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Johnson C. Smith
Born 27 October, 1844
Amwell, Pennsylvania
Died 20 August, 1919
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Occupation businessman
Known for street railway construction, namesake of Johnson C. Smith University

Johnson Crayne Smith (1844 – 1919) was an early 20th-century businessman from Pittsburgh and the namesake of Johnson C. Smith University.

After graduating from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, Smith operated a drug store in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.[1] He later became one of the pioneers of street railway construction and served as a director of the People’s Bank in McKeesport.[1] He owned a substantial amount of real estate and co-founded the McKeesport Tin Plate Company.[1]

After he died in 1919, his wife, Jane Berry Smith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania gave funds to build a theological dormitory theological dormitory, a science hall, a teachers' cottage, and a memorial gate at the Biddle University, an historically black university in Charlotte, North Carolina.[2] She also donated significant sum to the endowment in memory of her late husband.[2]

In appreciation, the Biddle University trustees changed the name of the university to Johnson C. Smith University. The change was made official on March 1, 1923.[2] The university's seminary, the Biddle Memorial Institute, was also re-named the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, which is now part of the Interdenominational Theological Center.[3][4]


For many years a prominent merchant and man of affairs of McKeesport, the last years of Mr. Smith's long life were spent in Pittsburgh, where he acquired many interests and had many points of contact with the life of the city. He was one of the best known drug merchants of this district for four decades, and there was scarcely a progressive movement in his city with which he was not identified, either as a leader or supporter of the project. Mr. Smith was an able business man of broad executive talent, but has daily life had important interests beyond the world of trade, and his religious, philanthropic, and charitable activities were productive of widespread good. He was held in unwavering regard by his associates and friends for personal qualities of mind and heart that found their expression in quiets deeds of good will and brotherhood, and in his bearing of simple democracy.

Johnson C. Smith was a son of James and Margaret (Johnson) Smith, of one of Washington county's early families, the grandfather, Dennis Smith, a soldier of the Revolution, being one of the pioneer settlers. Johnson C. Smith, was born in Amwell township, Washington county, Pa., Oct. 27, 1844, and died in Pittsburgh, in early young manhood, he entered the retail drug business in McKeesport, and for forty years continued in this field with steady prosperity. His establishment was known as the Hiawatha Drug Store, and under his wise management this bcame one of the most popular pharmacies of the city, noted for the careful, courteous, capable attention its patrons received. He extended his interests into the broader lines of industry and public utilities, and became a potent factor in a number of leading enterprises. He was chairman of the executive committee of the McKeesport Tin Plate Company, second vice-president of the People's Bank of McKeesport, an organizer and president of the McKeesport Street Railway Company, and an officer and director of the McKeesport Gas Company. In practical affairs he was the spirit of forceful initiative, wise in counsel and decisive in action, and under his leadership movements of value and benefit to the community were consummated.

Mr. Smith made Pittsburgh his home in 1910, and brought his membership to the Third Presbyterian Church. He was active in denominational work, served on the board of the Association for the Improvement of the Poor, both of Pittsburgh. His contributions to their work were of his means as well as of his time and service, and in this, as in all of his beneficent work, he sought the method by which the greatest good might be accomplished with the least public notice.

Mr. Smith married, Oct. 24, 1883, Jane Morrow Berry, daughter of James H. and Jane (Morrow) Berry. Mrs. Smith is a member of the board of the Association for the Improvement of the Poor, the Board of the Home for Aged Protestants, men and couples, of Wilkinsburg, the board of directors of the East End Young Women's Christian Association, and the Twentieth Century Club. Their home was Mr. Smith's chief joy, and there he spent his happiest hours. Mrs. Smith, who was always his associate in good works, continues her interest in and support of the organizations whose work they had long furthered.

The Case of the mysterious "C"

Most students, faculty, and staff know Michael Webb as a Johnson C. Smith University security guard who often greets them with a smile before checking their vehicles for campus access.

But now because of a recent discovery, the 24-year-old Charlotte native and part-time student will be known in school history for solving the mystery of what the "C" stands for in Johnson C. Smith.

"This is something that we have been trying to find out for decades," said James B. Duke Memorial Library Director Monika Rhue. "Michael deserves credit for his hard work."

So what does the "C" stand for? Crayne. For years, alumni, students, and staff, including Rhue who formerly worked as the university's archivist, researched to find if there was a middle name but were unsuccessful. Webb said his search began after reading an article written by former assistant public relations director Teri Brooks printed in the Spring 2007 issue of the university's magazine, The Bulletin. After providing a brief history of Mr. Johnson C. Smith, the article asked readers if they could help solve the mystery which has lasted for a long time.

In the past, it was difficult to solve because official birth and death documents from Pennsylvania where Johnson C. Smith resided are not public record. So all verification the university had was limited to research in the JCSU library archives. Webb was very interested in finding out the middle name because of the mystery and most of his family either attended or graduated from Smith.

"Growing up I always wanted to know what the 'C' stood for, but no one knew because back in the day a lot of men never had middle names," Webb said. "So when they got into a professional field or position they had to get a middle initial to seem official."

Webb, who also is a freelance genealogist, said he loves history. "Ever since I was in high school, I just loved history. Anytime they talked about historical figures, I always wanted to know more about them," he said.

How did Webb do it? So how did he find out that Crayne is Johnson C. Smith's middle name? Webb performed genealogical research putting him in contact with three relatives who provided different types of documentation. The research was hard because Smith and his wife did not have direct descendants. Donna Johnson Jakobsson is a third cousin of Smith. She lives with her husband in Vienna, Va.

Who Was Johnson C. Smith? Smith originally farmed before moving to McKeesport, Pa. where he began his career as the operator of the Hiawatha Drug Store. While he built his fortune in many areas - street railway construction, real estate holdings, banking, and manufacturing - he maintained the drug store until his death in 1919. "When I got the phone call from Michael that he was performing research on the middle name, I was surprised," Jakobsson said during a telephone interview. "I did my own family research years ago and knew that his middle name was Crayne. I had another cousin who had younger photos of him and she passed them on to me."

She provided Webb with family information and referred him to the historical society in Pennsylvania for verification. Jakobsson knew that the university was named after her distant cousin, but had never visited the school. Now, she and her husband are discussing when they might be able to visit the campus.


Fleming, G.T. (1922). History of Pittsburgh and Environs: Biographical. American Historical Society.   Old Mystery at JCSU - News 14 The Case of the mysterious "C" in Johnson C. Smith: mystery solved! by Benny Smith

  1. ^ a b c "TITLE: Mr. Johnson C. Smith". Digital Archives. Inez Moore Parker Archives and Research Center at Johnson C. Smith University. June 2000.  
  2. ^ a b c "History of Johnson C. Smith University". Johnson C. Smith University.  
  3. ^ "Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary". PC(USA) - Office of Theological Education.  


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