Biography of William H. Becker
Cuyahoga County, OH Biographies

WILLIAM HENRY BECKER. At the beginning of the third decade of the twentieth century Cleveland was the metropolis of Ohio and had attained rank among the great centers of America not only in population but in all those activities that represent the flower and fruit of a noble city. The source of Cleveland's importance in the early years of the nineteenth century was its port and shipping. They attracted and provided the indispensable condition for commerce and manufacture. Even the most self sufficient city has a work to do, a service to perform for the world, and no small share of the goods and services of modern Cleveland go out through its port and lake shipping interests.

A little more than a century after Cleveland had welcomed the appearance of the first steamboat on Lake Erie, there passed away a man whose energies, enterprise and vision for a third of a century had contributed to the enrichment and growth of Cleveland not only in its transportation facilities but in its all round development.

This was William Henry Becker, whose death on January 31, 1921, brought a sense of loss to diverse interests and men of prominence from one end of the chain of Great Lakes to the other. He had come to success through resources within his own strong mind and characters. Born in Oswego, New York, May 1, 1860, he came to know the fascination of the lakes by going when a boy with his father on many voyages. His parents were Capt. Daniel M. and Mary (Kelley) Becker, of Oswego. His father was captain of many lake boats, and after moving to Cleveland sailed for the Bradley fleet until his death.

William Henry Becker had the formal advantages of only the public schools, but through a career of intense practical action he cultivated those interests found in books. In his Lakewood home he accumulated an ample library, his favorite authors being Scott and Dickens.

After school and a brief period of work for a grocery house he became office boy to J. H. Outhwaite & Company. A member of this firm was W. G. Pollock, and there began the acquaintance which ripened into ideal friends and kept Mr. Becker and Mr. Pollock closely associated in business and personal affairs. While a clerk for this shipping firm Mr. Becker was carefully bestowing his savings with a view to independent operations, becoming an owner in some of the small vessels at the;port of Cleveland. He and Capt. William S. Mack were associated in the operation of a fleet of wooden vessels for some years.

Mr. Becker by his own example helped in the elimination of the old wooden type of boat from the Great Lakes. His first steel steamship was the Francis L Robbins, which he launched at Cleveland January 19, 1905. It was rapidly followed by others of the same class until he controlled a large fleet, including a number of the 600 foot steam freighters, any one of which could handle a larger cargo than all the boats on Lake Erie a century ago.

Many of his shipping enterprises were handled by the firm of Pollock and Becker, which grew out of his early associations with W. G. Pollock. When this business was incorporated as the Pollock and Becker Company, Mr. Becker became treasurer, an office he held until his death. This firm were dock owners and operators and also lake representatives of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Becker was president of the Valley Steamship Company; manager of the Interstate Steamship Company; treasurer from its organization until his death of the Lake Carriers' Association; and member of the advisory committee of the Great Lakes Protective Association. In business he exemplified great energy, clear vision and sound judgment, he inspired confidence and proved a safe leader. His absolute honesty extended not only to money matters but to every transaction, deed or word. His life was worthy of the respect and admiration given it.

He possessed varied tastes, and his enjoyment of life came from many points of contact with the world. Beside the fascination of his business, his home and fireside, he loved the outdoors, and for some years owned and maintained a large farm, spending much time in its supervision. He was a member of several hunting and fishing clubs, the Cleveland Athletic, Union, Westwood, Clifton and Roadside clubs. In Masonry his affiliations included the Lodge, Chapter, Council, Knights Templar Commandery, Scottish Rite Consistory and Mystic Shrine. Movements identified with the public welfare had a constant avenue to his cooperation and generosity, but in politics his interest did not extend beyond voting the republican ticket.

Mr. Becker married, October 31, 1882, Miss Mary Gibson, daughter of William A. and Catherine (Burke) Gibson. Her father was a pioneer oil operator, connected with the Standard Oil Company for years, but at the time of his death was with the M. A. Hanna Company of Cleveland. He was a native of Scotland and his wife of Ireland, having been brought to America when children. Mrs. Becker's home is at 13431 Lake Avenue, Lakewood. Three children were born to her marriage, the first, Joseph Outhwaite, dying in infancy. The daughter, Zuleike M., is the widow of Robert D. Mansfield, who died at the age of thirty three, having been chief engineer of one of the Becker freight steamers. Mrs. Mansfield has one child, William Becker Mansfield.

William Daniel Becker, the surviving son, was associated with the shipping interests of his father for seven years, and is now president and manager of the Becker Steamship Company. By his marriage to Mildred A. Andrews he has two children, William D. II, and Shirley H. Becker.

A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924

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