Monday, December 30, 2019

Lieutenant Norman Bruce Ream

Norman Bruce Ream
From Dickey's History of the 85th Pennsylvania Infantry
       Undoubtedly, in the decades following the Civil War, the two most prominent former members of the 85th Pennsylvania were Robert P. Hughes and Norman B. Ream. Hughes, who stayed in the army and rose to the rank of general,  was featured in an earlier post on this site. The current post will focus on the remarkable war and postwar careers of Ream.
       Ream was 17 years old when he enlisted into Company H in 1861 from Harnedsville, Somerset County. Prior to enlisting, he worked as a teacher and photographer. While serving as a young sergeant, Ream rallied his troops during an assault on Kinston, North Carolina in December of 1862, earning a promotion to lieutenant. The 19-year old Ream may have been the youngest private-to-first-lieutenant promotion in the Union army during the war.
       Ream was severely wounded by a bullet through his thigh during an assault on Whitemarsh Island near Savannah, GA in February of 1864. Ream's avoided capture when he was dragged to safety by his cousin, Lt. Ross Sanner of Company H.

Ross Sanner, Company H
U.S. Army Education and Heritage Center
          Ream returned to the regiment and was wounded in the right leg in the Battle of Ware Bottom Church during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign south of Richmond, VA in June of 1864. Due to his wounds, he received a discharge on the last day of August, 1864.
     [At the bottom of this page is a 1914 article in which Ream discusses a horrific night on Morris Island, near Charleston, South Carolina, 50 years earlier when his company was devastated by a single shell during trench operations].
      Following the war, Ream began a remarkable career in business that enabled him to become one of the leading industrialists in the nation, sometimes mentioned in the same class of mega-business leaders  as J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and George Pullman.  Ream first moved to Illinois and began an mercantile business. He soon relocated to Iowa and operated a grain and livestock business. By 1875, he continued in the livestock business in Chicago and became a member of the city's Board of Trade. His career in business skyrocketed in the next few decades.
      One of his largest ventures was to help form the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco). He was also involved in the Pullman Railroad Company, U.S. Steel, and the B&O Railroad.
      One newspaper article credited him with the concept of the modern skyscraper.  He was apparently riding on a train over a steel bridge on his way to Denver for a vacation. The article continued, "Sitting there alone he figured it out thus: Here is this heavy train supported over a raging river by
Ream in 1912
this structure laid on its side. Stood on end the structure would be the safest kind of construction for a building. The idea was so refreshing he mulled it over all the way to Denver and the first thing he did on arrival there was to write to a leading architect of Chicago, directing him to draw plans for such a building and he prepared to discuss them on his return.

        “‘The Rookery’ was the result, and the result of the Rookery has made a profound change in the architecture of the great cities of the world." Even with Mr. Ream’s backing, trouble was encountered getting people to occupy the higher floors. The first eight floors rented quickly but for weeks nobody would venture above that. Mr. Ream took offices on the top floor and everybody wanting to see him was compelled to go to the top of the building. Finally the nervousness wore off and –well, there’s the Woolworth building."
        Ream made a publicized (in western Pennsylvania) visit to a reunion of the 85th PA in 1909 in Uniontown. It was the first time he had attended a regimental reunion since 1875 at Brownsville, Fayette County. He arrived on a private train car of the B & O Railroad. He spent several days in the area, and was feted at a dinner in Confluence, not far from his hometown of Harnedsville. While there, he discovered  that the town was raising funds to build a new church. Ream pledged money towards the entire construction effort of  the church, some $25,000.    
         Soon thereafter, he organized a meeting of several prominent veterans of his former regiment for the writing and publication of an extensive history of the unit. After a meeting as his Connecticut mansion, historian Luther S. Dickey was hired to write the book. This official history of the 85th Pennsylvania was published in 1915, with Ream providing a free copy to every living veteran.
        Ream did not live to see the regiment's  history in print. He died several months before it was published. One of the pallbearers for his funeral was Robert Lincoln, son of the president. Ream was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City. He was reported as one of the 25 wealthiest men in the country at the time of his death, having amassed a fortune of around 50 million dollars. 
        This Missouri news article shortly after his death related this story about his first venture into business: In Harnedsville, Pa., where Norman B. Ream was born and where he passed his boyhood, a neighbor of the Ream family had a flock of ducks. One of the ducks had ventured too far from the water, had become entangled in a crack in the floor of the corn crib and had broken his leg. Under ordinary circumstances, this would have meant that the duck was started on the way to the dinner table, but Norman Ream, eight years old, bargained with the owner for the duck, bought the injured fowl with the pennies he had saved, splintered the broken leg, fattened the fowl, and sold him at a profit.” [Springfield Republican, February 21, 1915, p.8]
          A recent biography of Ream was published in 2012 by Paul Ryscavage. It is entitled, "Norman B. Ream: Forgotten Master of Markets."
    Several web pages offer more information  and pictures on the life of Norman Bruce Ream. They can be found here and here.

Kansas City Journal
October 20, 1898

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
August 3, 1914
Ream describes a terrifying night on Morris Island, SC

1 comment:

  1. Very, Very, Very interesting, Dan. Thanks for the research on this Veteran