Bristol, Rhode Island was the birthplace of William T. Wardwell, February 1, 1827. Coming of good old New England ancestry, he exhibits all those solid qualities which characterize men of Puritan stock. In his ninth year, the family moved to a farm near Niles, Michigan, where they remained three or four years. When 13 years of age, William became a clerk in the office of his uncle, Mr. Samuel W. Hawes, who was engaged in the oil business in Buffalo. He speedily developed marked commercial ability and, upon gaining his majority, embarked in business on his own account. By his industry and energy, he won success and was soon called to positions of trust and responsibility. When petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania, he erected a refinery at Buffalo, afterward removing to New York City. The pioneer oil still on Long Island, at Hunt’s Point, was established by him. In 1875, the Standard Oil Company purchased this factory and Mr. Wardwell became connected with that concern, rising in positions of importance, until he became treasurer of the company, an office he holds at the present time. Mr. Wardwell is well known for his charities, being connected with several missions, charitable associations, and dispensaries. He is also a member of the New York Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Wardwell joined the Prohibition Party in 1884. Possessed of considerable means, he has been a very liberal contributor to its support, and he is widely known as one of its most zealous champions. In 1886, he was nominated by the Prohibitionists for mayor of New York City. He has always been active in Party work, and is now (1895) one of the members of the National Prohibition Committee from New York State, and secretary of the national executive committee. He was prominently spoken of as candidate for the presidency in 1892.
In 1852, he married Miss Eliza W. Lanterman, of Binghamton, New York. Eight children were born of this union, of who three survived her death in 1887; but the death, in 1889, of Dr. William L. Wardwell, a brilliant and promising young physician of New York, leaves a son and daughter surviving. Mr. Wardwell was married a second time, in December 1889, to Miss Martha Wallace Ruff. Daughter of the late Dr. Samuel Wallace Ruff, USN.
— Data from An Album of Representative Prohibitionists (1895)
William Thomas Wardwell was born in 1827 in Bristol, Rhode Island. His parents were William Taylor Wardwell, a mechanic and farmer, and Mary Hawes Wardwell. He was the second of 8 children.
When William was 9, the family moved to a farm in Niles, Michigan. Wardwell gained an education from local schools and from lessons by his mother. At 13, he moved to Buffalo, New York and became a clerk at an oil business run by his uncle, Samuel W. Hawes.
Once Wardwell came of age, he started his own oil business. At the time, the oil business was being transformed by the rise of petroleum-based oil. Petroleum had been discovered in Pennsylvania. Wardwell recognized and seized on the opportunity presented. He established a large petroleum refinery in Buffalo, which proved to be successful.
He then moved to New York City and established another oil refinery, Pioneer Oil, at Hunter’s Point on Long Island, as a center for refining and exporting oil. By 1875, Pioneer Oil had become one of the largest refineries in the Eastern United States.
Wardwell sold the Pioneer Oil Refinery to the newly organized Standard Oil Company in 1875, then purchased a controlling interest in the Devoe Manufacturing Company and became its treasurer. Devoe Manufacturing was an oil company which exported oil to foreign markets.
Around the same time, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, which would become the nation’s leading oil company, was in its early stages of development. Given his prominence in the oil industry, Wardwell was recruited to become one of the early key figures in Standard Oil. He served the Company in various capacities, including as treasurer from at least 1893 to around 1901.
Wardwell married his first wife, Eliza W. (Lanterman) Wardwell, in 1853. They had 8 children, with 2 surviving to adulthood: a son, Allen, and a daughter. Eliza Wardwell died in 1887 and in 1889, William married his second wife, Martha (Wallace) Wardwell.
Wardwell was involved in a variety of charitable and cultural institutions while living in New York City. He was president of the New York Red Cross Hospital, donated to various charities, and was a member of the National Arts Club, the New York Zoological Gardens, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New England Society, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the New York Chamber of Commerce.
He was also a strong supporter of temperance and prohibition, having been drawn to the Cause after attending a series of temperance meetings at Chickering Hall in New York City. He was involved with the National Temperance Society and with the American Temperance Union. At some point, he served as director of the National Temperance Societ; he also served as treasurer of the American Temperance Union.
Wardwell initially had been a staunch Democrat, but his support for prohibitionist policies lead him to join the Prohibition Party in 1884. After joining the Party, he quickly rose to become a prominent prohibitionist in New York as well as a significant financial supporter of the Party.
In 1886, Wardwell ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for Mayor of New York City. He received 532 votes and 0.24% of the vote. In 1888, he ran for Mayor of New York City again. He received 832 votes and 0.31% of the total vote. In 1890, Wardwell was the Prohibition Party candidate for New York City Comptroller. He received 1,298 votes and 0,31% of the total vote.
In 1887, Wardwell served as county chairman of the Party in New York County. In 1888, he began serving as a member of the Prohibition Party’s national committee for New York and was a member of the national committee from 1888-1908. Around 1892, Wardwell became the national secretary of the Prohibition Party; he was secretary for at least 8 years.
In 1896, Prohibition Party was affected by a dispute between the Broad-Gauge and Narrow-Gauge factions of the party. The Narrow-Gauge factions wanted the party to hold a platform that was solely or almost exclusively focused on the issue of Prohibition. While the Broad-Gauge faction wanted a broader platform, which included positions on other major issues. This led to a temporary split in the party, where two rival Prohibition Party presidential tickets were nominated, and the party’s overall results decreased from its 1892 results. Wardwell sided with the Narrow-Gauge Faction, and in 1896 he was one of the electors for the presidential ticket of Joshua Levering and Hale Johnson in New York.
In 1897, Wardwell ran for Mayor of New York City for a third time. He advocated for having New York City take stronger action against the liquor traffic. In describing Wardwell, the Standard Union wrote, “He believed that public opinion was not, like a rock, immovable, but could be brought to take the Prohibitionists view of the right way of holding the saloon and its consequent evils in check.” He stated that if elected he would administer the city honestly, and only appoint prohibitionists to the position of police commissioners. On election day, he received 1,359 votes and 0.26% of the total vote.
In 1900, the Prohibition Party nominated Wardwell as its candidate for governor of New York. Wardwell ran on a platform that focused on opposition to the liquor traffic and support for prohibitionist policies. Wardwell criticized New York’s Raines Law, a law which taxed liquor sales and banned the sale of alcohol on Sundays for some places that sold alcohol, but which was poorly designed and allowed saloons to largely get around it by exploiting loopholes in the law.
Wardwell made the following statements in his letter of acceptance: “I can only say, if the people of this State ratify this choice and shall elect me Governor, I will in loyalty to the spirit of the Prohibition Party, to the best of my ability, give to the people of this State an honest, practical, business like administration, seeking only to establish and conserve that which will be for the best interest for this State and the people thereof. An administration unconcerned by 'bosses' and over which the arrogance and blighting influence of the liquor interest will have no power. ..... Time and experience do not weaken, but demonstrate more and more the need of a Prohibition Party. Never was the hopelessness of reform in the old parties more apparent than now. ..... We believe a new day has dawned, one in which moral principle shall have a voice in party politics, and righteousness, the righteousness which exalteth the nation, shall control in civic government. ..... It is a time for Prohibitionists to hold fast to their convictions”
Wardwell made speeches and held campaign events throughout the state during his campaign. He reportedly spent $3,855 over the course of his campaign for Governor. The breakdown of those expenses are: $700 to Prohibition Party national committee, $1,200 to state committee, $360 to the New York County Committee, $450 to the defender (a Prohibition Newspaper), $110 to the Young People’s Prohibition League, $100 to the lecturer C.H. Mead, $125 for Prohibition newspapers and books for distribution, and $340 for incidentals.
Wardwell received 22,704 votes, 1.47% of the total vote, and came in third place. This was an increase from the 18,383 votes by the party’s 1898 candidate for governor.
Towards the end of his life, Wardwell suffered from occasional “attacks indicating a weak heart” and on January 3rd, 1911, he died of heart disease.
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-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley