The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
William E. Somerville
William Somerville was born at Harthill, Lanarkshire,
Scotland, on April 12, 1879. He was trained as an
electrician and came to the United States in 1892.
Somerville came to Coal City, Illinois, to attend the
funeral of his brother in 1895 and never left. He
accepted an offer to become the electrical engineer of
the city and five years later became the superintendent
of the Macomber Whyte Company which made wire rope. In
the same year he was elected mayor.
In 1908, Somerville began experimenting with scale model
aeroplanes and in 1910 he made a biplane with the engine
acting as a pusher. The plane also contained a new
feature using wing warping. The ends of the wings were
upturned to give greater stability in flight. He would
later design and fly four different types of aircraft.
The Kankakee Daily Republican reported the
following story on October 1, 1910. "Hundreds of people
watched the attempted flight of William Somerville,
Mayor of Coal City and superintendent of the wire rope
factory, in the airship invented by him. The first
flight was not successful because of the breaking of an
axle on one of the wheels, due to the rough ground.
Repairs are being made and the mayor will attempt
another flight as soon as the repairs are finished."
The paper reports that the craft was forty-eight feet in
length and was "superb in workmanship." The frame was
made of ash and hemlock "split and tied together to
prevent any give." Each joint was set with an aluminum
socket. "The frames are covered with balloon silk
instead of muslin, like other aeroplanes. There is not a
nail or a screw in the aircraft." The paper indicates
that Somerville had spent two years studying aeroplanes
and had "probably the most complete library of any who
soar the air."
In 1911, Somerville received patents for his design and
then resigned from his job. He leased a large tract of
land and built a hangar and work shop. Three months
later he took in partners and formed the Illinois Aero
Construction Company. In a few months they had built a
"load-carrying tractor biplane." It was powered by an
80-horsepower engine and carried two people. Somerville
is "the first and only mayor in the United States to
build and fly a plane." (1910)
In the spring of 1914, Somerville sold his monoplane to
Earl Daugherty and gave up his interest in flying. He
spent his "remaining years perfecting wire rope
machinery that revolutionized that industry." Somerville
was also an accomplished musician. "He founded and
directed the Coal City Marine Band; as a member of the
Pullman Marine Band, Somerville appeared several times
as a guest clarinet soloist with John Philip Sousa's
Coal City is located off I-55, south of Joliet. It was
once an area rich in coal mines and many Scottish people
lived there. Following the mines, Scottish immigrants
first came to Braidwood, then Coal City, Gillespie and
Scottsboro near Marion, Illinois.
My thanks to Vic Johnson of Bradley, Illinois for
sharing this information. Vic is a member of the St.
Andrew Society and is a feature writer with the
Kankakee Sunday Journal. He has written extensively
about the early days of flight.
More information and pictures can be found at the
Coal City library site.
*Someone You Should Know*
historians rank Andrew Jackson among the ten greatest U.
S. Presidents. Jackson’s valued contribution to American
life was in strengthening the democratic ideal. Up to
that time powerful voices questioned the wisdom and even
the morality of democracy.
Jackson’s roots go back through Ulster to the Scottish
Lowlands. His parents were linen weavers who lived near
Belfast. Harassed by the English because of their
Presbyterian religion, the Jacksons joined the great
migration of Highlander and Ulster Scots to the
Carolinas through the 18th century.
Andrew’s father, also named Andrew, died two years after
the family arrived in America and just weeks before son
Andrew was born on March 15, 1767. He claimed to have
been born somewhere between Carrickfergus and the U. S.
but was probably born in Waxhaw Settlement, South
Carolina. Andrew Jackson grew up in poverty while coping
with the rough life of the frontier.
When the War of 1812 broke out, he had already helped to
author the Tennessee Constitution, served as a
representative to Congress and as a Tennessee supreme
court judge. Volunteering with 2,500 men, he was made
the Commander and Chief of the Tennessee militia. By
1814, he was a major general and put in command of the
Department of the South.
He was captured by the English in the closing years of
the Revolution. When he refused to clean the boots of an
English officer, he was slashed across the face and arm
by a saber. About that time, his mother and two brothers
died as direct and indirect casualties of war.
He nursed a lifelong bitterness toward the English which
showed up in later incidents. He repulsed the enemy at
Mobile, took Pensacola by storm and then marched to New
Orleans, where he fortified the city against the
English. His victory of January 8, 1815, made Jackson
the hero of the nation and propelled him into the White
House. Experience helped, too.
In 1819, Jackson was appointed governor of the newly
purchased state of Florida and was elected to the Senate
in 1823. In 1824, he was nominated for the Presidency
but the election went to the House of Representatives
who gave the presidency to John Quincy Adams. In 1828,
he defeated Adams by a large electoral and popular
He introduced the theory that “to the victors belong the
spoils”, and forced wholesale removals of Federal
officials to make room for his own appointees. He
attacked the U. S. Bank, opposing the renewal of its
charter which would expire in 1836. He was reelected in
1832. Jackson set a new egalitarian style called
After two terms as President he retired to
his Tennessee home near Nashville, where he died January
Old Hickory, it has been said, is the most famous
Ulster-Scot of them all.
Would you believe?
...that a bugler of the Scots Guards sounded the ‘Cease
Fire’ in Europe on May 8, 1945.
...that bagpipes were banned as weapons of war by the
English after the 1745 rebellion and that Army
regulations allow a platoon in a Scottish regiment to
have one more person than an English platoon. The extra
person is the piper.
...the ‘Scotch Symphony’ is the name which Mendelssohn
himself gave to his Third Symphony.
...that water is the most important ingredient in
whiskey? The other ingredients like barley, grain, peat,
etc. are all important, but it is the water that sets
...that the water from Loch Katrine near Glasgow is said
to be the purest and has been found to be the best
liquid for reducing rum.
...that the shortest regularly scheduled passenger
airline flight in Scotland is a flight between the
Orkney Islands of Westray and Papa Westray of two minutes. If there is a favorable wind it can be
made in 58 seconds.
Umm! I wonder if all this is true?
George Goldie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and
emigrated to America when he was a boy of thirteen. In
1860, he began to practice gymnastics and three years
later became a professional gymnast. He held the
all-around athletic championship of the Caledonian Club
from 1871 to 1875, and held the world’s records in the
standing high and standing broad jumps. He was often
called the “father of the pole vault” and is said to
have been the first to use a vaulting pole in organized
sports. He also invented several other athletic
appliances, including what has been called the first
rowing machine. He was the first athletic director at
Princeton and organized the first intramural track and
field sports for undergraduates. One of the playing
fields at Princeton was named in his honor. Does Goldie
Field still exist?
William Arrott, a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew
Society sent us this story: George Goldie is his
maternal great grandfather. His other great grandfather,
James West Arrott, discovered a process for binding
porcelain to iron to make bathtubs. He later founded the
Standard Sanitary Company now known as American
Anniversary Dinner 1972
The Dinner was held at the Conrad Hilton Hotel and 1200
people attended. Angus Macdonald was president of the
Society and Elizabeth Ogilvie was the Heather Queen. For
the first time, haggis was not imported from Scotland,
but made in the kitchen of the hotel.
The Food and Drug Administration had banned the import
of haggis following an outbreak of a livestock disease
in Scotland. So not only was the dish made locally, but
it was also baked in cheese cloth instead of a sheep’s
stomach. “Allan Geddes of Rockford, who reported that
last year the haggis was imported under the
classification of ‘fertilizer’, still could not get
enthusiastic over this year’s dish.”
Mrs. Kenneth MacKay of Elmhurst noticed the difference
right away. Mrs. Jean Weldon of Chicago said it was
better than what she had eaten in Scotland. “A lady
identified only as the president of the Scottish Ladies
Auxiliary said flatly, ‘It’s not as good.’ When told the
dish was ‘home-cooked,’ she snorted: ‘I knew something
Lisa Ann Noble
Whatever happened to Lisa Noble? Lisa was Heather Queen
of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in 1986. On August
5, 1995, Lisa became the bride of Thomas Everett Irons.
They were married in a beautiful ceremony in the
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the
University of Chicago. Mr. & Mrs. Irons will make their
home in Honolulu where we hope Lisa will continue her
involvement in Scottish activities. Lisa and her entire
family are tireless supporters of the Society.
Why 18 Holes?
couldn’t a golf course have 10 or 13 or 21 holes? Well,
it seems that back in 1858, the Board of one of the
oldest, most venerable courses in Scotland sat all day
trying to settle this very question. There were 7-hole
courses, 13-hole courses and 15-hole courses. At one
time, the famous St. Andrew’s itself was made up of
22-holes and Montrose had 25.
Finally, after a fruitless all-day discussion, it is
said that one of the Scottish board members, an elder of
very good standing, arose and spoke as follows:
“You good men have been considering this situation for
many hours. I have been hoping you would decide along
lines agreeable to me without any insistence on my part.
I see, however, that I must now speak for myself.
As you know, it has long been my custom to start out for
a game with a full bottle of Scotch Whiskey in my bag,
treating myself to a wee nip on each tee. Naturally, I
find it pleasant to play golf as long as there is a
drink left in the bottle. And, it makes no sense to
continue the game when the bottle is exhausted. Here I
have a small glass which contains about an ounce and a
half. I have found that one bottle will fill this glass
just 18 times, so it has been my custom to play 18 holes
each afternoon, no more - no less. I see no possible way
of deciding from this custom, unless the bottles are
larger, which I fear would be too marked a change in our
And that’s how a golf course came to have 18 holes.
Courtesy of the
Milwaukee St. Andrew Society.
St. Clair Street
Clair Street in Chicago runs 200 East, from 500 North to
720 North and is named for General Arthur St. Clair. St.
Clair (1736-1818) was born in Thurso, Caithness,
Scotland. He studied at Edinburgh University and after
trying the medical profession, left for the army. He
came to America in 1758 and served with General Wolfe at
Quebec. He married in 1764 and settled at Bedford,
Pennsylvania. After inheriting a large amount of money,
he became the colony’s largest landowner west of the
He was an ardent patriot and after the battle of
Princeton in 1777 was made a Major-General. St. Clair
spent almost his entire fortune getting volunteers and
aiding Washington. He was president of the Continental
Congress in 1787 and was also the first Governor of the
Northwest Territory which included the future area of
Illinois. He opposed the entrance of Ohio into the Union
and was soon replaced. He was an unpopular man on the
prairies and the plain-speaking pioneers considered him
overbearing and paternalistic.
He is remembered for his reaction to the news of the
Declaration of Independence: “God save the free and
independent States of America.”
From the Editor...
This is the seventh issue of our newsletter and we
continue to enjoy the research and the chance to tell
the Scottish story. Please keep writing and offering
suggestions for articles.
There continues to be confusion over when the yearly
payment is due. Since we didn’t keep a record, the
decision was made to start over with the beginning of a
new year. Each of you will have to decide what is right
and equitable. The Illinois Saint Andrew Society will
underwrite the postage for another year, but your
contribution is greatly appreciated.
Our next issue is due January 1, 1996, which is the
bicentennial of the death of Robert Burns. Two
international conferences are being planned to study the
poet’s legacy. One will be at the University of
Strathclyde and the other at the University of South
Carolina, which has the most extensive collection of
Burn’s materials in North America.
The Illinois Saint Andrew Society is celebrating its
bicentennial from November, 1995 to November, 1996. We
invite all those living in the Chicago area to join with
us in this great celebration.