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James Lotan was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1843, and is of Irish descent, his father John Lotan, having been born in Ireland and emigrated to America in 1840. Until his twelfth year young Lotan attended the public schools of his native city. He then became an apprentice to the machinist trade in his uncle’s shop. After acquiring a full knowledge of his trade he went to Jacksonville, Florida, where with an elder brother he was employed until the war of the Rebellion began, when he returned home, and a few months thereafter, in May 1861, enlisted for two years in Company C, Ninth New York Volunteer Regiment, commanded by Col. Rush C. Hawkins. This regiment was first stationed at Fort Monroe and from there proceeded to Newport News, where it took part in a fight at Great Bethel, which resulted in one of the first victories for the Union army. It left Newport News, with Gen. Butler’s expedition and at Fort Hatteras joined Gen. Burnside’s command, proceeding with this division of the army up Pamlico Sound to Newbern, N. C., where it fought a battle. From this point it proceeded back to Roanoke Island and from there to Newbern, participating in the battle of South Mills and in numerous skirmishes along the line of March. From Newbern the regiment proceeded through the Dismal Swamps to Norfolk, Virginia, and from there by way of Newport News to Aquila Creek where it joined the Army of the Potomac, and formed a part of Burn-side’s division during the terrible slaughter of Union men at the battles of Fredericksburg, Antietam and South Mountain. At the latter battle the ninth lost heavily, and after being twice recruited went back to Newport News, where Mr. Lotan remained with the regiment until his term of enlistment expired. He was mustered out in June, 1863.
In July, 1863, Mr. Lotan went to Washington, D. C., where he was employed at his trade in the navy yard until May, 1864, when he sailed from New York, via Panama, for San Francisco, arriving in the latter city after a voyage of thirty-nine days. After working at his trade in San Francisco, and Victoria, Vancouver’s Island, a few months, in April, 1865, he came to Portland, where he has ever since continued to reside. For seven years after coming to Portland he was employed by the Oregon Iron Works, the first two years as a journeyman and the remainder of the time as foreman of the machine shop. In 1872 he became superintendent of the Willamette Iron Works. He soon after purchased a small amount of its stock and as he was able continued to add to his original purchase until he acquired, several years ago, a half interest in the concern, the works now being owned by Mr. Lotan and M. W. Henderson, each having an equal interest. They employ over one hundred men, and do a general foundry and machine business, but make a specialty of steamboat boilers and engines, and in this line for several years past, have made more than all the rest of similar works in Portland combined. In 1884 they established a shop at The Dalles, known as the Fulton Iron Works, where twenty-five men are employed, principally in making railroad castings for the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company. Mr. Lotan is manager of both concerns and it is almost solely owing to his practical knowledge and constant supervision of the business that such a high degree of success has been attained.
In 1870 Mr. Lotan was appointed United States Local Inspector of steam vessels, by Secretary Boutwell. At the time of his appointment there were only seventy-one steamboats in the district under his jurisdiction. This number had increased to one hundred and seventy in 1887, and his duties in relation to them consumed so much of the time which his personal and private business demanded that he was forced to resign the position. His practical mechanical knowledge made his services in this connection highly valuable and much appreciated by the government.
Soon after coming to Portland, Mr. Lotan joined the Washington Guards, one of the leading military organizations of that day, and took quite an interest in local military affairs. He was elected 2d Lieut. of the company, and when the Washing-ton Guards’ and the Emmett Guards were formed into a battalion, he was elected and commissioned its Major, holding this office until the battalion was disbanded some two years later. He also served for fifteen years in the old Volunteer Fire Department, of Portland, and rendered valuable assistance in the organization of the present paid department. He was appointed a fire commissioner in 1883, by Mayor Chapman, a position he still retains and most acceptably fills.
Mr. Lotan has always been an enthusiastic republican, and in local political affairs for the last seventeen years, has taken a most prominent part. Personally he has never been a seeker after office, but no one in Portland has more persistently labored for the success of his party and candidates than Mr. Lotan. His position as a leader is well recognized, and has been thrust upon him more by the force of circumstances and the knowledge of his friends of his political sagacity and ability for leadership, than through any desire on his part for political notoriety or influence. He has repeatedly been chairman of the Republican County Committee, and at present holds this position. In every campaign which has been waged during recent years in city and State politics, Mr. Lotan has taken a prominent part. He is a man of strong personality, and while not naturally aggressive, is, when occasion demands it, a hard fighter, and not easily driven from a stand he may take as to men or political principles.
Mr. Lotan has been successful in business as the result of hard, persistent work, and because of his thorough and practical knowledge of the line in which he is engaged. The business which he practically controls is no inconsiderable factor in the city’s prosperity, and in the years to come promises to become a still more important element in Portland’s material development.
Mr. Lotan was married in 1868 to Miss Emma Carroll, of Portland. They have one son, who is assisting his father in the management of his business.