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BRIGGS SWIFT CUNNINGHAM
FEW names so stir the recollections of old citizens of Cincinnati—or revive such interesting memories of the Queen City's Commercial development—as does that of Briggs Swift Cunningham. Financier and philanthropist that he was, it is only just tribute to
acknowledge the prominent part he played in the great industry which in his time made the city leader of the world, and which was the substantial foundation for his vast fortune. When the first steamboat descended the Ohio River from Pittsburgh in 1811, it marked a new order of things for Ohio. The great natural waterway was a guarantee of easy communication from settlement to settlement of the great interior, and from those early flatboats and steamers was built up the traffic which established the city as the most important of the west—and indeed it remained the largest western city north of New Orleans for many decades.
Among the earliest to see the opportunities in this river navigation was Elmore W. Cunningham, son of Robert Cunningham and grandson of Colonel James Cunningham, old pioneers of Cincinnati. He became closey identified with the river boats, was captain of a steamer for years and amassed a considerable fortune.
Captain Cunningham married Miss Swift, the daughter of a prominent Cincinnati family, her brother Briggs Swift being one of the city's most substantial business men. It will be seen where Briggs Swift Cunningham received his name, in token of regard for this maternal uncle. He was an only child, born October 9, 1839, in a house still standing on Reading Road, near Bond Hill, Cincinnati. Cast by fate into scenes of enterprise and energy, he seemed to inherit on both sides those dynamic qualities which later constituted him a power in Cincinnati's commercial development. The child of well-to-do parents, his education was substantial in every way. He attended the public schools and a school at Glendale, Ohio, then was sent east to school but soon quit in his eagerness to go to work. Briggs was only sixteen at this time, and his father would have liked to have put him through college, but the lad pleaded to be allowed to go to work. His was a nature marked from the first by strong self-reliance. He was strictly self-made, self-educated. The lad's first start was with the Alexander Smith & Company Iron
Works Company, then leaders in that new industry. After successful employment here he left to engage in business with his father, Captain Cunningham, who had decided to transfer his energies and the fortune gathered from shipping, to the business of pork packing, which just at this time was looming large on the city's industrial horizon.
Before long father and son were recognized as the leading dealers in pork in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, an earlier pioneer in the packing industry, Jason Evans, had amassed a fortune and established the great banking house of Evans & Company. In this institution Briggs Swift had an important interest and later married a daughter of the great banker and packer—Miss Susan Evans, a sister of Benjamin Evans, who was also well-known in
the packing industry. Another daughter of Jason Evans married Wm. J. Lippencott. The two brothers-in-law united their fortunes in a new packing house venture under the firm name of Lippencott
& Cunningham. To this partnership they soon afterwards
Benjamin F. Evans as senior partner, under the firm name of Evans, Lippencott & Cunningham. These three young men proved a power indomitable in the field. The Cincinnati pork packing industry already large became in their time the most considerable business of the prospering city, and made the name of Cincinnati conspicuous in the marts of the world. Foremost in the business was acknowledged the firm of Evans, Lippencott & Cunningham, known throughout the great middle west as "The Banner House." The three young men were the wonder of business circles, and were applauded for their "hustling" qualities and aggressiveness. They were familiarly known as the "Banner Boys on 'Change."
The history of the packing industry and the bitterly
contested rivalry between Cincinnati and the growing claims of Chicago, forms one of the most interesting developments in the story of our national commerce. The "Banner Boys" held their ground. They maintained their prestige in the field, but realizing that this could only be held temporarily, that times and conditions had changed and a new order of things was setting in for the business, they sold out—at good profit—and turned their
own. heart, and soul to banking and public utilities. Many were the enterprises carried to successful conclusion by Mr. Cunningham and his two brothers-in-law, individually, after the dissolving of their business partnership. . Each acquired an independent fortune, while at the same time serving the city and contributing to her permanent development. For more than twenty-five years they constituted a sort of industrial triumvirate, among their well-known successful enterprises being the Bellevue Inclined Plane, the Cincinnati Street Railway and Cincinnati Union Stock Yards.
When in time Jason Evans and Briggs Swift retired from their banking business, Briggs Swift Cunningham was well-equipped to take an active part in the management of Evans & Company. From that time he became identified with banking. In 1880, a new bank—the Citizens' National Bank of Cincinnati—was incorporated with a capital of $1,000,000.00. Of this new bank Briggs Swift Cunningham was president. In 1906, the capital was increased to $2,000,000.00 and the institution continued with Mr. Cunningham as its efficient head until he was far advanced in years. That. self-reliance so marked in youth did not desert him with the advance of years, but cooly, collectedly he was always master of himself and any situation, always retaining his broad grip on affairs. Not until January 9, 1912, did
Cunningham ask to be relieved from his heavy office as president of the bank, when he retired in favor of Griffith P. Griffith, with whom he had already been associated some thirty-two years. Mr. Cunningham, however, remained on the board of directors and was chairman of that board when he died.
Mr. Cunningham's first wife died many years ago and in 1898, he established a lasting memorial to her in the form of Cunningham Hall, one of the most important buildings in the group of the University of Cincinnati. This noble edifice is occupied by the departments of Biology and Physics.
In 1899, on April 26, Mr. Cunningham married Miss Elizabeth Kilgore, daughter of Mr. John Kilgore, of Cincinnati, who was associated with Mr. Cunningham in the telephone and street rail companies of Cincinnati. Two children were born to this union, a daughter, Mary, and a son, Briggs, named for his father. These children were the real treasures of Mr. Cunningham's life.
At the time of his death Mr. Cunningham was also a director in the Cincinnati Street Railway Company, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, the Little Miami Railroad Company, the C. N. O. & T. P. R. R. Company, the Cincinnati and Suburban Bell Telephone Company, the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company, the Proctor & Gamble Company, and also the Citizens' National Bank, of which he had been so long president. While advanced in years, being seventy-three years old at the time of his death, Mr.
Cunningham was keen of mind and well-preserved in body so that his passing away was most unexpected. He died November 24, 1912, and was buried in the family lot in beautiful Spring Grove Cemetery.
A man of many friends and countless business associates the news of his sudden death proved an overwhelming blow. It seemed impossible that he who had been such a vital part of things for so many years of Cincinnati's development should now cease to be. His business associates had counted on his wise direction for many, many productive years. Self-made man that he was, all who knew him in business could but honor him for his well-known straightforwardness of purpose, his integrity and lofty position in financial circles. He was always a strong figure in the "street." A sound financier, he was considered a conservative in matters of finance, but unusually broad in his outlook, and liberal where liberality was justified. He possessed what might be termed an instinct for finance—his judgment seeming at times almost uncanny in proving itself. It was said of him "he never touched any but the best propositions." No one could sway his judgment. He seemed to read the true value of an investment—" could go to the heart of a business proposition quickly and unerringly."
After all, it is small wonder that Golden Fortune smiles on industry and intelligently directed enterprise, such as were Mr. Cunningham's from earliest boyhood. His was the genius for seeing the thing to do, coupled with the energy for getting it done. His life-long friend, General Michael Ryan, said of him, "He rarely if ever failed to carry out what he undertook to do, seeming to have the faculty, I might say, of divining instantly what was feasible and what was impracticable in enterprises that .engaged his attention."
A quiet modesty and reserve marked him personally, but
his heart was big and he loved old friends, old associations dearly.
He had a strong capacity for friendship, giving and receiving in kind. He had a keen sense of justice, and was absolutely without malice or evil intent, loving justice above all things. He was a born diplomat and could bring order out of chaos. A power in the commercial world, known in Cincinnati circles. as "the ideal business man" Briggs Swift Cunningham was equally the "ideal private citizen. " His well-known public benefactions were in reality but a fraction of his charitable acts. He had a keen human sympathy and delighted in kindly deeds toward others, but was the last man in the world to refer to what he had done or tolerate eulogy.
While indispensible to the membership of any prominent club of the city, it is a fact that clubs and lodges saw comparatively little of Mr. Cunningham. Such leisure as he could wrest from his completely filled days, he loved best to spend in the heart of his family. No glimpse of his life could so truly picture the real Briggs Swift Cunningham as those golden hours in his own beautiful home, with his wife and precious children about him. He kept his best for his home. He gathered many friends around him, for his nature was extremely kindly and lovable. Just as he was a diplomat in business, he was marked by extraordinary tact socially and had a way of bringing out the best in each individual with whom he came in contact. He never seemed to take any credit to himself for the wide circle of friends of which he formed the center. He was indeed peculiarly reluctant to take credit of any sort to himself, being marked by the genuine trait of nobility—a sincere and modest nature.
Mr. Cunningham was Republican in his political convictions and his party would gladly have honored him with important office. However, he resisted every overture in this direction, remaining always a private citizen.
The Cunninghams of Cincinnati, of whom Briggs Swift Cunningham was the third generation, follow back directly to Sir James Cunningham who in 1615 disposed of his large estates in Ayrshire, Scotland, and removed to the manor in North Ireland, inherited from his mother, the daughter of Michael Scott, esq. From his loins sprang a noble line, three scions of which, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, set their faces to the New World and were destined to have a share in the making of American history. Settling in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania ("The London Lands"), each in turn was called upon to serve as commissioned officers in the American War for Independence, in which each added lustre to the name of Cunningham. One of these brothers was Colonel James Cunningham, who in 1785 removed from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to Kentucky, where after several years of struggle with the wilderness and the Indians, he married Miss Jeanette Parks, a lady of Scotch descent, and with his bride removed to "Losantiville" as the settlement of Cincinnati was then called. According to early land records he located Land Warrant No. 139, in what is now Sycamore Township, and was the first white man to break the virgin forest in that township. He added to his holdings a little later, thus gaining a
continuous stretch of eight hundred acres. It was this Colonel Cunningham who was a member of the first grand jury ever organized in Hamilton County. It was he who built the first sawmill and gristmill, burned the first brick in Mill Creek Valley, and erected for himself a substantial brick house. This famous old pioneer died in 1812. His eldest son was Robert, who married Abigail Williams (daughter of Miles Williams) and these were the forbears of Elmore Williams Cunningham, the father of Briggs Swift Cunningham.
Traced through English ^history the name Cunningham (early form Cunynghame) descended from father to son through eight centuries of knighthood after Malcolm of England rewarded his preserver Malcolm, son of Freskin, with the thanedom of Cunynghame in the early eleventh century. The service of Malcolm to his Prince is commemorated in the "shake fork" emblazoned on the family escutcheon for Malcolm concealed the fugitive from the murderous Macbeth, by covering him with a pile of straw until danger was past. After the battle of Sterling the name was spelled Cunningham and the title of Earl of Glencairn added. An illustrious succession of fifteen Earls of Glencairn held the baronies from May 28, 1488, to September 24, 1796, when the title lapsed with John Cunningham, fifteenth Earl of Glencairn.
But not on these knightly old-world honors does the glory of Cunningham rest today. Nor yet on the gallant service of the three noble brothers who fought so ardently for their adopted country in the Revolutionary War. Rather, the inestimable service of the Cunninghams to this country has been in the arts of peace, through four generations. In the ring of the wilderness axe of Colonel James Cunningham, in the whirr of his pioneer mills, in the foresight of Elmore Cunningham and the fidelity and astuteness of Briggs Swift Cunningham in shaping Cincinnati's great commercial development in these services rest the imperishable honors to the name Cunningham.
Barbara's Bordered Backgrounds