William Gordon Means

William Gordon Means, for sixteen years clerk and paymaster of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, and afterwards treasurer of the Manchester Locomotive-Works, was born at Amherst, Hillsborough county, April 27, 1815. He is of the third generation in descent from Col. Robert Means, who came to New Hampshire from Stewartstown, Ireland, in 1766, and commenced business at Merrimack, with Dea. Jacob McGaw, who emigrated to this country about the same year. This partnership, which had prospered, was dissolved when Amherst became the shire town, and Col. Means opened a store there, in which he prosecuted a successful business. A man of great energy, he was prominent in the affairs of the town; elected its representative at the general court three times, also a member of the senate three years, and councilor for Hillsborough county, his name is identified with the most important measures of that period.

Col. Means had a large family. Several of the daughters were married to gentlemen who subsequently attained great distinction in the learned professions. Of the sons, Robert became a lawyer, and David McGregor, who bore the name of his mother (a daughter of Rev. David McGregor of Londonderry), succeeded his father as a merchant. He married Catherine, daughter of Hon. Joshua Atherton, who is described as a woman of vigorous understanding and positive convictions, ready in conversation, and of sprightly and pleasing manners. By this marriage, David McG. Means had three sons and six daughters, of whom the subject of this sketch was the third son and the fourth child, receiving the name of his uncle, Hon. William Gordon, at that time a lawyer of great promise in Amherst.

Among his schoolmates, William G. Means is remembered as a quick-witted boy, fond of adventure, and overflowing with fun. The schools in Amherst at that date did not furnish advantages of a high order. Aside from the training of the household, the youth had no superior privileges, except a few terms at Pinkerton Academy, Derry, then under the care of Abel F. Hildreth, an eminent teacher. For parts of three years he attended this school, in company with his brother James, Edward and Alfred Spalding, E. D. Boylston, and other students from Amherst.

In the autumn of 1830, Mr. Means went to Boston, and entered the store of Daniel McGregor, then a dealer in dry goods,—finding employment, after an apprenticeship of four or five years, in the house of Robert Appleton & Co. By the commercial crisis of 1837, like hundreds of young men similarly situated, he was thrown out of employment, and returned to his home in Amherst. These years of service in Boston were not without their valuable uses, though a new direction was soon to be given to his capacity for business. He saw the perils that beset the career of the tradesman, and learned the wisdom of that conservatism which underlies the avenues of success in mercantile pursuits. While living in Boston, he became interested in the lady who was subsequently to share his fortunes and build his house.

In March, 1838, Mr. Means became clerk of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company at Manchester, taking charge of the books and pay-rolls of the land and water-power department, then under the direction of Robert Read, Esq. The city had no existence except in the plans of the projectors. There was not a mill on the east side of the river, not a building except the scattered farm-houses; the canal had been laid out, a site for a cotton mill set off, but nothing was finished. It was during this constructive period of the city's history that he was occupied with the oversight of workmen, the execution of land sales, and the varied duties of the Amoskeag counting-room, thus gathering the knowledge and experience which qualified him for the important agencies that have since engrossed his time.

In 1854, desiring a more independent position, he resigned his place in the Amoskeag company, and united with O. W. Bailey, Aretas Blood, and Joseph M. Stone in organizing a company for building railway engines. By the act of incorporation, they took the name of "Manchester Locomotive-Works." Without adequate capital, and with adverse times, the projectors of the enterprise had a weary struggle before them. Having no reputation as builders, and with limited capacity for production, it was not easy to obtain patronage; but with the pluck and persistence which deserved success, the proprietors determined to make only first-class engines. At the end of ten years they had gained a position which commanded wide confidence, and they then began to divide profits. Since that time, with occasional interruptions, the business has steadily increased, so that, in the number, size, and weight of the engines now constructed, the product of a month often exceeds in value the entire product of some previous years.

In 1858, Mr. Means was elected treasurer of the Salmon Falls Manufacturing Company. The mills of this company were in the eastern portion of the state, and for convenience of access he removed his family to Andover, Mass., still retaining his place as treasurer of the locomotive-works, and having an office for the business of both companies in Boston. Under his management the condition of the Salmon Falls company was much improved. The capital stock of the company was, by cash payment to its stockholders, reduced from $1,000,000 to $600,000. New mills were erected, and the productive capacity of the concern enlarged by one-fourth, without any assessments or sacrifices on the part of the stockholders,—a result which illustrates beyond dispute the good judgment and skill of the management. Mr. Means resigned the treasurership September 1, 1877.

On the 26th day of February, 1840, Mr. Means was married to Martha Allen, daughter of Bethuel and Martha (Bent) Allen, of Newton, Mass. They have had eight children, of whom six are now living,—four sons and two daughters. The sons, as they have reached manhood, have found employment in the corporations with which the father is connected.

In politics, Mr. Means has been Whig and Republican. Conversant with the affairs of government, and a careful observer of public men, he has manifested a generous appreciation of the good qualities of those with whom he did not agree. Loving justice, and abhorring the wrongs by which any class of his fellow-men suffered injury, he strongly adhered to the principles and steadfastly upheld the policy of the party with which he voted. In 1854 he was elected representative from ward three in Manchester, and served one term in the house at Concord. Having removed from ward three, he was not returned a second time.

In religion, Mr. Means has firmly held to the evangelical system of doctrine. In early manhood he made profession of his faith by uniting with the Congregational church in his native town; transferring his membership to the Hanover-street church in Manchester, and thence to the South church in Andover, with successive chances of residence. In all of these places he has proved a stanch friend of the ministry and a liberal supporter of Christian institutions. A man of clear convictions and of marked independence of character, he has not stood aloof from the community, but, cherishing a hearty respect for human nature, he has taken an active part in the popular movements in behalf of education and local improvements. To the appeals for charitable aid, whether coming from individuals or churches or institutions of learning, the response has been cordial. The establishment of the Means prizes at Phillips Academy illustrates his discriminating beneficence. In times of difficulty and depression he has been helpful in bearing burdens, making good deficiencies, and quietly upholding the cause he had espoused. For a few years past the family have spent the winter season in Boston; but, whether in city or country, the man is unchanged. He is still interested in the welfare of the church and the state, thoughtful of his friends and former associates, considerate of neighbors, and bestowing sympathy and assistance where they are needed, seeks to keep alive the ancient virtues of New England life, and maintain the best standards of service and citizenship.