When he died, Samuel Mather was referred to as “the richest man in Ohio.” Born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 13, 1851, Samuel Mather began his adolescent and adult life with the aspiration of joining his father in the Mather family enterprise of running the Cleveland Iron Mining Company that was formed in 1847 by his father. The company was a successful pioneer of the iron ore trade in the 1850s, and Mather’s father was determined to keep the company afloat and succeeded in doing so. Unfortunately, due to an accident in 1869, Mather suffered an injury at his father’s company that prevented him from entering Harvard as he originally planned. Although Mather’s immediate plans were altered, this event did not prevent him from achieving great success throughout his life.
Marriage and Family Life
Mather joined the wealthy Ms. Flora Stone in marriage on October 19, 1881. This marriage signified the merging of two prominent families whose commitment to philanthropy is remembered to this day. The couple’s individual fortunes combined made them the richest couple in Ohio. After the death of Flora’s father, she began to dispense money as he traditionally had, giving primarily to Western Reserve (now known as Case Western Reserve). Mather expanded his leadership duties by becoming a trustee of the Cleveland city hospital, joining the board of Trustees at Western Reserve University, and joining the Board of Trustees and Kenyon College. The couple had four children: Samuel Livingston (1882), Amassa Stone (1884), Constance (1889), and Philip Richard (1894).
Business Success and Philanthropy
Two years later, Mather made the decision to team up with James Pickand and Jay C. Morse to form the Picklands, Mather and Company, which directly competed with his father’s. Over time, the new company became incredibly successful and Pickand, Mather and Co. gained prestige, power, and fortune as it became one of the four major iron ore companies in the United States through the operation of extensive mines in the Lake Superior region. By providing ample access to iron ore, steel, and shipping, Mather became increasingly wealthy through the profits reaped by the company and through the inheritance left to him from his father.
After his wife died in 1909, Mather continued to give generously to educational and health institutions. At Kenyon College, Mather is known for his generous financial gifts and participation in running the college’s financial affairs. Mather served as a trustee to Kenyon for forty-three years; before his death, Mather was the oldest living member of Kenyon’s Board of Trustees and was the only surviving member of the board that had voted to approve Dr. William Foster Peirce to the position of college president.
Estimates made by President Peirce credit the industrial leader and philanthropist for donating over a half-million dollars throughout the period that he served as a trustee to the school. Mather’s contributions were many; his largest single financial gift to the school was made in 1922 when he contributed $100,000 to the building of Leonard Hall. When he made the contribution, Mather chose to do so in an anonymous fashion, setting a precedent for other donations of the sort which continue to this day.
The Samuel Mather Science Hall was built in Mather’s name at the request of his business associate, Henry G. Dalton, who gave money to Kenyon for the construction of the building. Before his death, Mather attended every commencement for the last forty years of his life.
On October 17, 1931, Samuel Mather died of a heart attack. In his will, Mather left almost $3 million dollars to various educational institutes and health establishments. Even in his death, he thought of Kenyon College and left it $100,000.
Resources in the Kenyon College Archives
- Samuel Mather -- collected materials (oversize)
- Smythe, George Franklin. Kenyon College: Its First Century. Gambier, Ohio: Kenyon College, 2001. Original edition: New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press for Kenyon College, 1924. [ISBN 0-9623250-4-X / Find in Kenyon's Library]