Samuel Gardiner Wright, a Philadelphia merchant and ironmaster, was born on November 18, 1781, the great-great-grandson of Joshua Wright, one of three brothers who emigrated to the Burlington, New Jersey, area in 1677-79. Samuel's father Caleb was a storekeeper in Juliustown. A brother Joseph migrated to Plymouth Township in the Wyoming Valley.
In 1810, Wright built a farmhouse near Wrightsville, New Jersey. Its name, Merino Hill, commemorated his role in the importation of Merino sheep in concert with the du Ponts of Delaware and other gentleman farmers. Between 1815 and 1818, Wright acted as middleman supplying cordwood from the nearby Pine Barrens to the New York area. A large part of the output was sold to the operators of newly-established steamboat lines. Soon afterward, Wright established sea-salt works near Tuckerton, New Jersey, and Lewes, Delaware, in connection with David Thacker.
Wright operated as a merchant with a store in Philadelphia from 1817 to 1837. This was apparently a very general operation, selling New Jersey's products of farm and forest in the city and shipping Philadelphia area goods on consignment to correspondents up and down the coast and down the length of the Ohio-Mississippi River system. From 1820 to 1822 he conducted a trade with David Brearley, then Indian agent at Dardanelle, Arkansas Territory, exchanging eastern manufactures for furs.
Beginning in 1820, Wright began to deal heavily in iron ore and iron products and moved decisively into the business of ironmaking. In that year he took a short-term lease of David C. Wood's Millville Furnace. Soon after he secured an interest in the Delaware Furnace at Millsboro, De., from Col. William D. Waples. Between 1823 and 1826 he assembled a tract of 26,000 acres centered around present-day Lakehurst, N. J., containing the derelict Federal Furnace and Phoenix Forge. Wright reopened the Federal Works as Dover Furnace in 1825-26 but eventually lost Phoenix Forge in a title dispute. He also worked bog iron ore deposits connected with both his Delaware and New Jersey furnaces and contracted the right to make charcoal on the Greenwood Forest Tract adjoining his own properties. As bog ore deposits became exhausted, Wright help found the Mount Hope Mining Company in Morris County, N. J. Wright remained an important ironmaster for seven years. He manufactured pig iron, stoves, wagon wheel boxes, sash weights and large quantities of pipe for the new urban gas and water systems throughout the Northeast. He apparently tried to manufacture rails and castings for some of the country's earliest railroads. Wright had a close relationship with architect John Haviland, providing iron decorative elements, doors and grilles for several of Haviland's famous prisons and other commissions.
Wright was also heavily involved in land speculation, owning city lots in Philadelphia and New York, along with tracts in Otsego County, N. Y. and in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. In the 1830s he began to make large purchases of land in the Midwest, particularly in Illinois and Missouri.
In 1830, Wright was elected to a term in the Legislative Council, precursor of the New Jersey State Senate. At this time he began to withdraw from active business. He turned the operation of the Delaware Furnace over to his son Gardiner H. Wright in 1830. The Dover Furnace property was sold to another ironmaster, Benjamin B. Howell, in 1833 and mortgaged back to Wright to secure payment of the purchase money in installments. Howell and his two sons resold the tract to the Monmouth Purchase Company, a group of New York land speculators, in 1836. The Panic of 1837 and its aftermath delayed a final settlement with Wright until 1840. The Delaware Furnace was also abandoned around 1837.
Wright thereafter lived as a gentleman farmer at Merino Hill. In 1844, he was elected to the House of Representatives, but he died on July 30, 1845, before he could take his seat.
Wright's career provides an excellent example of the American businessman just before the transition from "merchant capitalism" to "industrial capitalism." While they were important in their own day, none of his enterprises left direct successors, and the trades and techniques they represented were rendered obsolete soon after his death. While not ranked among the "great" Philadelphia merchants, Wright was part of that much larger second tier whose activities produced the first stages of industrialization in the United States.
From the description of Papers, 1785-1902 (bulk 1809-1876). (Hagley Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122503422
|creatorOf||Wright family. Papers, 1785-1902 (bulk 1809-1876).||Hagley Museum & Library|
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Morris County (N.J.)|
|Sussex County (Del.)|
|Ocean County (N.J.)|
|Salt industry and trade|
|Iron mines and mining|
|Society of Friends|
|Stove industry and trade|
|Iron industry and trade|