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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 1995


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 band."

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.

Andrew Jackson
*Someone You Should Know*

University 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 majority.

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 Jacksonian democracy.

After two terms as President he retired to The Hermitage, his Tennessee home near Nashville, where he died January 8, 1845.

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 the character.

...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

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 Standard.

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 was wrong’.”

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?

Why 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 manufacturing life.”

And that’s how a golf course came to have 18 holes.

Courtesy of the Milwaukee St. Andrew Society.

St. Clair Street

St. 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 Allegheny Mountains.

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.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546