To the subject of this sketch more than to any other person, perhaps, is due the fact that the finest plant in the United States for the manufacture of table oil cloth is now located in Rock Island. During a long career as traveling salesman for an eastern manufacturer he was impressed with the advantages of the upper Mississippi valley as a site for a factory, and it was the soundness of his reasoning which impressed the officers of the Standard Oil Cloth Company and led to the location of the present factory on the Father of Waters at Rock Island. The new establishment, it may be added, prospered from the beginning, and bids fair to see substantial developments from time to time.
James Augustus Wendell, sales agent for the Rock Island plant of the Standard Oil Cloth Company, and a stockholder of the Company, was born at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, October 23, 1848, the son of Joseph Wendell, a prominent merchant of Bethlehem. In the public schools of his native city, Bethlehem Academy and the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Seminary, he obtained a good general education, and at the age of seventeen entered the employ of a wholesale boot and shoe house at Philadelphia. Starting as errand boy he rose successively to bookkeeper, traveling salesman and junior partner, this last position being reached in 1871. The panic of 1873, however, swept the firm under and our subject became traveling salesman for a wholesale boot and shoe house at Easton, Pennsylvania. In 1877 Mr. Wendell went to New York, where he took a lucrative position as head bookkeeper in an extensive coffee and spice importing house. After four years he made another change, becoming bookkeeper for the Atha & Hughes table oil cloth manufacturing concern at Newark, New Jersey, with headquarters at New York. This he did to escape the confinement of office work, being promised the first vacant territory as traveling salesman.
In 1883 the promise was fulfilled and Mr. Wendell took a road position in which his ability quickly manifested itself. He remained with this concern till 1900, when it was purchased by the Standard people. In this period he traveled in every section of the United States, and always met with success. The transfer of the business did not affect his work and he continued in the same capacity under the new owners. While with Atha & Hughes he had advocated the advisability of erecting a factory on the Mississippi River, and it seemed at one time that his dream was to be realized. Then the opportunity to sell came and the project was dropped. The same plan was later laid before the Standard Table Oil Cloth Company, and Rock Island was suggested as the site on account of its advantages as a distributing point. Eventually another man was sent to the Mississippi valley to select a location for a factory and he, too, recommended Rock Island. Thus it came about that in 1902 the Rock Island factory was erected and Mr. Wendell was sent west to sell its products. The new plant has a capacity of 2,500 pieces of twelve yards each, daily, and it has never been idle a day on account of lack of orders.
In 1902 Mr. Wendell was sent to Europe by his employers to gather new ideas and find new markets for the firm’s wares. He was given a free hand and covered twelve countries of central Europe in one hundred days, his mission being an unqualified success.
The subject of this sketch was married July 23, 1871, uniting with Anna R. Shemelia, daughter of Michael Shemelia, of Camden, New Jersey. The couple have three children: Mary Charlotte, wife of William A. Drabble, of Newark, New Jersey; Lillian Hazleton, wife of William T. Van Arsdale, general agent for the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, with offices at Peoria; and Elliott Hughes, a graduate of Yale in the class of 1905, and now also in the employ of Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York City.
Mr. Wendell is a communicant of Trinity Episcopal Church, of Rock Island. He is a member and trustee of Rock Island Lodge, No. 980, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and also holds membership in the Rock Island Club.