SAMUEL LYMAN MUNSON
IT IS both interesting and profitable to trace the prosperous career of men of enterprise in our midst, whose highest aim is to keep abreast with the progressive commercial spirit of the day and to develop or carry on some important branch of industry. Of this class we have a notable example in the following portraiture of Samuel L. Munson, the well-known manufacturer in Hudson Avenue – a man of uncommon pluck, courage, executive ability and untiring perseverance in his business undertakings.
He was born on the 14th of June, 1844, in the town that is now known as Huntington, Mass. He belongs to the old Puritan race that did so much toward the establishment, civilization and growth of New England as well as other portions of this broad land of free institutions. His father, Garry Munson, was a man of noble impulses and remarkable industry – a descendant in the eighth generation in America from old Thomas Munson, who came to this country in 1621, a year after the landing of the Pilgrim fathers at Plymouth Rock, and who was one of the founders of New Haven, Conn., just two hundred and fifty-one years ago.
Garry Munson married Harriet Lyman, a descendant of Richard Lyman, another dauntless Puritan who crossed the Atlantic in a frail vessel, and who, as early as the year 1635, was among that heroic little band of pioneers that started out from the city of Boston in search of new settlements. Pushing their way through dense forests where perhaps the foot of the white man had never trod, infested by wild, ferocious animals, where the Indian war whoop was heard and the dreaded tomahawk gleamed in dark recesses, they at last reached the shores of the Connecticut river, and founded the now flourishing city of Hartford. Around those daring pioneers the thick, tall old trees soon began to fall before their sturdy blows, and rich landscapes were opened to their delighted view. Rude log cabins were first built in great numbers which in subsequent generations were to be replaced by stately buildings, when the wheels of industry were to be fully set in motion, and the tide of commerce was to flow in ever-increasing volume. A man of more than ordinary intelligence, strict integrity, fine business qualifications, Garry Munson was very popular among his old Massachusetts fellow-citizens, who honored him with various offices of public trust, of a state and local nature. He possessed a mind of great vigor and comprehensiveness, which enabled him to carry on successfully, at the same time, the work of a farmer, a dealer in wool, and a manufacturer. In his moral and religious principles and in his just and honorable dealings with his fellow men he was a good representative of those liberty-loving men who, driven by persecution for conscience sake from the old world, first sought an asylum in the wild forests of America. He succeeded in securing an ample store of the good things of this life, and after reaching the allotted period of ” three-score years and ten,” passed calmly away, leaving a fragrant name and the marks of a true nobility, which his descendants will always be proud to cherish.
The parents of Samuel L. Munson spared no pains in training him up in right ways and industrious habits, and in giving him all the educational advantages available. At a tender age he was sent to the common school of his neighborhood, and when he grew older performed the usual manual labor of boys on his father’s farm. But his parents, discovering that his tastes lay rather in the line of business than that of farming, determined to give their boy a chance to become an accomplished business man; and as a preliminary course of training they sent him at the age of twelve to the Williston seminary at East Hampton, Massachusetts, delightfully located in the midst of fine landscapes in view of the old villages of Northampton, Hadley and Amherst, with Mt. Holyoke and Mt. Tom rising in grandeur in the distance. There young Munson passed three years as a diligent and successful student under excellent teachers, and much pleased with the charming natural scenery around him. On leaving this seminary at the age of fifteen, he sought and obtained a situation as a clerk in a first-class dry goods store in Boston, where he remained two years, gaining a practical knowledge of trade in its various departments, and laying the foundation of a substantial mercantile career. But the close confinement and hard work in the store, with the lack of sufficient outdoor exercise soon began to tell upon a constitution not at any time the most robust, and he was obliged to relinquish his clerkship, return home and try by regular daily exercise on the farm to regain his failing strength. This change had the desired effect, and after a year of farm life his health was re-established. And now again the thoughts of a mercantile life began to fill his youthful imagination with pleasing anticipations of future success in the same calling. With an enterprise characteristic of his ancestors, he left home and came to Albany, where he soon obtained a situation as a commercial traveler in the store of Messrs. Wickes & Strong, manufacturers of clothing, his territory lying principally in the west. In this new field of labor, for which he was admirably fitted by natural tastes and gifts, he met with unexpected success in selling goods, while at the same time his health was greatly benefited by frequent trips through the country and breathing its pure, invigorating air.
In 1867, after an experience of four years in this special line of trade, Mr. Munson, in connection with Messrs. J. A. Richardson and L. R. Dwight, two young Albanians, established a linen collar manufactory, under the firm name of Munson, Richardson & Co, Two years later this partnership was finally dissolved, by the retirement of Messrs. Richardson and Dwight, when Mr. Munson boldly and energetically carried on the business alone and became master of the situation. He now began to show more fully his rare, wide-awake and superior business qualities by reorganizing his new concern on a solid and enlarged basis, and continuing it with a success that was truly remarkable at a time when, such an enterprise was only beginning to be developed and pushed in this city.
Mr. Munson at first continued his manufacturing business on a small scale at different places, in Broadway and in Green Street, but his trade increased so rapidly that in a few years it became necessary for him to look around for larger accommodations to do justice to the requirements of his work. In 1884 he made a grand, successful venture by the purchase of the old Hudson Avenue Methodist church, remodeling and enlarging it into a superb building, most suitable for the manufacture of shirts, collars, cuffs, lace goods, handkerchiefs, etc., on the largest scale. A brief description of this imposing edifice, one of the largest of the kind in the Union, may be appropriately introduced here. The building is 140 feet by 68 feet, four stories in height, constructed of pressed brick, the dome roof of the old church alone being retained, and occupies a lot 100 feet by 140 feet running from Hudson avenue to Plain street. On the first floor are the offices and warerooms, most conveniently and tastefully arranged. Mr. Munson’s private office on this floor is fitted up in a beautiful and artistic manner in oak, with fine spruce ceilings and furnished with excellent taste. The sample office and stock-room occupies the entire length of the first floor south of the main offices, in which are systematically arranged in handsome boxes and packages thousands of dozens of shirts, collars, cuffs, etc. The cutting-room, which occupies the entire second floor, and the stitching-room on the third floor, where hundreds of female operatives are busily engaged, are especially interesting to visitors who wish to see work rapidly and extensively carried on by the industrious hands of women.
On the 21st of December, 1885, this entire building, splendidly illuminated, was thrown open to the inspection of the public in the presence of large numbers of business men, citizens and strangers. The various departments of this great factory are in charge of skillful and competent persons, and there every thing moves on with a system as ” methodical as clock work.” As an organizer to plan and conduct a business of such magnitude, Mr. Munson has but few equals and no superiors in the city of Albany. From very small beginnings he has gradually built up a business of vast dimensions, which fully illustrates the fine sentiment of his trade mark, – “Great oaks from little acorns grow.”
Mr. Munson employs from four to five hundred hands in his factory, and his goods, which are manufactured from the best materials, find a ready sale in almost every part of the United States, while he fills numerous orders from abroad.
He is one of the trustees of the Home Savings bank of Albany, a member of the board of trustees of the chamber of commerce and chairman of the committee on manufactures, etc., treasurer of Thepure Baking Powder Co., and is also identified with some of the literary, masonic, athletic and social organizations of the city. With all his pressing business concerns he is a lover of literature, and devotes many a spare moment to the perusal of valuable books and periodicals, of which he has a choice selection. And thus in the walks of an active business career and in general intelligence he is spending a life, now scarcely in its prime, which must command the respect and esteem of all good citizens as supremely devoted to one of the business interests of Albany.
In personal appearance Mr. Munson is of about the medium size, with dark hair and an expression indicative of a thorough knowledge of human nature, winning in his manners, sympathetic in his nature, strict in his integrity, fair and honorable in his dealings, and withal, a full confidence in his own ability to manage the affairs of a large business, in the improvement and steady growth of which his active mind is daily absorbed. In addition to his extensive and varied works here he erected in the spring of 1889 another shirt factory at Cobleskill, N. Y., for an equipment of two hundred more sewing machines. In 1868, Mr. Munson married Miss Susan B. Hopkins, daughter of Lemuel J. Hopkins of Albany. They have a family of six children, four sons and two daughters, and his enjoyment of domestic life is peaceful, serene and happy.