The History of New York State
Biographies, Part 54

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



Elmira, city of beautiful vitas, by reason of the loveliness of surrounding hills, takes no less pride in the achievements of her people than in the beauty conferred by nature. Charming traditions and colorful history add to her interest ever since that intrepid soldier, Major-General John Sullivan, made the beginnings of history for Elmira and surrounding territory by his conquest of the Six Nations of Indians in the Finger-Lakes Region of New York State. Many the tale of prowess handed down to older present residents of the city had its origin in the very own families of these residents. Grandparents and great-grandparents have told of days spend in rural shop and store, where, during the wars of the Rebellion, the affairs of General George Washington and that great financier, Alexander Hamilton, were familiarly discussed. Glibly did old residents of Elmira relate the courage, the accomplishments, the intimate personal affairs sometimes, of these and other great men of the times, so that the early history of American is but a memory of yesteryears hereabout. Vigilant ever in the preservation of authentic annals, Elmira has been constantly engaged in the perennial task of making and recording history, sifting the untrue from the true, preserving for posterity with fidelity of detail the storied achievement of her sons and daughters. When that great task shall have been completed no name will shine on the pages of local history with more deserved splendor for high achievements and distinguished philanthropy than the name of Edward Joseph Dunn, banker and capitalist.

Edward Joseph Dunn, was born in Elmira, January 23, 1866. He was of Irish ancestry, his parents being Patrick Dunn and Bridget (O'Brien) Dunn. His father, being superintendent of the Elmira Gas Light Company, Edward Joseph began his career with a clerkship in that company, adding to it a clerkship also in the Arnot Real Estate Company. After five years' experience therein, he became bookkeeper in the Chemung Canal Trust Company.

As time advanced, Mr. Dunn's knowledge of banking increased, until thoughts financial and ideas of investments became habitual and spontaneous. Probably later life benefited more greatly by his wisdom as a financier than the bank wherein he started his career when still in his 'teens. By instinct, by training, and by an intrinsic ability to master financial detail and to carry it verbatim ina peculiarly retentive memory, he rose to the position of one of the most highly respected bankers in the country. He guarded this reputation jealously, permitting no problem of important procedure to be concluded without his personal scrutiny during his long association with the Chemung Canal Trust Company.

The history of Mr. Dunn's association with the Chemung Canal Trust Company began, as already stated, with his accepting the position of bookkeeper. In 1900 he became assistant cashier. Three years later he had opportunity to give convincing evidence of his unusual ability. Mathias H. Arnot, then president of the bank, was Mr. Dunn's personal friend and reposed great confidence in him. He himself, being in failing health, many duties of important nature fell to the lot of Mr. Dunn, especially in the proposed merger of the banking interests of the Chemung Canal Bank, as it was then called, and the interests of the Elmira Trust Company. Simultaneously with the actual decision on this union of the two banks, Mr. Dunn was made treasurer, and, as such, was in complete jurisdiction over the intricate mass of detail involved in the merging of these important institutions. He discharged with facility the arduous duties of this task, proving himself eminently worthy of the authority and trust reposed in him.

Mr. and Mrs. Dunn were in France when they received a cable message bearing the news of the death of the late James B. Rathbone, who in the intervening years has become president of the Chemung Canal Trust Company. They started on a homeward journey immediately; but before their ship reached port in American, the local press was publishing prophecy of the probably coercion of Mr. Dunn, by

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bank officials; for the office of president. It was a generally known fact that Mr. Dunn was extremely reluctant to assume the presidency for many reason; but especially because of the pressure of his many other business interests at the time. He yielded to persuasion, however, but only when the need for his leadership at the time was made insistently manifest by his colleagues. Therefore, in 1919, he became president of the Chemung Canal Trust Company, severing relations with the bank only when ill health, shortly before his much lamented death, made such action advisable.

At the time of his resignation, Mr. Dunn had the satisfaction of realizing their sound financial standards had been established and that a program of safe investment and financial procedures was successfully functioning. Few retiring bank presidents could experience as complete gratification as he, for his retrospective and prospective keen financial vision saw unquestionable prosperity ahead in the bank's possession of funds comparatively of such reserve power as had been the experience or joy of few, if any, other banking houses of the same class at that time.

It is a noteworthy fact, not generally known, that when death unexpectedly summoned this gifted man to other rewards, he had begun to make definite plans for the opening of a new banking institution in Washington, District of Columbia. Had time permitted, his realization of this project would have been of keen satisfaction to him. His plans called for the assembling of a notable board of directors, composed of nationally known financiers recognized for honor, dependability and wisdom in monetary matters. With these, and with his own wisdom born of a natural instinct for finance and mellowed by valuable experience, he would have had opportunity to demonstrate in the larger and more advantageous setting of the nation's capital city his high ideals in banking procedure. Judging by his record as a banker, his proposed Washington foundation might have stood as an example among banking institutions throughout the country.

Among his many commercial interests, that of the Eclipse Machine Company had the most astounding result. At the same time this business organization and success demonstrated his remarkable power for administration. The estate of his late friend, Mathias H. Arnot, had been left in his care, he being co-executor with the late James B. Rathbone, who was acting as vice-president of the Chemung Canal Trust Company at the time. In order to increase the resources of the estate and bring it to the best financial condition, Mr. Dunn assumed the re-organization of the Eclipse Company, a part of the estate by reason of loans made by Mr. Arnot to the company previous to his death. Placing the organization upon a firm business basis, it had already begun to function more successfully when Mr. Dunn's attention was directed to a new mechanical device for automobiles. The Eclipse had been engaged principally in the manufacture of bicycle parts until Mr. Dunn brought into the factory a "self-starter," for automobiles known as the Bendix Drive. Realizing the possibilities for greater ease and efficiency in the driving of automobiles by means of eliminating the old objectionable method of "cranking" cars, with this proposed device, he proceeded with the purchase of rights for manufacturing it; and in a record time and at a record price he procured the sole rights tot he patent's use in manufacture, from the inventory, Vincent Bendix. The foresight proved the sesame to his greatest source of wealth. Likewise, those interested with him in the Eclipse Company reaped reward far out of proportion to the monetary investments made. Legitimate profit it was in every case, due to Mr. Dunn's keen foresight, prompt action and wise management of the rapidly increasing business at the Eclipse plant. So greatly in demand did this device become that nearly one hundred per cent of American made cars were equipped with it as well as proportionately large percentage of cars manufactured abroad. By placing the manufacture of this article in care of the Eclipse machine company, Mr. Dunn accomplished three important ends,. First of all, he transmuted the loans made by his friend's estate into excellent resources; secondly, he made for his associates and for himself large fortunes from incredibly small investments; and thirdly, he had the personal satisfaction of arousing a spirit of industrial enthusiasm in his native city.

How completely the rehabilitation of Eclipse Company contributed to the industrial energizing of the city of Elmira was evident when his widow sold the Dunn interests in the concern, which were the controlling interests, to General motors Corporation, one of the greatest corporations governing automotive industries in the world. Unduly fearful that the plant might be moved elsewhere, many did not realize that Mrs. Dunn's action was taken with the understanding that this sale would mean worthy perpetuation of the business her husband had so

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carefully built up, and wit her own expressed wish that the Eclipse would remain in Elmira to give continued employment to the large numbers registered in the organization.

Opportunity was given Mr. Dunn during his presidency of the Elmira Chamber of Commerce to demonstrate his broad vision and practicality for the city at large. Positive action marked his regime; and all Elmira felt his spirit of progress and accomplishment for the general good. His term of office stands out conspicuously as one of the most successful in the history of the Elmira Chamber of Commerce. AS president of the Elmira Community Service, Incorporated, he emphasized and amplified this generous spirit of contribution to the public welfare. He sponsored the public playground movement and allied activities, enthusiasm and efficient management being a moving force for real accomplishment in every enterprise. There was scarcely a detail in the admirable service of the playground system that he did not inaugurate or supervise in some state of its development. The same spirit dominated his activities as a leader among Rotarians and as a member of the Kiwanis.

Much more of a civic project than a personal one was Mr. Dunn's formation of the Dunn Realty Corporation. Realization of urgent need for the development of a more expansive business center than had as yet been provided for in the plan of the city's interests, was felt deeply by both Mr. and Mrs. Dunn. As is the case in the growth of all cities, time and the story of progress with the years brought their demands for expansion and improvement to the city of Elmira. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Dunn on North Main Street overlooked the exact geographical center of the city; and because it was the main artery of the city, it had appealed to their judgment as the logical choice for development as a new and important business street. Mrs. Dunn herself had heard all her life from grandfather, father and in the almost daily conversation of her household that Main Street was destined for many reasons to become the principal business street of Elmira eventually. Its easy accessibility from all surrounding territories, its rapid development as a busy traffic thoroughfare, making it unfit for residential purposes; and the fact already stated, that it was the geographical center of the city--all appealed to reason. The property still occupied by Mrs. Dunn as a city residence had been originally purchased from the notes Colonel William E. Judson by Mrs. Dunn's maternal grandfather, John Purcell, a well-known and successful business man of his generation in Elmira. Later, the property was inherited by Mrs. Dunn's mother and became the residence of the Hon. and Mrs. J. J. O'Conor, Mrs. Dunn's parents. Still later, Mr. and Mrs. Dunn themselves occupied it. Consequently, with the advantage of an outlook, most of her childhood, girlhood and womanhood, upon the promoting features for the centralization of development of business on the appropriate thoroughfare, her enthusiasm abetted and inspired that of her business and his ventures and building program for the development of North Main Street. Therefore, the Dunn Realty Corporation acquired large properties on the street, and erected business buildings noteworthy for stability of foundation, excellence of materials in the superstructure with exceptionally fine window display features, and for admirable provisions for future expansion by the addition of more stories.

A mere list of Mr. Dunn's business affiliations is amazing. He was president of the Eclipse Machine Company of Elmira, the Eclipse Machine Company, Limited, of Walkerville, Ontario, Canada and the Eclipse Company of Hoboken, New Jersey; president of the Eclipse Textile Devices, really an associate foundation of the Eclipse Machine Company of Elmira; president of the Dunn Realty Corporation, already mentioned; executor of the Mathias H. Arnot Estate of Elmira, also hereinbefore mentioned; a director of the Elmira Water, Light and Railroad Company; a director of the Elmira Knitting Mills; a director of the Johnson Oil Refining Company of Chicago, Illinois; a director of the Shepard Electric Crane and Hoist Company of Montour Falls, New York; president of the Arctic League, a charitable organization; vice-president of the Arnot Art Gallery; vice-president of the Elmira Council, Boy Scouts of America; chairman of the Building and Advisory committee of St. Joseph's Hospital, Elmira; president of the St. Vincent de Paul's Society, also a charitable organization; a director of the American-La France Fire Engine Company; and ex-president and director of the Elmira Chamber of Commerce.

In his activities with all these organizations, especially those that mean the industrial and public improvement of the city of Elmira, Mr. Dunn was one of the most constructive leaders engaged in such civic work. It was his spirit of looking forward to better conditions for the city at large which inspired both him and Mrs.

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Dunn in their broad vision for realty development mentioned above. Visualizing a city of which Elmirans might be well proud; a city planned with a view to beauty and utility as well, they viewed in prospect an active business center in logical location, with Main Street become a broader thoroughfare, well-paved, modern in every detail, lined with buildings modern and well-constructed also--a street comparable favorably with the principal business streets of other important cities in the country. With this vision in mind, these interested and intelligent leaders planned, designed and accomplished as much of the realization of that vision as the limited period of Mr. Dunn's busy life permitted.

Not content with mere presiding offices in charitable organizations, Mr. Dunn took active means to conduct an extensive personal program of philanthropic enterprise. He gave not only funds, but personal service, time and his price less advice, to many a failing heart and cause. Thousands upon thousands of dollars passed from the wealthy resources of Mr. and Mrs. Dunn into needy hand, most of it secretly. Only when the entire tale of human life shall have been told, will the world know the extent of benefits conferred by these fine Christian people.

However, even recorded charities, the nature of which made publicity inevitable, tell a hallowed tale of generous philanthropy and practical sociology. The authorities of St. Joseph's Hospital, Elmira, repeatedly bear witness, in private and in public, to the fact that the benefactions of Mr. and Mrs. Dunn made their present excellently equipped institution possible, declaring that it is a blessed reality because of the prodigal giving of not only incalculable sums of money of these people, but also of the equally important aid of executive service.

Notable among the practical public services of Mr. Dunn was his saving for the city of its baseball and sports center. Several years ago the city was in danger of losing this property, then known as Recreation Park. When the fact was brought to Mr. Dunn's attention, he acted with characteristic promptitude and efficiency. He purchased the field, transferred its management to the Dunn Field Corporation and stipulated that whatever profit accrued therefrom should be donated to charity. This act, a genuine public service, merited the abiding gratitude of sports-enthusiasts and the public in general.

In the period of the World War, the ablest of America's executives were called upon to manipulate the new organizations that suddenly came into being to aid the nation's conquest at arms. Among them, Mr. Dunn was asked to take the important office of executive chairman of eight counties of the War Industries Committee and was a member of the Committee of the Sixth Region of War Industries, which had headquarters in Rochester, New York.

Mr. Dunn's club memberships included the following: Old Colony Club of New York; Society of Automobile engineers; Engineers' Club of New York; Knights of Columbus; Elmira Lodge, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Old Timers' Club of America; Congressional Club of Washington, District of Columbia; Aviation Country Club of Detroit, Michigan; Catholic Club of New York; Elmira City Club; Elmira Golf and Country Club; Elmira Rotary; Elmira Kiwanis; the Century and Pine Cliff Clubs, both of Elmira.

Mr. Dunn married, June 29, 1904, Julia O'Conor, the eldest daughter of the late Hon. and Mrs. J. J. O'Conor. A review of the Hon. J. J. O'Conor accompanies this biography. Mr. and Mrs. Dunn experienced twenty-three happy years of wedded life, marked by unswerving loyalty, unity of interests, and Mrs. Dunn's constant contribution to her husband's efforts of intelligent interest, helpful encouragement and inspirational counsel. Daughter and granddaughter of men of achievement, her inherited zest for accomplishment imbued her home and the life of her husband with a constructive spirit of idealism. She aided him in giving practical expression to his own instinctive desires for philanthropy and zeal. Jointly, these two devoted people gave to the world an example of such human conduct as is rarely to be found in the lives of those blessed with so generous a share of this world's wealth and prestige.

In a summary of the distinctive traits of Mr. Dunn's character and of his achievements, emphasis must be placed upon his great-hearted philanthropy. Even among philanthropists, his record stands more admirable by comparison, for his giving had that rare quality of involving ever a part of himself. Truly might one apply to his charities, and his kind heart which prompted them the beautiful passage spoken to Sir Launfal by the visioned Christus:

He who gives himself with his
Gifts feeds three:
Himself, his hungering neighbor,
And me.

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Beneficent, kindly, brave in the face of the great adventure of death, he passed into realms eternal Sunday morning, October 24, 1927. Members of every religious denomination mourned his departure. Great and lowly bowed heads in sincere sorrow. Time has deepened the sense of loss of this great benefactor, for none so public spirited and generous in self-sacrifice has come to replace him. A financier of financiers, but, most of all, a gentleman at heart whose fine spirit apprehended the needs of crying humanity, Edward Joseph Dunn shall take his place worthily indeed in the most lasting annals recorded in the history of the city he best loved and served--his native city of Elmira.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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