Abram Stevens Hewitt (1822-1903) was a major figure in the American iron and steel industry. His public career included service as mayor of New York City.
Abram S. Hewitt was born at Haverstraw, N.Y., on July 31, 1822, the son of a British-born mechanic. Educated in New York City public schools, Hewitt was a brilliant student, won a scholarship to Columbia College, and distinguished himself before graduating in 1842. For several years he read law, although he was never formally admitted to the bar.
In 1843 Hewitt and a college associate, Edward Cooper, traveled in Europe. On the voyage home their ship foundered in a storm; they were cast adrift, rescued, and became friends and business associates for the rest of their lives. They became the operators and proprietors of an ironworks which had been founded by Edward's father, Peter Cooper, in Trenton, N.J. The Cooper and Hewitt enterprise quickly became one of the country's leading iron manufacturing companies, making not only the raw product but producing it in semifinished and finished form.
During the Civil War, Hewitt established the first open-hearth furnace in America. It produced great quantities of the gun-barrel steel needed for war material and made Cooper, Hewitt and Company one of America's outstanding steel companies. As his business reputation grew, Hewitt became a director or corporate officer of a number of allied concerns.
In 1845 Hewitt had married Sarah Amelia Cooper, the only daughter of Peter Cooper. When the elder Cooper laid plans to establish a coeducational school, he called upon the talents of his son-in-law. Hewitt drew up the first charter of Cooper Union and became involved in the administration of the institution for almost 40 years. He also made it a gift of nearly $1 million.
Hewitt was also a public man, a longtime friend of Samuel J. Tilden, and a major figure in the Democratic party of New York. In 1874 he was elected to the U.S. Congress. He was reelected four times. He became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1876 and played a major role in the Tilden-Hayes campaign.
In 1886 Hewitt defeated Henry George and Theodore Roosevelt in an exciting three-way race for the mayoralty of New York City. His reform administration made improvements in a number of city departments, initiated construction of the rapid transit railroad, and fought the city's corrupt political machine. Upon his retirement from politics, Hewitt focused on public service. He was a trustee of Columbia University, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Barnard College, and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Institution. He died at 81, survived by his wife and six children.
Further Reading on Abram Stevens Hewitt
The definitive biography of Hewitt is Allan Nevins, Abram S. Hewitt: With Some Account of Peter Cooper (1935). Nevins also edited Selected Writings of Abram S. Hewitt (1937).
Additional Biography Sources
Post, Louis Freeland, Henry George's 1886 campaign: an account of the George-Hewitt campaign in the New York municipal election of 1886, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1976.