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Abram Stevens Hewitt
Born 1822
Haverstraw, New York, USA
Died 1903

Abram Stevens Hewitt (1822 – 1903) was a teacher, lawyer, an iron manufacturer, U.S. Congressman, and a mayor of New York. He was the son-in-law of Peter Cooper (1791-1883), a famous American industrialist, inventor, philanthropist and (during the Hayes-Tilden campaign) chairman of the Democratic National Committee.


Childhood, education

Abram Hewitt Memorial Building, Cooper Square, New York City

Hewitt was born in Haverstraw, New York. His mother was of French Huguenot descent and his father, John Hewitt, was from Staffordshire in England, and had emigrated to the U.S. in 1790 to work on a steam engine to power the water plant in Philadelphia.

Hewitt worked his way through and graduated from Columbia College in 1842. He taught mathematics at the school, and became a lawyer several years later.

Fate, family

From 1843 to 1844, Hewitt traveled to Europe with his student, Edward Cooper, another future New York City mayor. During their return voyage, the pair were shipwrecked together. After this, Hewitt became "virtually a member of the Cooper family", and in 1855 married Edward's sister, Sarah Amelia.[1]

Edward and Sarah Cooper's father was inventor and industrialist Peter Cooper who had erected a rolling mill and an iron mill in New York City. There, he was the first to successfully use anthracite coal to puddle iron.

Business, civic leader, reformer

In 1845, Peter Cooper moved his machinery to Trenton, New Jersey, where he built the largest rolling-mill in the United States for producing railroad iron. Abram Hewitt joined Edward Cooper in running the Trenton Iron Company, where, in 1854, they produced the first structural wrought iron beams. Hewitt was known for dedicated work for the U.S. government and exceptionally good relations with his employees, and helped his father-in-law found the Cooper Union.

Hewitt, in an 1888 wood engraving.

In 1871, he was prominent in the reorganization of New York's Tammany Hall government after the fall of the "Tweed Ring" led by the infamous Boss Tweed. His most famous speech was made at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge between Manhattan Island and Brooklyn in 1883. In 1886, he was elected mayor of New York City, defeating United Labor candidate Henry George through what many of George's supporters believed was fraud; a young Theodore Roosevelt came in third that year.

Although his political alliances varied from one part and faction to another during a career in city, state, and national politics, Hewitt was considered a consistent defender of sound money practices and civil service reform. He was conspicuous for his public spirit, and developed an innovative funding and construction plan for the New York City subway system.

Natural resources

Hewitt had many investments in natural resources, including considerable holdings in West Virginia, where William Nelson Page (1854-1932) was one of his managers. He was also an associate of Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840-1909), a famed financier and industrialist who was a key man in the Standard Oil Trust, and major developer of natural resources. One of Hewitt's investments handled by Rogers and Page was the Loup Creek Estate in Fayette County, West Virginia. The Deepwater Railway was a subsidiary initially formed by the Loup Creek investors to ship bituminous coal from coal mines on their land a short distance to the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) along the Kanawha River. After rate disputes, the tiny short line railroad was eventually expanded to extend all the way into Virginia and across that state to a new coal pier at Sewell's Point on Hampton Roads. Planned secretly right under the noses of the large railroads, it was renamed the Virginian Railway and was also known as the "richest little railroad in the world" for much of the 20th century.


As a philanthropist, Hewitt was especially interested in education. Columbia University gave him the degree of LL.D. in 1887, and he was the president of its alumni association in 1883, and was a trustee from 1901 until his death. In 1876 he was elected president of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, and was a founder and trustee of the Carnegie Institution. He was also a trustee of Barnard College and of the American Museum of Natural History.

His most famous quotation is "Unnecessary taxation is unjust taxation."


Hewitt is best known for his work with the Cooper Union and in planning the financing and construction of a subway system for New York City, and is considered the "Father of the New York City Subway System".


Hewitt died in 1903, and was interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. His last words were, "And now, I am officially dead." He said this after he took his oxygen tube from his mouth.


  • Ringwood Manor in Ringwood, New Jersey, the Hewitt family's summer estate from 1857 to the 1930s, is preserved as the centerpiece of New Jersey's Ringwood State Park.
  • Abram Stevens Hewitt School (P.S. 130) in the Bronx, New York was named for him.
  • One of Cooper Union's academic buildings was named in his honor. It was demolished and replaced with a "New Academic Building" in 2007. An historic twenty-foot column in the Hewitt Building designed by Stanford White was transported - appropriately enough - to its former home at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York where it now stands on Abram S. Hewitt's memorial plot.
  • A famous New York City fireboat Abram S. Hewitt which served from 1903 until 1958 was named in his honor. The fireboat was eventually scrapped, and its remains may be found at the Witte Marine Scrapyard in Rossville, Staten Island.
  • There is a life-sized white marble statue of Hewitt in the Great Hall of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York in Albany, New York.
  • A New Jersey State Forest along the Appalachian Trail was named in his honor.
  • Hewitt's daughters, Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt founded the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
  • Hewitt's son, Peter Cooper Hewitt (1861-1921), was a successful inventor.
  • His son, Edward Ringwood Hewitt (1866-1957), was also an inventor and a chemist. He was an early expert on fly-fishing and published Telling on the Trout, among other books.
  • His youngest son, Erskine Hewitt (1878-1938), was a lawyer and philanthropist in New York City. He donated Ringwood Manor to the State of New Jersey in 1936.
  • The historic Village of Hewitt, New Jersey, located within the Township of West Milford, is preserved within the Long Pond Ironworks State Park. The village contains the ruins of the iron smelting furnaces operated by Cooper and Hewitt. The Hewitt, New Jersey post office also still exists, but it is now located several miles from the location of the original village.


  1. ^ The Dictionary of American National Biography, Oxford University Press, (2000) Cooper Hewitt Family at Ringwood Manor at
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Fernando Wood
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

1875-03-04 – 1879-03-03
Succeeded by
James O'Brien
Preceded by
James O'Brien
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

1881-03-04 – 1886-12-30
Succeeded by
Francis B. Spinola
Political offices
Preceded by
William R. Grace
Mayor of New York
Succeeded by
Hugh L. Grant
Business positions
Preceded by
Edward Cooper
President of Cooper Union
Succeeded by
John E. Parsons

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ABRAM STEVENS HEWITT (1822-1903), American manufacturer and political leader, was born in Haverstraw, New York, on the 31st of July 1822. His father, John, a Staffordshire man, was one of a party of four mechanics who were sent by Boulton and Watt to Philadelphia about 1790 to set up a steam engine for the city water-works and who in 1793-1794 built at Belleville, N.J., the first steam engine constructed wholly in America; he made a fortune in the manufacture of furniture, but lost it by the burning of his factories. The boy's mother was of Huguenot descent. He graduated with high rank from Columbia College in 1842, having supported himself through his course. He taught mathematics at Columbia, and in 1845 was admitted to the bar, but, owing to defective eyesight, never practised. With Edward Cooper (son of Peter Cooper, whom Hewitt greatly assisted in organizing Cooper Union, and whose daughter he married) he went into the manufacture of iron girders and beams under the firm name of Cooper, Hewitt & Co. His study of the making of gun-barrel iron in England enabled him to be of great assistance to the United States government during the Civil War, when he refused any profit on such orders. The men in his works never struck - indeed in 1873-1878 his plant was run at an annual loss of $100,000. In politics he was a Democrat. In 1871 he was prominent in the re-organization of Tammany after the fall of the "Tweed Ring"; from 1875 until the end of 1886 (except in 1879-1881) he was a representative in Congress; in 1876 he left Tammany for the County Democracy; in the Hayes-Tilden campaign of that year he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and in Congress he was one of the House members of the joint committee which drew up the famous Electoral Count Act providing for the Electoral Commission. In 1886 he was elected mayor of New York City, his nomination having been forced upon the Democratic Party by the strength of the other nominees, Henry George and Theodore Roosevelt; his administration (1887-1888) was thoroughly efficient and creditable, but he broke with Tammany, was not renominated, ran independently for re-election, and was defeated. In 1896 and 1900 he voted the Republican ticket, but did not ally himself with the organization. He died in New York City on the 18th of January 1903. In Congress he was a consistent defender of sound money and civil service reform; in municipal politics he was in favour of business administrations and opposed to partisan nominations. He was a leader of those who contended for reform in municipal government, was conspicuous for his public spirit, and exerted a great influence for good not only in New York City but in the state and nation. His most famous speech was that made at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. He was a terse, able and lucid speaker, master of wit and sarcasm, and a fearless critic. He gave liberally to Cooper Union, of which he was trustee and secretary, and which owes much of its success to him; was a trustee of Columbia University from 1901 until his death, chairman of the board of trustees of Barnard College, and was one of the original trustees, first chairman of the board of trustees, and a member of the executive committee of the Carnegie Institution.

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