Biography of William J. Stern
Erie County, PA Biographies

William J. Stern, a former mayor of Erie, who has been actively identified with the interests of this city for many years, is a native of this state. He was born at Allentown, Pa., Dec. 24, 1863, a son of Martin and Mary Virginia (Lerch) Stern, the former a native of Worms, Germany, and the latter of Jersey City, N. J. The parents are both now deceased, the father died June 24, 1896, and the mother died Nov. 12, 1912. Of the children born to them, two sons besides William J. are now living, Joseph A. of Erie, Pa., and Harry H. lives at St. Petersburg, Fla.

When William J. Stern was a baby, his parents removed from Allentown, Pa., and located in Chicago, Ill. There he was reared and attended school until he was 11 years old, when the family came to Erie. Here he continued his schooling and attended the Erie High School, being a member of the class of 1883.

Mr. Stern began his business career as a bookkeeper in their wholesale cigar, tobacco and liquor store which was then located in No. 1 Noble block. He assisted in building up this large business house and was a member of the firm of Joseph A. Stern and Brother, which was later located at No. 719 State Street. The business of this company was one of the largest of its kind in northwestern Pennsylvania and for over 30 years enjoyed the reputation of being leaders in its line and reliable in every way. Joseph A. Stern and William J. Stern sold this business in April, 1914, owing to the failing health of Joseph A. and the additional fact that William J. had been elected mayor of Erie and wished to give his undivided attention to the duties of that office.

Mr. Stern was a charter member of the Erie Chamber. of Commerce and served on its board of directors for nearly 20 years. He was president of that organization during the year of 1909, and his term was characterized by the building up of the depleted financial condition of the organization, enlarging its membership, increasing its activities along practical lines, which has aided materially in the development of the city of Erie. At the expiration of his term as president of the organization, he was offered another term, but refused to accept because it had been the custom up to that time, of the president serving but one term, and Mr. Stern refused to, permit his case to be an exception to that custom. So active and progressive had his administration of the affairs of the Erie Chamber of Commerce been, that hundreds of Erie citizens signed a petition in the winter of 1910 asking him to become a candidate for the office of mayor.

While Mr. Stern had always been a Democrat, being a delegate to the Democratic National Convention at St. Louis in 1904, which nominated Judge Alton B. Parker for the presidency, he was nominated by the Republican party as its candidate for mayor. He was elected to that office after one of the most spirited and exciting elections ever held in Erie, defeating Robt. F. Devine, the democratic candidate, and Hiram Edward Reed, the candidate of the Erie Churchmen's Federation.

Mr. Stern was inaugurated mayor on Dec. 4, 1911, and served until the first Monday in 1916, performing the duties of that office with integrity, dignity and strictly according to business principles. Many municipal improvements desired by the people, some of which had been talked about for years, were either accomplished, plans made for, or contracts executed for, during this term of four years. A system for the collection and disposal of garbage with the building of the incinerator plant near Belle Valley, the building of the Liberty Street subway, the making of a contract with the New York Central Lines and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for the building of subways at Parade, Division, Peach, Sassafras, Chestnut and Cherry streets, and a new depot, the starting of a system of surface drainage sewers in Southwest Erie, the building of a high tension wire conduit for taking down the poles on State Street, were among the many outstanding accomplishments of Mr. Stern's term as mayor of this city.

On Aug. 3, 1915, occurred the disastrous Millcreek flood. This catastrophe was so ably and quickly handled by the city administration that it received the commendation of the state officials and the people generally. The city council, of which Mr. Stern was a member, decided then that Millcreek should never again menace the lives and property of the citizens, and within a few weeks after this great calamity, employed competent engineers to study and devise plans for the covering of Millcreek, which resulted in the adoption of the plans to build a tube which now carries off the waters of this once troublesome stream.

The year of 1913 was one of much responsibility and activity for Mr. Stern as chief executive of the city. During this year the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Commodore Perry's victory on Lake Erie was carried out, and it is generally admitted that Erie's celebration of that historic event; excelled all other lake cities. A great industrial strike occurred this same year, which involved great responsibility for the chief executive of Erie. During this time, the state police were brought here to maintain the peace of the city after a long period of strife. The bitterness arising from this industrial strike undoubtedly was responsible for the defeat of Mr. Stern for re-election to the office of mayor. Miles B. Kitts was elected at a special election held in March, 1916.

In the spring of 1916, Mr. Stern became representative of Graham & Company, Philadelphia investment bankers, and continued in this business until early in 1917, when he was induced to accept the position of secretary of the Erie Board of Commerce. He served in that capacity during the period of the World War, which imposed heavy duties upon the incumbent of that office, one of the many being that of federal fuel administrator for Erie County. He continued to serve as secretary of the Board of Commerce until after the death of his first wife, when he resigned.

Mr. Stern was first married in June, 1888, to Miss Anna C. Cronin. One child was born to that union, Robert H. Stern, who died in infancy, in November, 1890. Mr. Stern was united in marriage in November, 1922, to Miss Maud C. Hayward of Erie, Pa., and they are living in the family residence at 563 West 8th Street.

Mr. Stern was appointed a member of the Pennsylvania Fuel Commission by Governor William C. Sproul in August, 1922, and served on this commission until its abolishment in the spring of 1923. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Vincent's Hospital Association and is now serving his 16th year as president of that institution. He is a member of the Masonic order, the Knights of Pythias, United Commercial Travelers, and attends St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania
By: John Elmer Reed
Historical Publishing Company

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