Biography of Joseph Alfred Strowbridge

Strowbridge, Joseph Alfred, was born in Montour county, Pennsylvania, in 1835, the third child of Phillip Moss and Elizabeth K. (Smith) Strowbridge. His father was a farmer who soon after Joseph’s birth, moved with his family to Marion county, Ohio. Here the youth of our subject was passed. His educational advantages were mostly confined to the district school, but with the assistance of an aunt who resided with the family he made rapid and substantial progress in his studies. So well prepared was he that at the early age of fourteen years, he taught a school near his home, and in the examination to which he was subjected to secure the position, he stood the highest among several applicants all of whom were much older than he. It was his intention to obtain a thorough education but his plans were not carried out, for while preparing to enter the Ohio Wesleyan University, his father determined to move to Oregon. The family, consisting of father, mother and five children, started across the plains with horse teams in October, 1851, and reached St. Joseph, Missouri at the beginning of winter. Here they remained until the following spring when they again took up the long journey. The emigrants of 1852 experienced perhaps greater hardships than had ever confronted others who crossed the plains. Not only did they suffer from the extreme drouth of that year, but that dread disease the cholera, made its appearance and hundreds died on the way. The Strowbridge family was not exempted from its share of the calamities that fell to the lot of all. A boy next to the youngest of the children, died of cholera and was buried on the trail which was lined with new made graves. On the 3rd of October, 1852,. just one year after they left their home in Ohio, the family arrived in Portland. The death of the son had a most depressing influence on the father. He was taken with the so called mountain fever at The Dalles, and died a few days after his arrival in Portland. Added to this great misfortune, the winter of 1852 was one of great severity and all of their stock perished.

To young Strowbridge was left the support of the family. Most gloomy indeed did the outlook appear. Provisions and all the necessaries of life were selling at fabulous prices and the matter of mere existence was a serious question. In vain did he seek employment but work was scarce and every situation had many applicants. In the spring of 1853, he, however, secured a situation in a humble capacity in a hotel at Oregon City, where he remained until July of the following year. In the mean time he was constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to better his fortune. Boy as he was, his natural aptitude for trade asserted itself. While employed at the hotel he began to buy of the farmers, eggs and butter which he shipped to San Francisco and realized a handsome profit. In the summer of 1853 he bought up a quantity of apples and sent them to San Francisco, probably the first produce of this kind ever sent from this locality to that market. Good returns from this venture led him the following summer to devote his whole time and attention to buying and shipping fruit to California. Great success followed his undertaking in this direction and he had made quite a start on the road to fortune when the failure of Adam & Co’s bank in 1856, in which all of his funds were deposited, reduced him to almost a penniless condition. He had, however, established an excellent credit, and it was not long before he was again firmly established in the fruit business, in which he continued until 1860. He was indeed a pioneer in this branch of business which has since grown to large proportions. Commencing in a humble way he helped to develop it to such an extent that in 1860 over 7,000 boxes were shipped from this section.

In 1860 he embarked in the retail boot and shoe business with C. M. Wiberg under the firm name of Wiberg & Strowbridge. Four years later, appreciating the possibilities of this line of trade, Mr. Strowbridge went to Boston, Mass., and opened up direct business relationship with the manufacturers of that city and henceforth received his supplies from Boston instead of depending on the San Francisco market. At the same time the firm began to do a wholesale business, the first venture of its kind in Portland, in which they continued with gratifying success until 1869, when Mr. Strowbridge retired and started the business in which he is now engaged, that of leather findings and boot and shoe supplies. Marked success has followed his exertions in this line of trade and with the exception of the destruction of his store and its contents in the great conflagration of 1873 he has had an uninterrupted period of well deserved prosperity.

Mr. Strowbridge has always been a firm believer in Portland’s ultimate destiny as a great commercial center and the profits of his business he has freely invested in real estate in and near the city. He is the owner of fine business blocks in the central part of the city, besides valuable suburban land and of several tracts of rich wheat land a few miles from Spokane Falls, Washington. All of his investments in real estate have been made with good judgment and have secured for him a handsome fortune. The ground upon which his present residence was built, in 1873, was purchased in 1856, at that time quite a distance from the business center of the town and covered with forest, but has since grown to be one of the most desirable resident portions of the city.

Mr. Strowbridge was married on July 4, 1864, to Miss Mary H. Bodman, daughter of Dr. H. A. Bodman, of Oxford, Ohio. They have had five children, Alfred B., engaged in farming in Clackamas County; Geo. H., a druggist of Portland; Joseph A. Jr., an assistant in his father’s store; Harry H. and Mary H., at home attending school.

Although always a strong republican Mr. Strowbridge had never taken an active part in political affairs until the presidential campaign of 1888, when, believing the issue between the parties, relative to the tariff, was one that demanded the earnest attention of business men he became actively interested in the election of the Republican candidates. He had been often importuned to accept political nominations but he had declined until that year to become a candidate. He then, however, at the earnest solicitation of his friends accepted the nomination for the house of representatives for Multnomah County and was elected by a large majority. He has already served one year of his term and during the session of 1889 took a prominent part in behalf of measures for the city and State.

As a business man Mr. Strowbridge is regarded as possessing a shrewd, practical, well balanced mind, while his reputation as an honorable gentleman of the highest integrity has been firmly established. During a business career which covers a period from the pioneer days of Portland to the present time, he has retained the respect and confidence of the entire community. He has led a very industrious life and has had his share of the rebuffs of fortune, but patient and well directed work has triumphed over every obstacle and to-day he is in the possession of an ample fortune which has been honestly and fairly won and which he worthily enjoys. All his efforts have been in directions which have added to Portland’s prosperity and every dollar he has acquired has enriched the entire community.

He was among the first members of the Portland Volunteer Fire Department, and with feelings of pride cherishes a certificate stating that he is an exempt fireman of Willamette Company, No. 1. He was among the organizers and is still a member of the Board of Trade, and was one of the earliest promoters of the Portland Library Association. He is a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen and is president of the board of directors elected to build a temple for the order in Portland. He has always been a man of the most exemplary habits and the good health he now enjoys, despite the active life he has led, is in a large measure due to his abstemious manner of living. He is a regular attendant at the First Congregational church and is a member of the board of trustees. To religious and benevolent work he contributes his full share and is one of the board of directors of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society. He is a strong sup-porter of schools and toward all agencies that tend to improve mankind, add to the public good or to advance the material growth of the city where he has so been an honored and trusted citizen, he is always ready to lend a helping hand. But little past the prime of life, and still in the active ranks of Portland’s progressive business men, there would seem to be many years before this pioneer of Oregon in which to enjoy all he has so honorably and justly earned and to partake of the prosperity which his years of toil so largely assisted to create in the “sunset land” of the Pacific.


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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