William Hatten – Scrooge of Wisconsin – Part 2

Part 2

Hatten and one James Meikeljohn, who had helped him, took over the bankrupt Rounds property and formed the partnership of Meikeljohn & Rounds.

By July of 1884, Hatten, at the age of 28, was rich and smart enough to buy the property from his partner and a few years later the old mill on the banks of the Wolf river here in New London also passed into his hands.

The poor boy was well on the road to riches and nearer his god — the Almighty American Dollar.

In the meantime his sister by adoption, Effie Woodin, had been married to a poor railroad engineer, Frank Lathrop. The marriage took place on Mar. 34, 1878, and one of the witnesses to the ceremony was William Hatten, who then went by the name of William Woodin.

Woodin Died in ’89

For a time he took his adopted father’s name but he soon again signed himself “Hatten” or “Hatton” and, for some mysterious reason his adoption papers disappeared from the files of the county courthouse at Waupaca.

Hatten’s adopted mother had died in May of 1878 and Woodin, who later took his fourth wife, moved to Lincoln county in what is now the state of Washington. At the time of Woodin’s death in 1889 Hatten was named an heir.

His relationship to the Woodin family, after Hatton’s death, was a major factor in the fight over the large Hatten estate.

But in those early days the man who felt that he would never die was farther than ever from the thought of death.

The state’s lumber industry was still a mighty one and a leading actor in the drama of the woods and rivers of Wisconsin was William Hatten.

His main mill here where he had his offices, took a new lease on life after he got hold of it. It had changed hands often after the United States originally granted the land on which it stands to Charles Terence in June of 1853.

The tall thin man whose aristocratic nose could smell a good business deal a thousand miles away, acquired big tracts of lumber and large mills in the south,

Owned California Redwoods

He and Effie’s husband, Frank Lathrop, who enjoyed life to the full, made millions in Alabama in the Lathrop & Hatten Lumber Co.

At Philipp, Miss, (named after the late Gov. Emanuel Philipp of Wisconsin), Hatten owned the Tallahatchie Lumber Co. The Ingram-Dey Lumber Co. was another of his creations.

He had other holdings in Wisconsin and properties in Tennessee and Louisiana, in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota and British Columbia.

He owned one of the finest stands of redwood left in California, which he often said should be owned by that state but about which he so characteristically never did anything.

He owned large pieces of real estate in downtown Chicago, not far from where his real sister lived in abject poverty. He had millions in securities; hundreds of thousands in cash.

He owned half a million worth of Bankshares Corp. at one time; was an owner of stock in and a director of four other banks in Wisconsin. In Oshkosh, they tell the story of his attending bank meetings there, getting his $20 in directors’ fees and then spending the night in a Turkish bath to save the price of a hotel room.

In the booming twenties, he was worth between $15,000,000 and $16,000,000, according to the top men who worked in his office for $200 or less a month.

The depression cut that fortune in half. While his dollars were piling up, Hatten was active in politics — for Hatton.

Francis McGovern, who was then governor, remembers him as a brilliant and constructive thinker; determined, straightforward — and tight.

Would Buy a Lunch

He drafted — in long hand as he shunned modern office equipment — the state’s railway legislation and served two terms in the state senate but was defeated by Isaac Stephenson for the United States senate in 1907 and for the governorship of Wisconsin in 1914 and 1916.

That he was defeated is not surprising.

Typical of his campaign tactics is the following: In one of his campaigns, his political admirers here organized an automobile procession. Hatten who never personally owned an automobile, rode with somebody else. The boys all paid for their own gasoline and one generous soul donated a band.

When the procession stopped for lunch that noon, the Hatten boosters expected that their candidate would buy them a lunch at least. But Hatten had slipped off by himself — was lunching in a second class restaurant for 20c.

When he ran against Stephenson both candidates were in Stevens Point on the afternoon of a ball game. Stephenson bought 1,000 tickets; Hatten sat by himself in the bleachers for 25c.

Throughout his life, Hatten was deeply, though never lavishly, interested in education, and there are rumors afloat of the thousands he dished out anonymously to Ripon and Lawrence colleges.

But a careful check of those two colleges reveals that the millionaire gave Ripon about $20,000 and Lawrence $29,000, some of which sums were collected with the greatest difficulty after they had been promised by Hatten.

Broken Promises

As he promised to remember his men in the mill, he also promised to remember those institutions on whose boards of trustees he had sat so long — but they got not a cent when he died.

But grimmest of all was the case of the high school here. The man who was so loquaciously interested in education wouldn’t give a cent toward building the school, and when it was finished he asked: “Can you learn more in an expensive building like this than you can in a log hut?”

His “active” interest in education was limited to small sums to a niece and some slight help to a nephew who struggled through Lawrence.

He knew and often talked with many of the leading educators of the state if the topic were not endowments. He knew, too, the members of the state supreme court, although he hated lawyers and took care of most of his legal work himself.

He had a hand in drawing up the federal reserve system of the United States and he knew well many of the business leaders in this part of the northwest. He had a great respect for learned minds but an even deeper admiration for anyone who had brains enough to make money.

Looked Like Rockefeller

Hatten was delighted when someone told him that he looked very much like John D. Rockefeller when both were young, but he never handed out a dime to kids in the neighborhood.

Once upon a time he gave $500 to the library, but when New London needed a new hospital, the following took place:

The committee in charge of raising the funds sent the Rev. F. S. Dayton to see Hatten.

Rev. Dayton said: “In this work we are really following out Christ’s teachings.”

Whereupon the rich and learned Mr. Hatton replied: “Well, I’ll tell you, reverend. Christ also said ‘Feed the poor.’ That’s what I’m doing out here keeping the mill running.”

And that was Hatten’s donation to the hospital.

Hatten was an omnivorous reader — especially economics and philosophy, but nothing lighter than the classics. He was also an indefatigable worker.

Hatten, who had no home and never married, got to his office early in the morning and often stayed until late at night. His employes were expected to do the same. As he took no vacations, they didn’t get any either — in spite of the fact that some of them worked for him for 50 years.

Hatten never drank, smoked nor chewed – not even gum. His employes were expected to follow his example and he could see no reason why they should play golf, as he didn’t.

Strange methods, too, characterized his routine office work. The man, who was many times a millionaire, handled most of his affairs himself and for years had no filing cabinets and made no carbon copies of hia vast correspondence.

Saves Scratch Paper

All his letters he tied up in little bundles. His desk was a forest and his office a mountain of papers. He kept the backs of envelopes and those parts of letters on which nothing had been written.

When his subordinates supplied Hatten with filing cabinets, he filled them with empty honey jars, half empty packages of breakfast foods, paper bags, whatnot.

For years he walked down the main street here, carrying a bottle of milk, a few crackers and some raw carrots in a bag and then he’d eat by himself in the office.

Empty milk bottles he’d return to the store for a refund, and if he had two empty bottles, he’d ask for a full bottle in exchange.

He lived for more than 40 years in a room in the Hotel Elwood here. A spotless, elegant little hostelry in itself, the room Hatten occupied was so crowded with old books and older magazines and junk in general that his bed had to be moved into the middle of the floor. In his earlier years he frequently had people in to Sunday dinner, but that stopped as he grew older, although he always enjoyed a good meal if someone else paid for it.

His Kindly Side

Hatten would never harm a living thing, and when, upon rare occasion, some of his acquaintances went fishing, Hatten wandered off into the woods by himself and gathered mosses, ferns and flowers. That was a kindly side to him, but it also had its business aspects.

In the fall Hatten gathered brightly colored leaves, took them to his hotel room, pressed them in a book. When Christmas came, William H. Hatten got out his leaves, pasted them on cheap bits of paper, delivered many of them in person, which saved the postage.

Comments (2)

  1. GMWest1845

    Amazing to run across this! Have written history of George M. West (of Escanaba, and the founding father of Panama city, FL). Hatten was an investor in GMW’s Gulf Coast Development Company and Frank Lathrop was a friend of GMW. Have a photo of Hatten that was in GMW collection. Have a RR pass for the Lathrop-Hatten Railway in 1900. Signed by Frank H. Lathrop. Both men and Effie mentioned often in George’s diaries (George Mortimer West, His Path in History).

  2. You’re welcome! I hope it helps to get a deeper understanding of Hatten.

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