Mid 19th Century America was a golden time of entrepreneurship, invention, innovation, and gutsy determination. Men like Winchester, Edison, Westinghouse, and Eastman all started out with nearly nothing. But through hard work and perseverence, their legacies left indelible marks in their respective industries.
Such is also the case with Warren Packard and John R. Packard, and a generation of Packards thereafter. Their parents, William Packard and Julia Leach, settled in the frontier county of Trumbull in eastern Ohio in the early years of the 19th century. In Lordstown they established a farm, and initiated of a dynasty of two generations of Packards whose innovative prowess contributed to the development, electrification, and transportation of the emerging United States.
William Packard was a native of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Julia Leach was from Mendham, New Jersey. Both families possessed a spirit of frontier tenacity; each had migrated to what is now Mahoning county, during the years that Ohio became a state.
Warren Packard was born on June 1st 1828. His younger brother, John R., was born on January 1st 1836.
Warren Packard was without doubt one of the towering figures in the early history of Ohio. At the age of 16, he left the Packard Farm to pursue his independence in nearby town of Warren†. As he journeyed his way into the aspiring town, he carried with him few possessions.
Through the kindness of a brother-in-law, he obtained room and board with a local hardware proprietor named Milton Grahan. For the duration of his first year in town, Warren attended school and paid his keep by performing odd jobs around Grahan’s house and store. On the weekends he traveled to Youngstown and Niles, where he purchased replacement stock on behalf of Grahan’s store.
Over the next few years, Warren’s responsibilities grew at the store. During this same period, Grahan’s hardware store changed ownership several times. And by 1851 Warren Packard had become one of the store’s owners.
A year later, Warren hired his younger brother John as a clerk, and put him to work in the store. Like his older brother, John was also 16 when he left the family farm and moved to Warren. Quickly it became apparent to all that John was as industrious and motivated as his older brother.
By 1853 Warren found himself the sole owner of the proprietorship. A year later in 1854, the brothers and an uncle formed a partnership in West Greenville, Pennsylvania. There they opened a second store, where John and Dr. Daniel B. Packard MD ran its daily operations. Daniel was an entrepreneur in his own right, owning several businesses himself in West Greenville, including a crockery store.
In 1857 Warren divested his interest in the West Greenville store to his brother and uncle. Like the operation in Warren, the West Greenville store quickly became successful.
During the latter part of the 1850s and early 1860s both ventures grew and strengthened. While at the same time, Warren had bought out all of his competitors, as well as opened a third store in Youngstown.
With an initial investment of $100,000, he opened the Youngstown store with another brother A.J., and operated the company under the name of W. & A.J. Packard Hardware. As with his other ventures, the business thrived.
By the time of the Civil War, the Packard brothers dominated the hardware and iron business throughout the southeastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania regions. Extending a radius of 150 miles, their business interests stretched all the way northwest to Cleveland, and southeast to Pittsburg.
In 1870 Daniel B. Packard retired, and John became the sole owner of the West Greenville store. John continued operating the business for another 60 years, until his death in the late 1920s.
In 1873, succumbing to the Panic, the Youngstown Ohio operation of W. & A.J. closed.
The original store remained successful. During the 1860’s Warren opened up additional businesses, including a lumber operation, and a metal rolling mill, both also in Warren Ohio.
A Second Generation
In 1856 Warren Packard’s first wife died. Later that year, he remarried and started a family. In 1890 two of his sons, William Doud and James W. founded the Packard Electric Company. With assistance from their father, the two sons utilized provisions supplied by the Warren hardware store to get their business started.
Over the next 9 years Packard Electric Company thrived. By the dawn of the American automobile age, the business specialized in providing wiring, cabling, light bulbs, and transformers. Customers included both pioneer automakers, as well as the railroads.
In 1899 the two brothers formed an exploratory venture. They joined forces with two other partners, and designed and constructed a prototype automobile. During the next two years, a second prototype was constructed, and both were successfully tested.
The Birth of an Automobile Legend
Having established proof of concept, in 1900, the two brothers started their second business, and formed the Ohio Automobile Company. Independent from the Packard Electric Company, the Ohio Automobile Company was formed as a partnership between the original partners and a third.
Literally overnight, the company thrived, and quickly evolved into one of the dominant automobile manufacturers of the time. In fact, the company did so well that a mere three years later, in 1903, a Detroit industrialist named Henry B. Joy orchestrated a hostile takeover of the company.
Joy renamed the company Packard Motor Car Co, and in a largely ceremonial move, named James W. President as president of the new company. Six years later, James W. became chairman of the board.
The Later Years
By 1915 James W. ceased all involvement related to the Packard Motor Car Company. In the same year, the two brothers sold the Packard Electric Company to industrialist Norton Wolcott. Wolcott, in turn, sold the business to General Motors in 1932.
Below is a timeline of the two generations of Packard entrepreneurs.
The Packard Motor Car Company developed many innovations still utilized in modern automobiles today. The Packard Electric Company and its innovations became part of General Motors in 1932. By the 1980s, the company was the electric industry’s leading producer of wire harnesses and other automotive electrical components.
In 1995 it became part of Delphi Automotive Systems. Today the company is known as Delphi Packard Electric Systems.
Both generations of Packards were not only astute businessmen, but also philanthropists. Each of them, in their own way, gave back to their town generously. Public spaces, parks, a community pool, a music hall — all were just some of the many gifts that the Packard entrepreneurs gave to the town of Warren.
Below please find two Civil War Tokens and a store draft.
The first token was struck as a storecard for John R. Packard’s hardware store in West Greenville, Pennsylvania. On the reverse of the token is an advertisement for D.B. Packard’s Crockery business, also in West Greenville. The token is mint state (MS-62), and hails from the John Dettinger collection. It possesses a rarity rating of R-3.
The second specimen was struck as a storecard for both of Warren Packard’s hardware businesses. The obverse is an advertisement for his Warren, Ohio store, while the reverse is an advertisement for his Youngstown Ohio store. The token is uncirculated and traces of its copper -red color remain. It possesses a rarity rating of R-2.
Lastly, below please find a store draft issued by John R. Packard’s hardware store in West Greenville, PA. The draft was cashed and is subsequently cancelled. The signature of John R. Packard on the back of the document survives.
Notes and Sources
† It is but only a coincidence that Warren Packard and the town of Warren, Ohio share the same name.
A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County Pennsylvania Volume I, J.G. White, 1909
A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County Pennsylvania Volume II, J.G. White, 1909
History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley Ohio Volume I, Joseph G. Butler, 1921
History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley Ohio Volume II, Joseph G. Butler, 1921
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Volume 4, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
U.S. Civil War Store Cards Second Edition, George & Melvin Fuld, Quarterman Publications, ©1975
The Civil War Token Collectors Guide, Bryan Kanzinger, Valley Forge Coins-Books, ©2001