Gary, Elbert Henry

Gary, Elbert Henry,

1846–1927, American lawyer and industrialist, b. near Wheaton, Ill., grad. Union College of Law, Chicago, 1868. Rising rapidly as a corporation lawyer, he became mayor of Wheaton and served two terms as county judge—afterward he was always known as Judge Gary. His able organization of the American Steel and Wire Company prepared the way for J. Pierpont Morgan to entrust him with the organization of the Federal Steel Company in 1898 and in 1901 with the organization of the U.S. Steel Corp. As chairman of the board of directors, Gary was the dominant personality in the corporation until his death. He closely directed its physical expansion and aided in founding the steel town, Gary, Ind. (named for him). He adopted a policy of management cooperation in the industry, and out of his noted "Gary dinners," where policy was discussed and informal agreements were reached, grew the American Iron and Steel Institute. In 1919 the Supreme Court ended the efforts of the U.S. government to dissolve the corporation as a monopoly. Gary believed in high wages, promoted welfare and safety measures for employees, and introduced a scheme of employee stock ownership. He was, however, adamantly opposed to recognizing labor unions and insisted on the open shop. This policy and the notoriously long hours in the steel industry helped to bring on the bitter steel strike of 1919. It failed, but Gary later, under pressure of public opinion, shortened the working hours.


See biography by I. Tarbell (1925, repr. 1969).

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Gary, Elbert Henry

(1846–1927) lawyer, financier; born near Wheaton, Ill. In 1871 he joined his brother's Chicago law firm, Gary, Cody & Gary, and prospered while specializing in corporate law. He served two terms as county magistrate (1882–90), and was thereafter always known as "Judge" Gary. He was president of the Chicago Bar Association (1893–94). In 1898 he went to New York City to become president of the Federal Steel Company. In 1901, at the request of J. P. Morgan, he helped organize the United States Steel Corporation; he became chairman of its board in 1903 and led the corporation in various capacities until 1927. Although he was generally fair in dealing with his employees, and some of his policies were fairly progressive for the time—he abolished the 12-hour, seven-day work week in U.S. Steel plants—he was adamantly against organized labor unions and his opposition provoked the major steel strike of 1919. The company town U.S. Steel built around its Indiana plant was named after him.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.