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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
July 1996

Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper was one of the most innovative and resourceful of all the early American manufacturers. Born February 12, 1791 in New York City of Scottish ancestry—both grandfathers, Campbell and Cooper, fought in the Revolutionary War—he moved from hat making to brewing to shearing machines to food sales to glue making to ironworks, blast furnaces and rolling mills.

Cooper believed that Baltimore would have tremendous growth if a railroad could be successfully built and operated. With his help, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was started on July 4, 1828. Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, turned the first sod, but one year later the railroad was in financial difficulty. Their locomotive could not go around a curve with a radius of less than 300 feet. The railroad, however, had built their curves with a radius of from 150 to 200 feet in order to save on cost.

In 1830, Cooper built the first practical steam locomotive in America. As an experiment it was about the size of a handcar and was never intended to operate as a working engine. It was called the “Tom Thumb” because of its size. The engine weighed less than a ton, but the principles developed are still used in engines today.

“Peter Cooper is representative of so many of the peculiar talents and abilities of early Scottish craftsmen. He was an untutored inventor who became a strong, individualist businessman. He bought his own iron mines to feed his blast furnaces and rolling mills. Out of these mills he produced the first iron structural beams. He manufactured the wire and joined Cyrus Fields in laying the first transatlantic cable. Cooper was the first to use the Bessemer steel making process in the U.S.

In 1876, Peter Cooper was nominated for President by the Greenback Party. In 1879, he was honored by the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain with the Bessemer Gold Medal. New York University elected him to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans. He died October 4, 1883 in New York City.

More information is available at Cooper Union. For more pictures, see New York Architectural images.

Tragic Voyages

I have been reading a book loaned to me by Colin Ferguson of the Bank of Scotland. It is A Dance Called America by James Hunter. The book is well written, often said, about the displacement of Highland people to the Untied States and Canada. It was deeply struck by the difficulty of the passage. We travel so easily in our modern world, but it was not always so. He quotes the American novelist, Herman Melville: “How then, with the friendless emigrants, stowed away like bales of cotton and packed like slaves in a slave ship, confined in a place that, during storm time, must be closed against both light and air; who can do no cooking, nor warm so much as a cup of water, for the drenching seas would instantly flood the fire in their exposed gallery on deck. We had not been at sea one week, when to hold your head down the hatchway was like holding it down a suddenly opened cesspool.”

In September, 1773, 200 Highland people embarked on the brig, Nancy. Three months later only about 100 stepped ashore in New York. Fifty-one children were under the age of four, all died but one. “...passengers were expected to get by on corrupted water and musty, rotting oatmeal said to be ‘hardly fit for swine’.”

Howard Van Doren Shaw
* Someone You Should Know *

Mr. Shaw was born in Chicago May 7, 1869. His father was Theodore Andrews Shaw, a wholesale dry-goods merchant of Madison, Indiana whose Scotch Presbyterian ancestry went back to the settlement of Pennsylvania. Shaw graduated from Yale College in 1890 and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Upon his return to Chicago, he entered the office of William LeBaron Jenney and William B. Mundie, pioneers in the design and erection of the skyscraper. Mundie was the architect of the Scottish Home and a member of the Board of Governors of the Illinois St. Andrew Society.

Later when Mr. Shaw opened his own office he began designing houses for his friends. “His practice soon increased, however, and as his performance and his reputation grew together he became probably the most highly regarded architect in the sphere of domestic, ecclesiastical, and non-commercial architecture in the Middle West.

About 1898 he built a beautiful house, “Ragdale” in Lake Forest, Illinois, where he lived until his death. The estate became an experimental laboratory for the testing of his taste and craftsmanship. Here, in his spare hours, he became an excellent carpenter, bricklayer, tree surgeon, gardener and painter. He also designed the setting, lighting effects, and scenery for an outdoor theater and did much of the work on it.

He designed many town houses in Chicago and country houses in Lake Forest and other fashionable suburbs. In Chicago he designed the Lakeside Press Building, the Fourth Presbyterian Church (with Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson), and the Goodman Memorial Theatre.

In Lake Forest, Shaw designed the Market Square in 1916. He was “the first integrated and artfully designed shopping center in this country.” There were twenty-five stories, 12 offices and 28 apartments. At the east end of the square a fountain is dedicated to Howard Van Doren Shaw.

Throughout his life, he sought recreation in travel, often in Europe. Although he was of a markedly retiring disposition, behind the scenes he exerted a powerful influence in many civic and charitable activities. He was a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1900, chairman of the state art commission, a trustee of the United Charities and of Illinois College, Jacksonville, Illinois.

More information can be found at the Columbia College library.


Pete Thomson, who lives in Ottawa, Illinois, was a member of the Fourth Regiment Marines on Corregidor. He was among the 11,500 taken prisoner by the Japanese and was part of the brutal Bataan death march in 1942.

Mr. Thomson was finally taken to Japan to work in a zinc factory. He survived on pumpkin soup and twice each month was given a piece of meat the size of a silver dollar. Coffee was burnt rice water.

After the atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945, their prison guards deserted the camp. A few days later, they were rescued by American forces and taken to a hospital ship in Tokyo Bay. At the time he weighed 70 pounds. In 1954, he joined the Ottawa fire department and was chief for almost seven years, retiring in 1978.

This highly-decorated Scottish-American veteran is the brother of James C. Thomson, past-president of the Illinois St. Andrew Society.

On this Fourth of July, we honor all Scottish-American veterans who have fought for our freedom.

The General who Loved the Sea

General George Smith Patton was the most aggressive field commander of World War II. He liberated more territory in less time than any commander in history.
Patton was born November 11, 1885 in San Gabriel, California. He was the fifth generation of Robert Patton who came to Virginia from Scotland during the American Revolution. Robert Patton had eight sons, served in Congress and was Governor of Virginia. Six of his sons fought on the side of the south in the Civil War and two were killed. One of those killed was Brigadier General George Patton, the great-great grandfather of the World War II general.

General Patton graduated from West Point in 1909. He was badly wounded in World War I and because of his experience shifted his emphasis from the cavalry to tanks. He was chosen by General Dwight Eisenhower to lead the invasion of North Africa and then the invasion of Sicily. Patton was later placed in charge of the Third Army which moved across the English Channel in 1944. Here Patton broke the German restraints and sent the enemy backward in confusion.

Patton, the tank commander, also loved the sea. During his early years in California he learned to sail and later owned a 50-foot yacht which he sailed to and from Hawaii during the 1930’s. In 1939 Patton had F. F. Pendleton design a sailing ship which he named “When and If”. The ship was designed to sail the oceans of the world and was made from the finest materials. He named the ship “When and If” because he sensed that the war in Europe would not allow the fulfillment of his dream to sail the world.

During a storm in 1990, the “When and If” broke loose from her moorings and was smashed on the rocks at Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. The ship is now being rebuilt in Martha’s Vineyard and may soon be ready to sail again.

General Patton died December 21, 1945 of injuries suffered in an auto accident in Germany. He is a member of the Scottish-American Hall of Fame at The Scottish Home in North Riverside, Illinois.

More information can be found on the History channel site.

Burns Club of Atlanta

In the 1870’s, admirers of Robert Burns in Atlanta began to meet in private homes to celebrate the Bard’s birthday. On January 25, 1896, the club was officially founded. In 1907 the club began an effort to obtain land and erect a “Burns Cottage” to be used as a clubhouse. A nine-acre tract of land was obtained on what is now Alloway Place.

“Atlanta architect and member, Thomas H. Morgan, obtained the exact measurements of the original Burns cottage in Alloway, Scotland, and prepared plans for the Atlanta replica. The construction that began in November, 1910, was supervised by Robert McWhirter, a member and a skilled stone mason. The cottage formally opened on January 25, 1911 and is today on the National Register of Historic Places.”

For 85 years, the club has met regularly on the first Wednesday of each month. Tartans adorn the walls, Scottish songs are sung, and “bagpipes often skirl into the night….”

Membership is open to “anyone of good citizenship and with admiration and love for the great poet.”

More information can be found at the Wren's Nest.

James Jamieson

James MacGregor Jamieson (1920-1993) was born in Evanston, Illinois to Scottish parents and began dancing at the age of six. “He won his first medal as a Scottish highland dancer at age six and a half and went on to compete as a world class champion Highland dancer for fifty years.”

Following service in the U.S. Army during World War II, he joined the cast of the national company of “Oklahoma” and began a lifelong friendship and professional collaboration with Agnes de Mille. In 1947, he joined the cast of “Brigadoon” playing the role of Harry Beaton in New York, London and Australia. “He performed in every leading stock theater in the U.S. and restaged “Brigadoon” many times for stock theater, musical theater and opera companies, most recently for the New York City Opera in 1991.”

Mr. Jamieson appeared on national television in the Omnibus Series and performed at the White House for President John F. Kennedy. He was also honored by President George Bush as one of America’s “Thousand Points of Light.” In 1956, Mr. Jamieson moved to Wilmington, Delaware and founded the Academy of the Dance with Madame Helen Antonova. In 1967, he began his “celebrated productions of Tschaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” and for 27 consecutive years, produced, directed and performed various roles in the work.”

During his formative years, while living in Evanston, he performed regularly at the Anniversary Dinner of the Illinois St. Andrew Society. Additional information would be greatly appreciated. (Thanks to Betty Priest and the James Jamieson Foundation Newsletter for this information.)

More information is available at Highland Highlights.


One of our readers, Jamie Thomson, reports that the Boise Scottish Caledonian Society in Boise, Idaho, had 900 people present for a Burns Night Dinner. The event is held on the Boise State University Campus and is limited to 900. They could have sold another 100 tickets! Does anyone know of a large Burns celebration in the United States?

The longest actively registered Boy Scout in America is 90 year old. H. McNeill Privett of Prince Ann, Maryland. He was a Scout executive for 45 years.

Mickey Rooney recently visited the Glasgow slum where his father was born. He said, “the Scottish people should be filming more in order to bring a new industry to Scotland.” Scots have recently complained that the foreign film producers have left little cash in Scotland.

In 1826, the Rev. Patrick Bell, minister in the village of Carmylie, invented the world’s first mechanical grass cutter. In 1841, Alexander Shanks of Arbroath invented the world’s first powered cylinder mower. The National Trust has property near Newquay in Cornwall where they have a collection of some 100 lawnmowers.

From the Editor...

The Scottish American Hall of Fame is now in book form. Julianna Greer of our Society staff has spent many hours in seeing that the work of James C. Thomson is available to the general public. We have used Mr. Thomson’s material quite often in the Newsletter and now everyone has a chance to have this book in their own library. The cost is $20.00. You may send your order and check to The Scottish Home.

The other book, The Scots of Chicago, Quiet Immigrants and Their new Society, has been returned from the publisher for various corrections and additions. The book should be ready by fall.

On August 3, the Scottish Home will officially break ground for the new addition. The ground breaking part of the annual Scottish Home picnic will begin at l:00 p.m. Events of the day will include piping, Scottish dancing, games for children, a white elephant sale and a tea room. Everyone is invited to attend this special day in our history.

On September 22, the History Club and the Society will join for a tour of the Pullman District in Chicago. The afternoon will also serve as the quarterly meeting of the Society and will offer everyone an opportunity to tour this historic area. There are some interesting connections.

More details will be included in the next issue of the Tartan Times.

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