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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
John Findley Wallace


IT is a noteworthy fact that in nearly all of the great engineering works that have blossomed in the atmosphere of American enterprise, Scottish engineers and engineers of Scottish descent have had a notable hand. The subject of this sketch had the honour of being the first American Chief Engineer in the construction of the Panama Canal, and this alone is sufficient to mark his prominence in his chosen calling.

John Findley Wallace was born, September 10, 1852, in Fall River, Mass., the oldest son of the Rev. David A. and Martha J. (Findley) Wallace. His father, Rev. David A. Wallace, D.D., LL.D., from about 1850 to 1855 was pastor of a Scottish church, first in Fall River and afterward in East Boston. His parish embraced the families of the superintendents, foremen and principal Scottish mechanics in the shipyard of the celebrated Donald MacKay, then the chief builder of clipper ships in America. During these years, in connection with several other clergymen of various Scottish sects, he assisted in combining the Covenanters, Seceders, Associates and Associate Reformers and forming what has since been known as the United Presbyterian Church in America. In 1856, in the interest of that denomination, he was assigned the duty of establishing a classical college in the west, at Monmouth, Ill.. Monmouth College, of which he was one of the founders and President for twenty-five years. He raised an endowment for the college and established it as a classical institution with an attendance of between 400 and 500 students. It is now one of the leading institutions in the west, and while theoretically under denominational control has among its trustees, faculty and students, members of the leading evangelical denominations. Dr. Wallace was succeeded at Monmouth by Rev. Dr. McMichael, who was President for twenty years, and he was succeeded by his son, Dr. T. H. McMichael, who has been President for the last fifteen years. Dr. Wallace was a graduate of Miami University, Ohio, at the age of eighteen, and at the age of nineteen was President of a college at New Concord, Ohio, where Dr. Harper, the future President of the University of Chicago and a relative of Dr. Wallace, received his education. After resigning the presidency of Monmouth, Dr. Wallace removed to Wooster, Ohio, where he was a trustee of the University of Wooster. The second son of Rev. Dr. David A. Wallace is Rev. William Wallace, D.D., of the United Presbyterian Church, now in charge of Church Extension and Home Mission Work in South Dakota. Dr. Wallace’s third son is Rev. Mack.  H. Wallace, D.D., pastor of the Brewster Congregational Church, Detroit, Mich. The fourth child was Elizabeth, who married Judge Frank Taggert, of Wooster, Ohio, now Superintendent of Insurance of the State of Ohio. The fourth son is Capt. Charles S. Wallace, U. S. A., U. S. Signal Corps, Washington, D. C.

Mr. John Findley Wallace studied at Monmouth College, received his degree of C.E. from the University of Wooster, 1882, and Sc.D. from Armour Institute, 1904. He was honoured with the degree of LL.D. by Monmouth College, 1904, and at its sixtieth commencement anniversary, 1916, was called upon to make the annual address.

During the last two or three years of his college course, Mr. Wallace supported himself and paid his way by working as axeman, rodman, and assistant engineer in an engineering corps engaged in the location and construction of various branch lines of the C. B. & Q. Ry. The first twenty years of his professional life were years of constant struggle and hard work in the daily routine of his profession. He attributes his success, first, to the strong physical constitution inherited from his parents, and second, to the religious, moral, and economic training he received, supplemented by the sound advice and constant and loyal helpfulness of his wife. Superimposed upon all this has been an enthusiastic love for his work, which prevailed to such an extent that his work has been his principal recreation; also a constant fund of persistency, the ability to meet trouble and disappointment with a friendly smile, and a personality able to make friends not only of his superiors and equals but also of his subordinates. With a generous fund of humour, an interesting talker, a brilliant entertainer, a genial companion, with many charming traits and fine sympathies, he has a multitude of friends and well wishers. Possessing rare capabilities in organization and leadership, with special gifts of patience and cheerfulness even under discouraging conditions, he inspires an esprit de corps among his associates and employees which compels success.

Mr. Wallace was Assistant Civil Engineer U. S. Corps, engaged in river and harbor work, on the upper Mississippi River and improvements of Rock Islands Rapids, 1871-1876; County Surveyor and City Engineer, 1876-1878; Chief Engineer and Superintendent of the Peoria & Farmington Ry., 1878-1881, and Iowa Central Ry. in Illinois, 1881-1883; Superintendent of Construction and Master of Transportation, Iowa Central Railway, 1883-1886; Bridge Engineer, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry., in charge of construction of Sibley Bridge over the Missouri River, 1886-1889; and Resident Engineer of the Chicago, Madison & Northern Ry., 1889-1891. He was fourteen years with the Illinois Central Ry.—as Engineer of Construction, 1891-1892; designed and constructed the World’s Fair Terminals, Chicago, 1892; Chief Engineer, 1892-1897; Assistant Second Vice-President, 1897-1900; and General Manager, 1900-1904.

He conducted extensive surveys and examinations and created the initial organization for the construction of the Panama Canal, as Chief Engineer, 1904-1905; and was a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission and Vice-President and General Manager of the Panama R. R. & S. S. Line, 1905. He conceived and designed the present passenger terminal facilities for the Chicago & Northwestern Ry., in Chicago, 1905-1906; was President of the Electric Properties Co., 1906-1914; President of Westinghouse, Church, Kerr & Co., 1911-1916, and Chairman of Board of this firm, 1906 to date; engineering expert for the City Council Committee on Railway Terminals of the City of Chicago and Chairman of the Chicago Railway Terminal Commission, 1913, to date. He is consultant and adviser of various large corporations.

While Mr. Wallace is a member of numerous clubs and associations, he is in no sense a club man, but has enjoyed a continuously happy domestic life and such time as is not taken up with his business affairs is spent with his family. His recreations are golf, hunting and fishing. Mr. Wallace is Past-President and member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Railway Engineering Association, and Western Society of Engineers; and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain and American Institute of Consulting Engineers; and of the following clubs: Engineers’, Bankers’, Automobile, Union League, Lido Golf, Sleepy Hollow Country, and Chamber of. Commerce (New York) ; Cosmos and Metropolitan (Washington) Chicago, Chicago Engineers’, Glen View, Kenwood, Union League, City, and South Shore Country (Chicago). He is a Republican, and a Presbyterian.

Mr. Wallace married, September 11, 1871, Sarah E. Ulmer, daughter of Henry and Hettie (Miller) Ulmer, of Warren County, Ill. His wife’s parents were of good ancestry, her father being of German descent and her mother English. They have two children: a son, Harold U., who was educated at Purdue University as a civil engineer, and who was employed for several years by the Illinois Central R. B. as Assistant Engineer, Engineer of Maintenance of Way, Division Superintendent, and Chief Engineer; later VicePresident of J. G. White & Co.; then Consulting Engineer on his own account; and now Vice-President and General Manager of the Western Light & Power Co., Boulder, Colo.; and one daughter, Birdena Frances. Mr. Wallace’s home is at 390 West End Avenue, New York City; his business addresses, 37 Wall Street, New York, and 175 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago.


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