Biography of Robert Wingate

ROBERT WINGATE. – Among the many enterprising and successful representative men to whom the city of Tacoma owes so much for her present advanced position among Pacific cities, and for the assurance of future success, Robert Wingate deserves an exalted place. He is a Scotsman by birth, but is thoroughly identified with the land of his adoption, and is warmly attached to her popular institutions. He was born near Glasgow, Scotland, on the 17th of March, 1840. He received a thorough common-school education at the Western Academy in Glasgow. His father was a coal expert, a mining engineer, and the lessee of several coal mines. Upon leaving school, the son Robert entered upon an apprenticeship, beginning at the lowest round, and received under that practical father a training exclusively restricted to coal-mining. That mining education was only acquired by passing through every gradation.

In his eighteenth year he became underground foreman in the Craig End Colliery. That continued to be his duty until, at the age of twenty, he had been promoted to the position of superintendent, called in Western Scotland manager. In that station he acted until 1864, greatly maturing his knowledge and experience, and being invested with great responsibility. During that year he came to California, bearing with him highly commendatory testimonials as to his knowledge, experience and reliability from the coal inspectors of the Western district of Scotland. His first experience on the Pacific slope was in the employ of Robert William Watt, in quartz-mining in Grass valley, Nevada county, California. He only continued at that for a short time.

In September, 1864, he returned to California and assumed the management of the Eureka and Independent coal mines at Mount Diablo. The Independent mine was about seven hundred feet deep, and had been considered the most difficult mine in the whole region. It had been worked for three years, and had always been regarded as a failure. In the twenty-fifth year of his age, Mr. Wingate took charge. two hundred and fifty thousand dollars had been expended; and until then there had been no prospect of a return for the investment. Mr. Wingate was a man of great pride as to his proficiency in utilizing labor; and his highest ambition was to procure a successful development and a profitable return for mining labor. To him at that time salary was but a secondary object. He looked ahead – he aimed to acquire reputation in his profession, which he intended to secure in the successful accomplishment of the best results to his employers.

His administrative ability was remarkable, his energy untiring. He asked no men under his charge to go where he himself would not go; and working with them he gained them to his purpose, and imbued them with the same ambitious hopes that he himself entertained. His control over men was singularly great. He selected the men he needed. He fully appreciated the task expected of them, and aptly understood the method of stimulating them to the greatest service. Every man was tried and tested. Each were then associated with him in his purpose to accomplish a named result; and seldom did his personal will-power fail to secure cordial co-operation in his plans by those who were under his charge. He himself visited and inspected every part of the work, not as a spy to observe who were guilty of short-coming, but by his presence to encourage labor and suggest his views. In fact he labored with them as one of themselves; and thus he succeeded by example and personal presence in winning to himself hearty and zealous coadjutors, who gladly seconded him in the performance of his designs.

Under his administration of affairs, that mine for the first time in its history became a success. His management gave infinite satisfaction and great joy to the German stockholders. When he took charge, the shaft was twenty-two feet long, nine feet wide, and was all twisted. It required to be entirely re-timbered. When engaging his services, the company had asked the length of time required to place the mine in a working condition. His answer was ninety days. the company appropriated thirty-five thousand dollars to meet the expenses and disbursements, and allowed him three months. His arrangements were all so skillfully made, and so successfully executed by his employés, that in seventy-eight days he was taking out coal. Thereafter the mine has continued to be a success and a source of large profit to its owners. the compensation the company allowed to Mr. Wingate was three hundred and fifty dollars per month; and he continued to manage its mines until August, 1869.

From there he went to the Eastport mine at Coos Bay, Oregon. That mine had been producing only in a small way. Again Mr. Wingate’s administrative abilities were called in requisition; and again he organized systematic, co-operative labor and development. The result was soon apparent in a largely increased output of coal; and for the first time the mine yielded profit. It paid a dividend of one per cent on an inflated stock of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

At the beginning of 1875, Mr. Wingate located in San Francisco, where for three years he devoted himself exclusively to the pursuit of a mining expert. Within that period he had visited Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and done considerable prospecting for coal. His examinations resulted in his recommending R.D. Chandler to open the South Wellington mine. Subsequently Mr. Chandler employed Mr. Wingate to go to Vancouver Island and open that mine, which he successfully accomplished during the year 1878. At the close of that year, Mr. Wingate came to Tacoma. In the month of November, 1879, he prospected the rich and extensive coalfields in the vicinity of Carbon river, in Pierce county, for the Carbon Hill Coal Company, and opened and developed the coal mines at Carbonado. He continued in charge of the mining operations of that company at Carbonado for two years, at which time those mines were sold to Charles Crocker. Mr. Wingate then came to the city of Tacoma, Washington territory, with his family, and has from that time made his residence in that city.

Mr. Wingate is emphatically a man of work. He has never been idle, but has been and continues to be one of the most enterprising, active and public-spirited of Tacoma’s citizens. No public enterprise is projected that fails to receive his substantial encouragement; and every plan for the promotion of the public welfare has the benefit of his hearty goodwill and zealous co-operation. He is a man of broad and charitable views, aiding every movement for the advancement of education, morality or the well-being of the community. Of large physique, with a brain and heart in proportion, Robert Wingate is one of the biggest, broadest and best of Tacoma’s substantial men. The architect of his own fortune, the trusted and zealous laborer for the best interests of those who secured and recognized his services, he is now reaping in comparative ease, not inactivity, however, the well-earned reward of integrity, industry, devotion to business, and the natural accretion resulting from wisely made investments in real estate, dictated by sagacity and far-reaching views as to the possibilities of the great Northwest. None to a greater extent enjoys the confidence of the business men of the community in which he dwells; and none more than he deserves the affectionate regard of his fellow-citizens for his works of charity, and for an enlarged and unstinted sympathy with every movement which makes the community better adapted for the homes of men, women and children.

Mr. Wingate, since his adoption of Tacoma as a residence, has practiced his profession of mining engineer. He has been a successful operator in real estate, and has attained wealth by judicious investments. coal, however, has been his specialty; and liberally has he expended money and time in prospecting and locating coal mines. At present he gives considerable attention to the duties of the office of vice-president of the Olympia & Chehalis Valley Railroad Company, and as a director in the Tacoma National Bank, in both of which corporations he is a large stockholder. The portrait which accompanies this sketch presents features which unmistakably portray the strong will, the earnest purpose, the unselfish and disinterested liberality and sterling integrity which are the characteristics of him who has largely contributed to the rapid development and assured future prominence of the city of Tacoma, his adopted home.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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