William T. Baker
William Taylor Baker, named for his father first name and his mother's maiden name, was born in September of 1841 in West Winfield, NY. He spent his first 14 years in West Winfield. He had one year of formal schooling. At 14, he took a job in town in a country store, earning perhaps a dollar a week.
He later moved to Groton, NY, home to the Groton Academy where his older brother was a professor. Baker, with his brother's connection, was able to get free schooling with the school. He also worked in a general store in Groton.
While in Groton, Banker organized and led a debating club in the village.
In 1856, Baker moved to McLean Village, NY. He again worked in a village store, often sleeping under the counter in the store to protects its goods overnight. He earned $50 per year from the store, but also received board and washing.
While in McLean, Baker contracted typhoid fever which left him nearly deaf.
Baker moved to Chicago in 1861 on this way to the gold fields of the Rocky Mountains. However, his stop in Chicago proved longer as he took a job with Hinckley & Handy, which ran a commission business on South Water Street. Baker started as an accountant, having taught himself accounting after buying a textbook on the subject. He later was given more responsibility and became a trader in the pits at the Chicago Board of Trade. He later became a partner in Hinkley, Handy & Co.
When Hinckley and Handy retired and dissolved the firm, Baker continued alone under his own name.
When the Civil War broke out, Baker did not go, but hired a man for $1000 to serve in his place. The man was a bounty jumper and did not serve however. Baker did later serve as a picket at Camp Douglas, a prisoner of war camp near Chicago.
In 1873, Baker's wife was killed in runaway accident, which prompted him to delve more deeply into his growing business.
Baker partnered with Walter F. Cobb and Charles A. Knight and created the firm of Knight, Baker and Co. after a failed corner in the corn markets left the parties harmed financially. Six or seven CBOT firms failed as a result of the failed corner.
The Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the business of the new firm, though much of their grain was stored beyond the damage of the fire. Knight left the firm in 1872, taking with him the bulk of the capital. Banker and Cobb formed William T. Baker & Co. and rebuilt the company. The company would become one of the largest grain shipping houses in the world.
Baker's firm was involved in an attempted corner of the wheat market by James R. Keene which involved a bogus telegram instructing a broker of Keene's to sell "all you can" above a certain price. Baker and his partner Cobb helped Keene buy back the sold wheat, at a profit. Baker would there after have all of the Keene business.
Later William T. Baker and company would begin buying and selling stocks and bonds on the New York exchange. They were one of the first firms to use a direct wire system between Chicago and New York at a cost of $25,000 per year from the Western Union Telegraph Company.
In 1893, after Cobb retired from the firm, Baker was elected president of the Worlds' Fair. He thereafter retired from business and closed his firm.
Baker was a charter member of the Commercial Club of Chicago in 1887, one of the original 28 members who founded and organized the club. He was also a a member of the Chicago Club and the Iroquois Club and of the Cobden Club of England. He was one of the original directors of the National Biscuit Co. He was one of the original subscribers to the Chicago Auditorium. He was a life member of the Appollo Commandery of the Knight Templars, in which order he attained the 32nd degree. He was also one of the principal pillars of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Baker first served as CBOT president in 1890 and 1891. He later served another 3 terms from 1895 to 1897.
ON October 6, 1903, Baker died in his sleep at night in his country home in Highland Park, IL at the age of 62. The day after he died, the CBOT adjourned during the trading session out of respect for him, something it had never done for another member before. He is interned in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.
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