Biography of William Henry Francis

William Henry Francis. Among the men foremost in Montgomery County identified with industrial enterprises, those who have become widely known by reason of the magnitude of their operations and the extent of their trade connections, few are better known than is William Henry Francis, superintendent and manager of the Coffeyville Vitrified Brick and Tile Company’s plants at Coffeyville, Collinsville, Cherryvale and Fort Smith. Mr. Francis has spent his entire career in the business in which he is now engaged, and is maintaining the prestige in business circles attained by his honored father, the late George Francis.

William H. Francis was born at Danville, Pennsylvania, February 10, 1867, and belongs to a family which originated in Ireland and was founded at an early day in Ohio, where the grandfather of Mr. Francis was born. The grandfather was a brick manufacturer of Pennsylvania and fought as a soldier during the Civil war. George Francis was born at Danville, Ponnsylvania, November 30, 1844, and received his education in the public schools. As a young man he became interested in the brick business, and continued to engage therein in Pennsylvania until the latter ’80s, when he came to Coffeyville, Kansas. He first started a small dry press brick plant in the northeast part of the city, where the National Refinery now stands, and later on built a small hand press plant on the site now occupied by the big modern plant of the Coffeyville Vitrifled Brick and Tile Company. It was while operating the small hand press plant that Mr. Francis discovered the shale that has since helped to make this section famous as a brick manufacturing center. Up to that time the shale had been thought to be a formation of soapstone, but Mr. Francis conceived the idea of burning some of it as an experiment and it proved to be one of the finest of brick making shales. The hand plant at that time was not adequate for the manufacture of this high quality of brick, and he therefore interested C. M. Ball, W. H. McMahan and George Picker in the enterprise, the result being the organization of the Coffeyville Vitrifled Brick and Tile Company. This company installed a modern plant and the manufacture of paving and building brick was carried on extensively, the business growing to such an extent that four years later the capital stock was increased to $40,000 and the plant of Stich & Shulthis, at Independence, was taken in by a stock absorption. The company next built a plant at Cherryvale and then one at Chanute, but the latter was closed down a few years ago and a new one opened at Collinsville, while just before closing down the Independence plant the company acquired the plant at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and all four were operated at the same time.

George Francis not only enjoyed the reputation of being the discoverer of brick-making shale west of the Mississippi River, but also of being the first to burn it with natural gas in this part of the country. For years he was general foreman of manufacture for the company at all its plants and at the time of his death held the position of vice president of the company. Necessarily his duties were arduous and heavy, but he found time for many charities and was an ardent church worker. He was kind and sympathetic with the army of men that worked under him and enjoyed their warmest affection at all times. He was a loyal supporter of the First Methodist Church of Coffeyville and was largely responsible for the building of the present handsome edifice of that denomination. Quiet and unassuming, he was a man not of words but of actions, and his true worth was known only to those who knew him best. Mr. Francis was a republican in politics, but his inclinations did not run toward a political life. For a period of fourteen years he was president of the Young Men’s Christian Association at Coffeyville. At the time of his death, which occurred May 18, 1915, he was the owner of his own fine brick residence at No. 312 West Tenth Street, as well as another residence on South Willow Street, and had large oil interests in Kansas.

Mr. Francis was married in 1866, in Danville, Pennsylvania, to Miss Ella Ethlyn, who died in 1900, at Coffeyville, and they had three sons: William Henry, of this notice; Charles, who is general manager of the Francis Brick Company of Moskogee and Boynton, Oklahoma; and Harry, also connected with the Francis interests at Boynton, and a brick manufacturer. Mr. Francis was again married in October, 1904, to Miss Nettie (Irwin) Stamper, who survives him.

William Henry Francis received his education in the public schools of Everett, Pennsylvania, where he was graduated from the high school in 1886. He then became interested in the brick business at Everett, where he remained with his father until 1887, at that time coming to Coffeyville, where he assisted his father in the organization of the Coffeyville Vitrified Brick and Tile Company. Since his father’s death he has succeeded him as superintendent and manager of the Coffeyville, Collinsville and Cherryvale plants, with headquarters at the latter place, where is also his residence, at No. 510 East Fifth Street. Mr. Francis has inherited many of his father’s sterling qualities and is rapidly making his name as well known in brick manufacturing circles as was the elder man’s. His associates place the greatest faith in his knowledge, ability and judgment and his efforts are doing much to advance the business of the company. Mr. Francis has other business interests and holdings and his real estate properties include a residence at No. 513 Fifth Street.

Politically, Mr. Francis is a republican, although, like his father, he has never sought public honors. He is well known and popular in fraternal circles, and holds membership in Cherryvale Lodge, No. 137, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; Cherryvale Chapter, No. 86, Royal Arch Masons; and Saint Bernard Commandery, No. 10, Knights Templar, of Independence; Cherryvale Camp, No. 142, Independent Order of Odd Fellows; and Jayhawker Camp, No. 913, Modern Woodmen of America, Cherryvale. He is likewise an active worker in the Commercial Club and gives his stanch support to all measures calculated to benefit Cherryvale or its citizens.

Mr. Francis was married in 1891 at Coffeyville, to Miss Julia A. Skinner, daughter of James Skinner, who is engaged in the draying business at Coffeyville, and to this union there have been born children as follows: Chester, who resides at Cherryvale and is the proprietor of an automobile garage; Mildred, who lives with her parents, a graduate of the Cherrvale High School; Connett, who assists in the Cherryvale plant of the company of which his father is superintendent; Helen, a graduate of the Cherryvale High School, class of 1916, and now residing with her parents; Georgia, who attends the high school as a member of the junior class; and Wilma and Robert, who are students of the graded schools.



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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