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Thomas McNeill, Page 690
THOMAS McNEILL, Treasurer of the Sheboygan Chair Company. No gentleman in this county is more deserving of commendation than the one whose name is given above. Left an orphan in early childhood, and reared in poverty, he has by the force of native genius and the encouragement of some good friends become one of the leading business men of the Evergreen City. An account of his career will be an inspiration to others who may be left in similar circumstances.
Mr. McNeil was born in Boston, Mass., March 1, 1854. His father, James McNeil, was born in County Roscommon, Ireland, and when a young man came to the United States. For a wife he chose Miss Katherine Keagan, who was also of Irish parentage. In the fall of 1854, the husband and wife, with two children, came to Sheboygan, where the father died the following year, and the mother some two years later. Young Thomas and his sister Alice (now Mrs. Christian, of Sheboygan) were adopted by an aunt, Mrs. Ryan, of this city. As that lady was poor in this world's goods, our subject had very meagre chances for schooling. On one occasion, that great and good man, James H. Mead, met Thomas on the street and asked him why he was not in school. On the boy frankly replying that he had neither books nor money with which to buy them, that kindhearted gentleman said he would furnish the books for him. This was the starting-point in his life that had much to do with making the man, and thus was implanted the desire for knowledge that has made Mr. McNeill a constant reader and a well-informed man.
When seven years of age, our subject accompanied his aunt to a farm, where he spent six years, working in the fields and in the timber. In 1867, he was employed by the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad Company, carrying water and doing odd jobs. The same year he began to learn the machinist's trade in the company's shops. His readiness to assist in any work, and his close application to business, made him a general favorite among the officials. Hence, after staying in the ship for about a year, he was selected as office boy in the general office at Sheboygan. When he was called to that position he could scarcely write his name, but by practice during leisure hours and at nights, he became one of the finest penmen on the road. For a time he served as baggage-master, then as check clerk, but having a natural desire as well as an aptitude for mechanics he again went to work in the shops, continuing three years. In 1874, he was made accountant in the office of the Master Mechanic. After the Northwestern bought that road he was chosen to close up the accounts, in 1880, making for him some fourteen years of railroad service. As the shops were transferred to Oshkosh, Mr. McNeill had the alternative of going there or finding other employment. In reply to T. M. Blackstock's inquiry as to his business plans, he said he supposed he would go to Oshkosh, as there seemed to be nothing else for him to do. That gentleman said that the Phoenix Chair Company would give him a place. As a result of this conference, Mr. McNeill became bill-clerk for the company. In 1883 he was made purchasing agent, holding the position acceptable for five years. In 1888, he left the employ of the Phoenix, to become one of the incorporators of the Sheboygan Chair Company, of which he has since been Treasurer and purchasing agent.
In Sheboygan, on the 19th of October, 1877, Mr. McNeill married Miss Katherine Kane, a native of that city and a daughter of John and Katherine Kane, who were pioneers of this county. There were two children born of this marriage, Henry Thomas and Vera Alice. All the family are members of the Catholic Church. Mr. McNeill has served three terms as President of the Catholic Knights of Wisconsin. He also belongs to the Foresters. Since the establishment of the Board of Education in Sheboygan, in 1887, he has been its efficient President.
In as far as it is possible for one to be such, Mr. McNeill is a self-made man. His intellectual attainments, his social and business standing, have been acquired by striving for a rightly-conceived purpose in life.
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