THE ancient city of Brechin, on the
Braes of Angus, has produced many strong and courageous men in their
varied spheres of life, who have left their impress upon their generation
both at home and abroad.
David Webster O‘Neil was born in
Brechin, April 3, 1850, the eldest son of William O‘Neil and Elizabeth
(Webster) O‘Neil, who were active members of the Auld Kirk under the
ministry of James McCosh, late President of Princeton, and afterward of
the West Free Church, where the father was an elder for forty years. He
was also a leader in the co-operative movement and an officer for fifty
years. His son, David, left school at the age of ten to enter the
paper-works, and later worked in a flax-mill until he was fifteen, when he
was apprenticed for four years to the joiner trade. He continued studying
at evening school and, in the winter of 1870, studied geometry and drawing
in the evening classes in Edinburgh. April 12, 1870, he sailed from
Glasgow for America by way of Quebec, arriving in Boston, May 2, with only
his tools and fifteen cents in his pocket. His interesting diary and
cash-account, kept during this voyage, is his most highly-prized
possession. The following day he secured employment as a stair-builder.
Beginning at eighteen dollars a week, he advanced rapidly, studying
stair-construction in all its phases, while attending evening classes of
the Boston Technical Institute, and in a short time became a recognized
expert on circular-stair construction; four months before his twenty-first
birthday, he was made foreman of the factory.
In 1873, he organized with Charles
N. Freeman, of Claremont, N. H., the firm of Freeman & O‘Neil,
manufacturers of stair-builders’ supplies. In the same year a selling
arrangement was made with Bradley & Currier, New York, the foremost
dealers in house trim in the country. In 1889, this firm persuaded Mr.
O‘Neil to assume the management of its business. On the retirement of
Messrs. Bradley & Currier in 1901, Mr. 0 ‘Neil organized the Empire City
Woodworking Co., which, in 1910, was merged as the Empire City-Gerard Co.,
Brooklyn, one of the largest in the country. He is also President of the
Miami Realty Co., and Panmure Realty Co., and is interested financially in
other realty corporations. He has long been a recognized factor in
business and labour circles. As President of the Manufacturing
Woodworkers’ Association, he was presented, in 1903, with a handsome watch
in appreciation of his labours and devotion. He was a prime mover in
forming the Building Trades Employers’ Association, serving for many years
on the Board of Governors, also as member of the Arbitration Board and
member of the Executive Committee for many years. At a banquet, in 1910,
the association honoured him with a bronze medal, specially designed to
illustrate the success of arbitration, and a silver service suitably
Mr. O‘Neil is a man of strong
individuality. In business he is a strict disciplinarian, a great worker,
quick to grasp every situation and adapt himself to it; yet generous to
the extreme to his employees and competitors, commanding the respect and
admiration of all. He is a member of the St. Andrew’s Society of the State
of New York, the New York Chamber of Commerce, Merchant Association,
Harlem Board of Commerce, and General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen,
where his labours are highly appreciated. He is an enthusiastic fisherman,
and a member of the Carman River Fishing Club, Long Island, the
Huddersfield Fish and Game Club, Quebec, and with his partner has fitted
up Glen Carey Lodge, Clyde River, Nova Scotia, where he seeks recreation
in his favorite sports of fly-fishing and moose-hunting. He is a member of
the Baptist Church. In 1888, he was a delegate from New Hampshire to the
presidential convention in Chicago which nominated Benjamin Harrison. He
is a gifted public speaker and debater; has travelled extensively at home
and abroad and made frequent visits to Brechin, in whose affairs he takes
a keen interest.
Mr. O‘Neil married, August, 1872,
Jane Ann Gray, of Brechin, who died in May, 1891, leaving three children.
In July, 1903, he married Mrs. Ella Carey Whipple, of Claremont, N. H. In
their beautiful home on Riverside Drive, New York, surrounded by hunting
and fishing trophies, and a large and rare collection of books and
pictures, their happiest hours are spent with their children,
grandchildren and a wide circle of devoted friends.
This energetic, enterprising
business man, who by pluck and industry has won the respect of associates,
employees and the community, ascribes his success to his Christian
parentage and early training, and to the two noble women that have been
his companions in life’s journey. The ups and downs of the early struggles
for success, as well as the later achievements, have been shared by them.
They truly have been his helpmates in the broadest sense.