Biography of Robert M. Steel
Clinton County, MI Biographies



Clinton County

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Also see [Railway Officials in America 1906]

Robert M. Steel was born in the town of Crafisbury, Vt., Oct. 21, 1833. His father, William Steel,a native of Scotland, emigrated to America in 1830, and settled in Vermont. lie was a contractor and builder. Robert M. Steel took an academic course in that State. After having received a thorough training in the carpenter and joiner business from his father, at the age of twenty-one he went to Toronto, and was employed as time keeper on the Grand Trunk Railroad. After two months he was appointed foreman on the road that was building between Sarnia and Toronto, and held the position for fifteen months. His employers, Hayden & Ross, taking a contract to lay the superstructure on the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad, he entered into a partnership with them. In 1856 he removed to St. Johns as the most convenient point, and was engaged in cornpleting this contract until the fall of 1858. In 1859 be took a contract to lay the superstructure on the Grand Trunk Railroad from Detroit to Port Huron, and at the same time was interested, with W. A. Stearnes & Co., in building a road from Three Rivers, on the St. Lawrence River, to Athabaska, a distance of thirty-eight miles. He finished these contracts in December, 1859. On the 9th of September, 1862, he entered into partnership with one of his first employers, Mr. Ross, under the firm-name of Ross, Steel & Co., to build the Kansas Pacific Railroad from Kansas City to the one hundredth meridian, a distance of three hundred and sixty miles. They had one hundred miles located and about twenty-five graded when the company disposed of their franchise to Samuel Hallett and J. C. Fremont. Mr. Steel then entered into partnership with Ellethorpe & Adams, under the firm-name of Ellethorpe, Adams & Steel, and was engaged in building stone bridges, etc., for the city of Leavenworth. He was subsequently engaged in rebuikting the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and continued in this work until December, 1869. In 1867 he made an individual contract with James F. Joy to build the accretions at Burlington, Iowa, for the union depot of Burlington and Missouri, and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. This contract was completed in the fall of 1868 by working night and day. In 1870 he made a contract to build ninety miles of the St. Louis and Southeastern Railroad, which was completed November, 1871. In January, 1872, he took a contract on the Cairo and Vinceunes Railroad, having the entire road to build through two counties, a distance of one hundred and sixty eight miles, and the building of culverts, bridges, etc. This was completed in December, 1872. En 1873 he took the contract to build the superstructure of forty miles on the Paducah and Memphis Railroad, and completed that in thirty-five days. In May, 1875, Mr. George Mason, of Toronto, made a contract to build seventy miles of railway between the Great Western Railway of Canada on the south, and the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway on the north, to be opened for traffic on the 1st day of January, 1876. Mr. Steel received the contract to grade thirty miles of the same; also, the fencing of the whole line, one hundred and forty miles of posts and board fence. The following is an extract from a letter from Mr. Mason:

“The whole work is completed to my entire satisfaction, and I have no hesitation in saying that to your skill, experience, and energy as contractor, I consider I am indebted in a great measure for the successful completion of the undertaking.
“Believe me faithfully yours,
“George Mason,
Chief Engineer, L. H. and B. R. R., and D. and M. R. R."

Besides his extensive railroad contracts Mr. Steel was connected with the government work at Chicago, Calumet, Ludington, Manistee, and Frankfort. In the year 1857 he became a Freemason, and is now a member of the St. Johns Commandery. In 1848 he visited England, Ireland, and Scotland, and was absent one year. He is a Republican, and east his first vote for Abraham Lincoln. In all matters that pertain to the advancement of St. Johns or Clinton County. Mr. Steel is ever ready to assist by his counsel or capital. He largely engaged in agriculture, and is the president of the Clinton County Agricultural Society. He was instrumental in organizing the St. Johns Manufacturing Company, having a paid-up capital of one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars. He owns ninety per cent, of the capital, and holds the office of president. In social relations genial and companionable, in business matters he is prompt and reliable, as a citizen respected and influential, at home cordial and hospitable; to the poor he has been a quiet, unostentatious friend. He married, March 13, 1860, Miss Carrie A. Hyatt, daughter of James M. Hyatt, of New York State. They have three children, George A., Robert G., and Carrie L.

History of Shiawassee and Clinton Counties, Michigan
With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches
of Their Men and Pioneers.
D. W. Ensign & Co., Philadelphia 1880
Press of J. B. Lippincoff & Co., Philadelphia.

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