Biography of Harry R. Whittelsey

Harry R. Whittelsey, president and manager of The Whittelsey Mercantile Company, which operates a chain of grocery stores in Topeka, and is one of the largest retail grocery firms in the state.

A native of Redbank, New Jersey, Harry R. Whittelsey has been a resident of Topeka since. November 1, 1881, at which time he was a boy of thirteen. He was born December 5, 1868, a son of William Channcey and Grace M. (Hindes) Whittelsey. Of the six children there were four sons, Louis, Burt, Harry and William, Jr. The Whittelsey family were very prominent in the East. Grandfather W. C. Whittelsey was the first senior surgeon general of the United States navy, and held that office for a number of years. Harry Whittelsey’s maternal graudfather Hindes was a prominent lawyer of Littletown, New Hampshire, was the first librarian of the city library there, and during the War of 1812 he gave the United States Government $60,000 in cash. In return he received a warrant for a tract of land in Virginia. His heirs lost this property, since the records were burned with the court house, and being lost the heirs were not able to prove conclusively either the right to the land or its location.

W. C. Whittelsey, father of Harry R., was educated in district schools and in a college in the South. During the Civil was he was a member of the Sanitary Commission of New Jersey, and he also acted as a messenger between Washington City and the Army of the Potomac. After the war he located in New York City, and for fourteen years was assistant superintendent of Central Park in Brooklyn. In 1881 he brought his family to Topeka, thinking the West offered better advantages for himself and sons.

On arriving in Topeka the senior Mr. Whittelsey embarked in the grocery business at Second and Madison streets. That was the beginning of the present large grocery house operated under the firm name of Whittelsey Mercantile Company. His older sons, with Louis at their head, had active charge of the store, and the business reasonably prospered. W. C. Whittelsey died at Topeka in 1904. His son Louis was head of the grocery house from 1882 to 1891.

With very little capital to begin on, all had to work hard to make the business give them a living. In 1892, after Louis retired from the firm, the Whittelsey Mercantile Company was organized with Harry R. Whittelsey as president and manager. It has been through his keen business judgment and untiring work that this company has developed its trade from one store to nine stores and a warehouse. Four of the store properties are owned by the Mutual Real Estate Company, of which William Whittelsey is president and Harry vice president.

It is also due to the push and enterprise of Harry R. Whittelsey that the Retail Grocers’ Association of Topeka was formed. He conceived and engineered the organization of this association in 1887, renting the hall and sending the announcements of the meeting, and acting as temporary chairman until the regular election of officers. He was then made financial secretary of the body, and later became its president. Mr. Whittelsey is a republican, but is in no sense a politician. He is affiliated with the Knights of Pythias and the United Commercial Travelers and belongs to the Topeka Commercial Club. Religiously he is a Christian Scientist.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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