Biography of George A. Steel

George A. Steel, the present Postmaster of Portland, was born in Stafford, Ohio, April 22, 1846, and is a younger brother of James Steel, whose biography appears elsewhere in this volume. At a period when most boys have only fairly began to lay the foundation for their after career, he was thrown on his own resources. The most limited opportunities were therefore afforded him in youth for acquiring even a practical education. The school of experience and self study have been the chief means of preparing him for the part he was to perform in life’s battles. At the age of sixteen he came to Portland, where he first secured employment as clerk in a commission house. In 1865 he was appointed clerk in the Portland Post office, which position he resigned to accept an appointment as secretary of the Oregon Iron Works. He afterwards secured a position in the banking house of Ladd & Tilton as accountant, and was thus employed for nearly five years.

In 1870 he embarked in the wholesale and retail book and stationery business with J. K. Gill, under the firm name of Gill & Steel. This partnership was continued for some time, but finally Mr. Steel assumed sole charge of a portion of the business.

In January, 1877, he was appointed Special Agent of the Post Office Department for the Northwest Coast. He resigned this position in 1879, and accepted the Deputy Collectorship at Portland, which he retained until 1880, when he resigned. In 1881 his name was sent to the Senate by President Garfield for the position of Postmaster of Portland. Vexatious delays occurring, he did not take charge of the office until July 1, 1881, and that was on a temporary appointment, made after the adjournment of the Senate. In October of the same year, upon the reassembling of the Senate, (after the death of President Garfield,) his appointment was made for four years by President Arthur. His term of office expired in October, 1885, at which time the Democratic party was in control of the National Goverment, and a Democrat was selected as his successor. During his administration the postoffice was admirably conduted. In the management of the most difficult branch of the public service, he succeeded in conducting the office to the general satisfaction of the business public-a task in a city of the size and importance of Portland, requiring a high order of business judgment and rare administrative ability. Prior to the expiration of his term of office, he had embarked with his brother, James Steel, in the fire insurance business, under the firm name of G. A. Steel & Co. After his retirement from the postoffice he largely devoted his attention to. this line of business, and his efforts in this direction have been rewarded with a high degree of success. His relinquishment of official life was, how-ever, of brief duration. 1n June, 1886 he was nominated and elected State Senator for Multnomah County, for a term of four years, a position for which he was admirably fitted, and where his services were highly prized by his constituents.

In January, 1889, Mr. Steel and his brother secured the incorporation of the Metropolitan Railway Company, a corporation created for the purpose of building an electric motor line from Portland to Fulton Park. Of this company Mr. Steel was elected President, and from that time to the present he has largely devoted his time to carrying out the object of the company. Active work upon the motor line was soon begun and energetically prosecuted, and in January, 1890, the line was completed and in operation from G street, thence south along Second street to Fulton Park Power House, a distance of over four miles. This is one of the finest equipped motor lines in the country, and has fully demonstrated the practicability and utility of electricity as a motive power in the operation of a rapid transit city and suburban railway. It is the intention of the owners in the near future to extend the line to the cemeteries, and finally to Oregon City. The building of this road has made easily accessible some of the most desirable residence property of Portland, which has thus been largely increased in value. The construction of this road was accomplished solely through Mr. Steel and brother, who contributed nearly all the necessary stock, and through many discouragements and difficulties, successfully carried the project to completion. To their enterprise and public spirit, the city is indebted for this valuable transportation system, which is destined to be an important factor in the city’s future development and prosperity.

In December, 1889, Mr. Steel was nominated by President Harrison, and speedily confirmed by the Senate, for another term as Postmaster of Portland. This was an honor which came entirely unsolicited, he being in no sense a candidate for the position. His known fitness for the place, and the enviable reputation he had made in the office during his first term, were the considerations which induced his party friends to almost unanimously urge his nomination. His selection was received by the citizens of Portland, without regard to party lines, with warm words of approval, while the press of the city united in commending the appointment. In April, 1890, he entered upon the discharge of his duties, succeeding Postmaster C. W. Roby, who had been appointed as Mr. Steel’s successor in 1885.

Mr. Steel has always been an ardent Republican, and for many years has been a well recognized force in the political history of Oregon. In 1876 he was elected chair-man of the Republican State Committee, and his able management of the hotly con-tested election of that year, contributed in great measure to the success of the Republicans -a result which will always have a national significance, as Oregon’s three electoral votes decided the presidential contest. For ten years following this memorable campaign, Mr. Steel’s services were enlisted in nearly every State campaign, either as chairman or secretary of the State Committee, his ability as a political leader being highly valued by his party.

He was married February 18, 1869, to Miss Eva Pope, daughter of Charles Pope, one of the early settlers of Oregon. He is a member of the First Congregational Church, and is a friend and helper of every worthy cause. In the prosperity which has come to Portland during recent years he has cheerfully contributed his full share. He is a hard worker, progressive and public spirited in his ideas, and one whose entire career has been synonymous with integrity and manliness. He possesses in an eminent degree the qualities most needed in a public official. He is naturally courteous in manner, painstaking in the performance of every duty, and has a high order of administrative and executive ability. During the years of his public life, he has so acted as to leave the impression under all circumstances of being animated by a conscientious purpose to faithfully discharge every trust, regardless of consequences-a record which has firmly established him in the confidence and respect of the public. He is genial and social in nature, easily wins and retains friends, and is deservedly popular throughout the State, while in the city of his home, where he has so long resided and is so thoroughly known, he has justly earned by a life of strict probity and integrity, the good opinion of his fellows.


Biography, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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