George W. Stephens was born February 22, 1799, in Ligonier Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and died at Moline, Illinois, July 12, 1892.
He was christened George Washington Stephens because of his birthday being the same as that of the Father of our Country, but he dropped the ” Washington” from his name because of a dislike of seeing the names of distinguished men attached to others. His father was Randall Stephens, a soldier of the war of 1812 and the grandson of Captain Alexander Stephens who was attached to the Army of the Second Edward the Pre-tender. After the battle of Culloden in which the forces of Edward were disastrously defeated, Alexander Stephens fled to this country, where he entered the Army of Washington and fought under him in the French and Indian wars. He founded what was known as the Penn Colony at the junction of the Susquehanna and Junniata Rivers in 1746. Some years later a son. Amos, was granted 11 acres of land in Westmoreland County by the State for distinguished service of his father in the Revolution, and this land is still in the possession of the family, the son of a sister owning it.
Alexander afterward went to Georgia, where his grandson, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, became a United States Senator and the Vice-President of the Confederate States. His mother, Martha Boggs, was a resident of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Stephens came West in 1841 without a dollar save what he had earned. He had given all he had received from his father to a brother who was married, and whom he thought needed the family inheritance more than he did. He had learned the millwright’s trade and had built several mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio, so that he was well equipped for the work there was in Moline. He told his friends when he went away that he would not come back until he had a thousand dollars, an amount that among the farmers of the rugged hills of Pennsylvania was a large fortune. But on his way here he was offered the construction of a mill in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and as he found no work awaiting him on his arrival in Moline he returned and built the mill in Pennsylvania and came back to Moline in 1843. The flouring mill of D. B. Sears was then ready for the machinery. Soon after this he built the sawmill on the Island for Sears, Wood & Company. He had charge of the machinery of that mill for five years. In 1859, in company with Jonathan Huntoon and Timothy Wood, he leased the mill, and two years later the three men bought it, the firm name being Stephens, Huntoon & Wood. They made furniture in addition to running a sawmill. Their mill was a very large one for those times, having a capacity of 3,000,000 feet annually. In 1864 the owners were notified by the Government to leave the Island, but an extension of time was granted them and it was not until 1866 that they left. The Government paid them $28,270.00 for their property in 1867. In 1865 Henry Candee, R. K. Swan and Andrew Furberg had organized a company for the manufacture of hayrakes, fanning mills and kindred machinery, with a capital of $18,000. Mr.. Swan believed there was room for a second plow factory in Moline, and when Mr. Stephens was out of the sawmill business Mr. Swan urged him to come into their firm and make it a plow company. The Company was formed with a capital of $24,000. In 1870 it was incorporated as the Moline Plow Company with a capital of $250,000. This has been increased until it is now $6,000,000.
Mr. Stephens became its First Vice-President, holding that position until 1885 when he resigned and made a trip to Mexico. Upon the death of S. W. Wheelock Mr. Stephens was made President and held that position until his death, at which time the Board of Directors passed the following resolutions, showing their sincere regard for him:
” Mr. George Stephens, our dearly beloved President, at the age of four score years and three, departed this mortal life on the night of July 12th. Quietly, peacefully and with-out pain he passed away, a gentle and fitting end for the kindly gentleman who by his upright and just nature, his unblemished reputation and his amiable characteristics endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact.”
“Virtue, truth and sobriety were ever dear to him. All through his life he earnestly endeavored to practice and follow these attributes. Like the sturdy oak of the forest he was a monument of honor and strength among his fellow men, and always stood before the world as a type of the square, just, upright and honorable man.”
“He was a plain man, who loved his home and family. He was a just man, who never consciously wronged a person. He was a kind man, whose private aid to the distressed was heartfelt and characteristic of his noble spirit. His memory will long be cherished by those who enjoyed his acquaintance and friendship. As a tribute to his memory and in commemoration of our regard, esteem and love be it,
“Resolved and Ordered, That a page of our records be inscribed with this memorial and copies transmitted to the family and press.”
“By Committee of Board of Directors of Moline Plow Co.” “Moline, Illinois, July 21, 1902.”
Mr. Stephen’s energy made the business grow from the time he took an interest in it until the factory became one of the largest in the world.
Mr. Stephens’ education was limited to that which he could get in the private schools about his home, but he was a great reader, especially on scientific subjects, and he investigated carefully the latest scientific theories as they came out. He was one of the first in Moline to adopt the theory of evolution. His mind became stored with knowledge acquired in this way.
In 1846 he married Miss Mary A. Gardner of Rock Island. She was born near Ithaca, New York, and like her husband, was of a distinguished ancestry, being of the family of Stephen Hopkins, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and Esek Hopkins, the founder of the American Navy. She was also a descendant of the Wilkinson family that founded the City of Providence, Rhode Island. She died on the 4th of February, 1888.
There were born to Mr. and Mrs. Stephens eight children, six of whom are still living, they being G. A. and C. R. Stephens, Mary, wife of George H. Huntoon; Minnie, wife of F. G. Allen; Nellie, wife of Charles H. Lippincott, Hollywood, California, and Ada E., of Moline.
Mr. Stephens in his life was one of the most genial of men. He met all the men in his employ as men, and they all entertained the highest respect for him as a man. Among business men he was looked to as a clear-headed man whose advice was always sound. He was a man of the highest integrity in all business matters, and his great business ability has been shown in the growth of the great institution of which he was at the head.