Biography of Webster Colburn

Webster Colburn is the vice president and general manager of the Dorris Motor Car Company of St. Louis and is one of the progressive and representative manufacturers of the city who holds to high standards which if universally followed would prevent all strikes and labor unrest. His course has ever been one of justice and fairness with his employes and his success has been the merited outcome of his industry and ability. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 9, 1876, Mr. Colburn is a son of Webster J. and Ada Elizabeth (Brabson) Colburn. The father was born in Fredonia, New York, November 26, 1840, and in his childhood was taken to Madison, Wisconsin, where he remained until 1861, when at the age of twenty-one years he joined the Union army for three months’ service. Within that period it was seen that the war was to be no mere holiday affair and he reenlisted for the period of hostilities. At various times he won promotion until he reached the rank of major and was known by that title throughout his remaining days. It was in 1867 that he wedded Ada Elizabeth Brabson and removed to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he engaged in the general insurance business as senior partner in the firm of W. J. Colburn & Company. Under that style he conducted his business with notable success for fifty-one years, or until his death, which occurred December 13, 1918. His wife was a daughter of Congressman Reese B. Brabson, who was an extensive land owner and prominent attorney of Chattanooga and served as a member of congress from his district. He was filling that office at the time of the outbreak of the Civil war and was one of the few to retain a seat in congress until its adjournment at the beginning of hostilities. While not in favor of secession he felt he must remain with his state, although he did not join the army on account of an injury to his ankle, sustained in a runaway accident. Ada Elizabeth (Brabson) Colburn died in May, 1911. By her marriage she became the mother of five sons and six daughters.

Webster Colburn, who was the sixth in order of birth in this family, was educated in the public schools and in the Manual Training School, which was one of the first schools of the kind organized in the United States, being established in connection with the public school system of Chattanooga. When his school days were over he joined his father in the insurance business and was thus engaged for three years. Later he became connected with Nagle, Holcomb & Company, contractors of Chicago who were building the Tennessee Central Railroad, his position being that of timekeeper. He afterward returned to Chattanooga and was employed in the accounting department of the Chattanooga Roofing & Paving Company, while subsequently he took charge of the roofing department of the Mountain City Stove & Manufacturing Company.

In 1903 he came to St. Louis and accepted a position with the FergusonMcKinney Dry Goods Company and a little later secured a position in the savings department of the St. Louis Union Trust Company. In September, 1903, he went with the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company, which was the fourth company in the United States to manufacture and market automobiles. On the 15th of August, 1905, he assisted in organizing the Dorris Motor Car Company, of which he was elected secretary, thus continuing until January 3, 1918, when he was elected vice president and general manager. The establishment of which he is one of the chief officials is a very harmonious aggregation of employers and employes. There have been no unsettled conditions nor strikes, in the plant during the period of his management, for he is at all times fair and just and believes in paying a good living wage to those in his employ. During the war the company engaged in the manufacture of parts for the ordnance department of the federal government.

On the 22d of November, 1905, Mr. Colburn was married in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Miss Leila Owen Llewellyn, a daughter of Morgan and Sarah (Powell) Llewellyn. Her father was one of the most prominent manufacturers of this section, especially in connection with iron and steel manufacturing.

He died February 17, 1920, having for a number of years survived his wife, who passed away in August, 1902. Mr. and Mrs. Colburn are members of the Rock Hill Presbyterian church of St. Louis county and his political endorsement is given to the republican party. He is a director of the St. Louis Auto Manufacturers & Dealers Association and in 1921 was elected chairman of the Safe Drivers School, held under the auspices of the St. Louis Safety Council. He belongs to the Missouri Athletic Association and finds his recreation largely in reading and study, especially study of the affairs pertaining to business, financial and labor conditions. His position is an advanced one and he is a leader in the thought and activity which bears upon many modern problems of this character, his course being characterized by high ideals which reach their culmination in practical fulfillment.



Stevens, Walter B. Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State) One Hundred Years In The Union 1820-1921 Vol 6. St. Louis-Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. 1921.

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