other enterprises, and was director in a number of railroad and insurance corporations. He was one of the largest owners of lumber lands, lumber and mill interests, in the United States, possessing large tracts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, West Virginia, Texas, and Canada. He was also extensively interested in the development of coal and iron interests throughout the country.

It was, however, as a Christian and philanthropist that Mr. Dodge was most distinguished. He early became interested in the Temperance movement, and his consistency was proved by his resignation from the Union League Club, because it served wine at its banquets. He was president of the American National Temperance Society and the Temperance Christian Home for Men. He was also a Trustee of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a Director of the Presbyterian Hospital, a Trustee of Lincoln University, and Vice-President of the American Board of Foreign Missions. He was a devoted friend of the Sabbath, and resigned his directorship of the Central Railroad of New Jersey because the company began to run trains on Sundays. The education of the freedmen greatly interested him, and he assisted many societies, working in their behalf. His contributions in some years averaged $1000 a day, while for several years before his death they never fell below $200,000 annually.

His life was one of cheerful industry. Nothing in the way of duty was irksome–rather, it was a pleasure to be enjoyed, and the smile, so genial and loving, with which his friends were always greated, was merely an honest reflection of his heart. Immersed in business that assumed wide range and vast proportions, he kept his soul serene in the light of heaven, so that the cares of the world, the love of money, and sordid greed had no dominion over his buoyant spirit. More than the Presidency of the Chamber of Commerce, he loved the Sunday-school room, the House of God, the prayer meeting, and the chamber of the suffering whose wants he might relieve. His delight was in making glad the hearts of the poor.

Mr. Dodge’s whole career was exceptionally one of success, honor and usefulness. He died at his residence, in New York, on February 9, 1883, leaving, by his will, $360,000 for religious and charitable purposes. His demise was greatly lamented, not only by his own denomination, but by the friends of education, virtue, morality and religion, of every name, and he left a record that is lustrous with all that is noble and excellent in human character in its highest development.

Words to Live By:
Here today is an example of a man who lived quite successfully, but who also gave freely of his time and substance. It is only right that we should ask ourselves, “How am I using the resources that God has given me? The world of business is an honorable calling for a Christian, but it is a terrible thing to be trapped by the cares of the world, the love of money, and sordid greed. The best way of avoiding those traps is to recognize from the start that it all belongs to the Lord, and to be actively, daily, engaged in meeting the needs of others. Or as one dear saint, a very prosperous and generous man, used to say, “I just keep trying to out-give God.”

[Our post today is drawn somewhat freely from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia, with the entry for the Hon. William E. Dodge appearing on pages 192-193 of that work.]

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