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David M. Parry

David M. Parry*


Thirty years ago one of the Titans of Indiana industry was David Maclean Parry of Indianapolis. Few men in the Hoosier State had risen to such an exalted position in the business world, or had enjoyed more the confidence of the political and financial leaders of the nation. His course in life was steadily upward. The author of a biographical sketch aptly wrote:


The record of Mr. Parry's life shows that from the time he was fifteen years of age his career has been marked by a series of successes —never of a failure. He disclosed from the first, self-reliance—obstacles were overcome as they appeared. His head and his heart and his hands were always in a harmonious alliance. Under his masterful mind order and system predominated. … (1)

Inasmuch as we are all the products of our ancestors, his success may be ascribed in part to his heredity. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, there lived in Wales a civil engineer of "uncommon ability" named Henry Parry. This man resolved to try his luck in America. He accordingly settled in Pennsylvania where he followed his occupation. During the War of 1812 he is said to have served as an artilleryman. Afterwards he became a wheelwright and carpenter and built the first courthouse in Pennsylvania west of the Alleghany Mountains. According to family records, his wife was Sarah, the youngest daughter of Brigadier-General John Cadwalader, Pennsylvania Militia, of Revolutionary fame. This union allied him to some of the foremost families of the Keystone State, while his brother-in-law was a British Peer, the second Baron Erskine.


Twelve children were born to Henry and Sarah Parry. The youngest, Thomas J. Parry, who was born September 24, 1822, became a farmer. He married Lydia, the daughter of David Maclean, who, from 1822 to 1829, was editor and proprietor of The PittsburghGazette. After the birth of two of their children, Edward R. and David M. (the subject of this sketch), the family of Thomas Parry moved to Indiana.

* This article is condensed from the manuscript, "David M. Parry, of Indianapolis, and his Family," by Milton Eubincam, the original of which has been presented to Mr. Parry's widow, who is still a resident of Indianapolis. As the writer plans to issue a complete biography of Mr. Parry in the distant future, any additional information relative to him will be highly welcome.
(1) Men of Progress, Indiana, ed. Will Cumback and Jacob B. Maynard (Indianapolis, 1899), 311–312.


and settled on a farm near Laurel, in Franklin County. He was first a Whig and then a Republican. Of the latter party he was an ardent member. In religious faith he was a Presbyterian. His death occurred on September 21, 1899. The children of Thomas and Lydia Maclean Parry were: Edward R.; David M.; Jennie, who married C. F. Griffith; Thomas H.; and St. Clair. Of these, Edward and David were born in Pennsylvania, the others in Indiana.

David Maclean Parry, second son of Thomas, was born at Ridgeville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 26, 1852. It was the following year that the family settled in Indiana. Until he was sixteen or seventeen years of age, David lived on his father's farm, attending school in the winter, but also receiving instructions from his mother, who apparently was a woman of fine education and superior intelligence. As he grew older, the boy began to realize that if he were to tie himself to a farm he would get nowhere in life. Therefore, he sought and obtained from his father permission to break loose and strike out for himself. The elder Parry had faith in his son.


In 1869 he secured his first real job as a clerk in Laurel at $10.00 a month. For two years he worked in a dry goods store in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Afterwards, in rapid succession, he was employed by his brother Edward in Columbia City, Iowa, and as bookkeeper for the New York Paint and Enamel Company of New York City, which he left to take a position with the wholesale dry goods firm of Oberholser and Keeper. While residing in New York in the early eighteen-seventies, he was the room-mate of Robert G. Dun, afterwards the founder of the great mercantile house bearing his name. In 1873 Parry located in Connersville, Indiana, where he established a hardware business with his brother Edward on capital furnished by their father.


He was not entirely devoted to business, however, for on October 13, 1875, in Brooklyn, New York, he was married to Cora Harbottle, daughter of Thomas and Cora (McIntosh) Harbottle. The ceremony was performed by Mr Parry's friend, the famous clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher. Of this union were born two daughters: Helen, who married Frank H. Fitzgerald, of Indianapolis; and Cora, who became the wife of Warren D. Oakes, of the same city.


In 1876 Thomas J. Parry experienced financial reverses which left him bankrupt. David and Edward promptly sold their business and gave the proceeds—$13,000—to their father. "Such acts of filial devotion are more eloquent than words, however fitly spoken, and D. M. Parry when he surrendered all his savings to relieve his father of debt, disclosed the nobility of his nature and designated himself as one who in the lottery of life ought to draw a capital prize."2


From 1876 to 1878 David Parry was a traveling salesman for the Pappenheimer and Ludlow Hardware Company, of Cincinnati, Ohio. The next four years he spent as a partner with Marion Jamison in a hardware firm at Rushville, Indiana. In 1882 he sold out his share of the business and planned to sell agricultural implements in South America. But in July of that year he suffered a great domestic affliction in the death of his wife at the early age of twenty-four years —an event which completely altered his plans.

He now bought the C. Spring Cart Company at Rushville, and from this humble beginning sprang the great vehicle-manufacturing firm which in the course of a few years was destined to astonish the world with its immensity.


On October 3, 1885, Mr. Parry took as his second wife Hessie Daisy Maxwell, daughter of John Milton and Isabella Maxwell, of Indianapolis. Mrs. Maxwell was the daughter of William and Isabella (Read) Moffett. The new Mrs. Parry was a well-born as her husband. The Maxwells were of an ancient Scottish house, one branch of which, in the person of Bezaleel Maxwell, the First, emigrated to Philadelphia about the beginning of the eighteenth century, afterwards removing to Albemarle County, Virginia. His grandson, Bezaleel III, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was the founder of the Indiana line. His wife, Margaret, was the granddaughter of the Reverend James Anderson (1678–1740), a famous Presbyterian clergyman, whose wife, Miss Sudt Garland, was descended from the noted Verplanck family of New Amsterdam, now New York. Of the many children of Bezaleel and Margaret Maxwell, the most noted was Dr. David Hervey Maxwell (1786–1854), who won fame not only as a physician and surgeon, but likewise as a member of the Constitutional Convention of Indiana, and a founder of Indiana University at Bloomington. John Milton Maxwell (1825–1912), a son of


2 Ibid., 311.

Edward Russell Maxwell and grandson of Bezaleel III, was for many years engaged in the iron business in Indianapolis. His wife, Isabella Read Moffett, was descended from the Honorable George Read, of Delaware, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States. Thus it will be seen that Mrs. Parry's family was not only inextricably associated with the history of the State of Indiana but had contributed towards starting the infant republic on its historic career. She was born on April 22, 1856, and, at more than eighty-one years of age, still lives in Indianapolis, beloved alike by her family and friends.

David M. and Hessie Daisy (Maxwell) Parry were the parents of seven children: Lydia Maxwell, who married William Carey Teasdale, Jr., of Saint Louis; Maxwell Oswald, an aviator killed in action in the World War; Addison Julius; Isabella Maxwell; Ruth, the wife of Victor Gorton; Jeanette, who married Emmert Daniels; and David M., Jr.


In 1886 Addison Byber and J. P. Pratt became interested in Parry's venture. Upon their request he removed to Indianapolis, where, with his brother Thomas, he established The Parry Manufacturing Company of which he became President. He started with only forty men on the payroll, but in a few years his firm was the largest vehicle-manufacturing company of its kind in the world, covering a territory of twenty-two acres and employing 2800 men.


According to a newspaper article of about 1893, the plant consisted of offices, a store and repository, piano-box buggy department, gear and wheels department, shipping-rooms, spring department, surrey department, wood-working department, spring and road-wagon department, boiler house, iron-working department, trimming department, and road-cart department. The anonymous writer of the article adds:


This bare enumeration of departments and buildings … at least conveys an idea of what is, in its entirety, the largest plant in the world for the manufacture of pleasure vehicles.


An inspection of the premises on foot is a good day's work in itself, and such is the multiplicity of departments that the mind becomes somewhat confused, and fails to retain more than an impression that it is something huge.


Unlike other establishments there is a plan followed here that consists in duplicate departments, so that you are going into one paint shop, or trim shop, which you regard large enough in all truth, only to stumble across a duplicate of it in another building. This looks like bad arrangement at first thought, but it is the outcome of wise planning. If fire should consume a third or more of the plant, the following day work could be shipped with the customary regularity, and there would be enough of a completely appointed shop remaining, to continue to turn out in all departments without interruption.


I never saw so many wheels and gears under one roof as is contained in the gear and wheel department. Actually the wheels are stored so thick and in such quantity, that it would seem as if they were moving about in a continual stream, propelled by boys. To stand at a given point and observe the movement is to get dizzy. In the gear room the axle arms of thousands sticking up in close array gives one the idea of regiments of soldiers standing at "shoulder arms" with the barrels of the guns alone visible. It's a great sight!


I saw what was perhaps the largest trim-shop on earth, but it was not so impressive as the other departments. In one building where stuff is gotten out for bodies and gears you would suppose you were in a wood-working factory, so numerous are the machines.


Now, as to work. Of course, when work is built for the million at popular prices, it is hardly expected that the latest refinements in construction will be glaringly conspicuous, but there can be no question that the facilities at hand enable the company to put exceptional wearing value into the work for the price asked. And that is probably the secret of the phenomenal success of the company.


The system of work seems to be about perfection. In all the vast place affairs progress without friction or confusion. Nothing short of executive genius could organize such a plant into its present perfection, and it is to President D. M. Parry that the palm of success must be awarded for producing this highly organized plant.3


In 1890 the Parry Company commenced the manufacture of four-wheeled vehicles on a larger scale than ever before. The Company now produced surries, phaetons, piano-box buggies, spring wagons, etc. The foreign trade was stupendous—Parry buggies and carts being shipped to many other countries, as well as to every state in the Union.


Meanwhile, Mr. Parry was engaged in other activities. He founded and was the President of the Overland Automobile Company, which he later sold to John Willys for $250,000. Becoming interested in the ideas of Henry Ford, he is said to have given that indefatigable manufacturer of "flivvers" his first financial assistance. He also owned an interest in the Claypool Hotel in Indianapolis.


In the political field, D. M. Parry was a very active and enthusiastic adherent of the Republican party. It is believed that he was more fully responsible for the nomination of his friend, General Benjamin Harrison for the presidency of the

3 This anonymous article was clipped from a newspaper of 1893, but unfortunately the date and name of the newspaper cannot be given.

United States than anyone else. Also he was the one who put forward Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks, Senator Albert J. Beveridge, and others. He had the opportunity to become Mayor of Indianapolis, Member of Congress from Indiana, to serve as ambassador to several foreign governments, and nominee for Vice-President of the United States—but declined all these preferred honors.

In the struggle between capitalism and labor, Mr. Parry was quite naturally an ardent champion of the former. It is not to be inferred that he was radically antagonistic to the laboring classes. On the contrary, the ordinary workmen found him quite sympathetic and sincerely desirous to better labor conditions. But he was warmly opposed to organized labor unions, which he denounced in a speech delivered on August 13, 1903, as decidedly lowering "the tone of American citizenship," consigning `the Declaration of Independence to the scrap pile," making "the people foot their enormous bills for enhanced prices," crushing "liberty and aiming at sovereignty." After 1902 he held the office of President of The National Association of Manufacturers of the United States of America, and as such, was a vital factor in capitalistic circles. Many industrial leaders combated labor organizations for their own gain, but such an accusation could not be truthfully hurled at Mr. Parry. As stated by one who knew him: "His high personal character and well-known principles as well as his labors in behalf of the improvements and conditions among the working classes, absolved him from any charge of undue self interest in the position he took, which was for justice to all concerned."


Nevertheless, labor chieftains were so agitated by his outspoken comments at the time that he believed a conspiracy had been formed to kidnap his children and wreak vengeance upon him through them. The situation was such that whenever he ventured about the streets of the city he carried an automatic revolver in each coat pocket, and was accompanied by a heavily-armed bodyguard. He was a sharpshooter and feared no man, while his brother Thomas was the crack pistol shot of the National Guard of Indiana. His beautiful mansion in Golden Hill was guarded night and day. Finally, as the danger seemed to increase, he felt compelled to send his family to the city of Stuttgart, Germany, for safety.

4 New York Tribune, Aug. 14, 1903.

Similar precautions were taken at the Parry plant. A correspondent of the New York Times wrote:


Barring Parry's general office is a wrought iron fence, the entrance through which is a heavy gate which fastens with a spring lock. Back of the gate is a big, burly "bouncer." A flight of steps leads to Parry's office, and at the head of the steps sits a negro with a Winchester rifle across his knees. One cannot interview Parry without first stating his business to two persons, and being questioned, scanned and quizzed.


And then one is face to face with D. M. Parry! He is short and of slight build. His skin resembles parchment. His face is sphinxlike. He is always faultlessly dressed. He never utters an unnecessary word, except when he launches forth in a tirade against labor unions. 5


In October, 1903, Mr. Parry was elected President of the Industrial Association of America, consisting of a federation of employers' associations and citizens' alliances throughout the United States—intended to resist the demands of organized labor. "Meet organization with organization!" was the motto. In 1904 he founded the American Manufacturers' Mutual Life Insurance Company, with headquarters in Indianapolis, of which he was elected president.


As a lineal descendant of distinguished colonial and Revolutionary families, David M. Parry was naturally interested in the work done by patriotic organizations to preserve the memory of the achievements of our heroic forebears of a century and a half ago. He was a member of the Indiana Society of the Sons of the Revolution, of which he was elected Vice-President in 1902, and, in 1909–1910, President.


Always an enthusiastic student of sociology, and devoting much thought to the subject, he produced a book in 1905 entitled: The Scarlet Empire—an attack on Socialism in the form of a novel. The theme concerns a young Socialist who plunges into the sea, descends to a lost Atlantis (The Scarlet Empire), a social democracy where people dwell in slavery, the government grudgingly owing every man a living. In time the hero becomes so disgusted with Socialistic conditions that he finally makes his escape to the upper world. Critics writing for The Literary Digest and The Outlook, while admitting that the story was entertaining and the plot skilfully constructed, agreed that the book as a whole had little literary merit.

As the foregoing account has indicated, Mr. Parry was

5 William J. Burns told the story of the reign of terror about the Parry family in his book, The Masked War (New York, 1913).

very progressive in his ideas. With the introduction of the automobile as a major factor in transportation he did not abandon the construction of carriages and buggies, but expanded his business to include motor-vehicles. He was the founder and President of The Parry Auto Company, of which his sons-in-law, W. C. Teasdale6 and Warran D. Oakes, were Vice-Presidents, and his son, Maxwell O. Parry, was Secretary-Treasurer. The Parry Manufacturing Company had meanwhile passed to the control of his brother, St. Clair Parry, who became President of that concern. In 1909 Mr. Parry became President of the Automobile Insurance Company of America and Vice-President of the Indianapolis Southern Railroad. Many other executive honors were showered upon him at various times. In 1911, after twenty-five years of incessant activity as a manufacturer of vehicles, he retired from active business with the best wishes of his associates.

But his interest in many current problems did not cease with his withdrawal from the firm. Early in 1913, Mr. Parry and John Kirby, Jr., both of whom were former Presidents of The National Manufacturers' Association, planned to sail for Australia to study economic conditions. Their program was rudely shattered, however, that very summer, when accusations were hurled at the Association by the American Federation of Labor that back in 1907 they had attempted to bribe Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor.


Their trip was delayed by a Congressional investigation but Messrs. Parry and Kirby resumed their plans the following year, and, accompanied by Dr. Albert A. Snowden, of the Educational Staff of the National Association of Manufacturers, made an exhaustive study of the situation in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia, and included in their itinerary parts of China, Japan, and Korea.


On the return journey Mr. Parry was suddenly stricken ill aboard the steamer Korea when only two days out of

6 Mr. Teasdale had an interesting career. Besides being Vice-President of The Parry Auto Company, Vice-President of The Shoe Mart Company, of St. Louis, and President of The Pathfinder Company, he was a globe-trotter having traveled more than a million and a half miles about in the world. His home was a veritable museum of objects picked up in India, China, Japan, Korea, Egypt, etc. In ancestry he was not inferior to his wife, for he was a descendant of a long line of eminent Baptist clergymen, and counted among his other forefathers the Honorable John Ogden (1609–1682), Deputy-Governor of East Jersey, and the noted Tuttle family of New England and East Jersey, from which descended the illustrious divine, Jonathan Edwards, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., and others of distinction.

Honolulu. He arrived in San Francisco on August 21, 1914, in a very serious condition. He was met by his sons, Addison J., then a lumber executive in Oregon, and David M. Parry Jr., and rushed to a hospital where the doctors offered little hope for his recovery. Mrs. Parry was at that moment rushing to his side from Indianapolis.

Mr. Parry recovered sufficiently to be taken to his home in Indianapolis, but he was never the same man again. His health perceptibly declined; at times he suffered losses of memory. Uremic poisoning set in, due, it is believed, to the poor food received on his Asiatic tour. During the last weeks of his life, he was confined most of the time to his bed.


His death, which occurred during the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 12, 1915, was not unexpected, but it occasioned considerable shock among his many friends. His wife and all his children,7 except Ruth, who was then in New York City, were at his bedside when he passed away.


Telegrams from Mr. Parry's business associates and from many others in all parts of the world poured into his home, all testifying to the high esteem in which he was universally held. The local Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution honoring their distinguished fellow-citizen, who had played so conspicuous a part in building up the state in general and the city in particular.

The funeral services were held at three o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, May 14, 1915, at his beautiful residence in Golden Hill. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Allan B. Philputt, pastor of the Central Christian Church. The actual interment was private, and took place in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.


Many tributes were paid to Mr. Parry's genius by the press. The Indianapolis News said, in part: "He was of the

7 His eldest son, Maxwell O. Parry, was a realtor by occupation, but he showed much promise as a playwright. During the World War he served as a Second Lieutenant in the 147th Aero Squadron, and as such gallantly met his death, July 8, 1918. His companions turned back, but he remained to fight the enemy single-handed, and was downed. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre by France and the Distinguished Service Cross by the United States. His sister, Mrs. Teasdale, had charge of the food work in Indianapolis during the war, and was active in securing the suffrage for women in that city. Subsequently, she held positions in the city government at Ocean City, N. J., and the federal government at Washington, where her husband died Dec. 25, 1935. They had two children: Priscilla (b. Dec. 14, 1909), who studied obstetrics at Indiana University, and is now the wife of the author of this article (b. March 26, 1909, representative of an old and learned family of Hessian clergymen, and descended through other lines from Willem Rittinghuysen (1644–1708), the first American Mennonite Bishop and paper-manufacturer, and the Hon. John Wills (1660–1746). Vice-President of the West Jersey Council of Proprietors and a member of His Majesty's Provincial Council, etc.); and John Moffett Teasdale (b. Jan. 12, 1912), a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now connected with the Metallizing Engineering Company of New York, with his headquarters at present located at Baltimore.

cheerful and optimistic turn and a delightful companion among his friends. He could also be an open, frank and vigorous foe. In conduct he was always fearless. … His death today will be noted and he will be missed by his many friends and the several business interests to which he had become attached."8

The Indianapolis Star published the following editorial:


The People who knew David M. Parry gained such an impression of his energy and activity that the announcement of his death will bring much surprise to those who have not been aware of his illness, and the event will be difficult to realize.

He was a man of force and varied ability, who made a distinct impression on the community in the years when he was in active business. His executive skill, his power to handle large undertakings, his grasp of commercial affairs, set a pace in local business and manufacturing circles that undoubtedly served as an inspiration to his associates in other lines of activity.

His prominence in the National Manufacturers' Association, of which he was president for several years, and in other national, civic and commercial organizations made him known throughout the country. He made his way to distinction and wealth by his own efforts, having begun as a poor boy, and was one of the notable self-made men of Indiana and an influence in the development of city and state.9

8IndianapolisNews, May 12, 1915.
9 See Indianapolis Star, May 13, 14, 16, 1915, for the above editorial and other items relating to Mr. Parry.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.



Title: David M. Parry

Author: Milton Rubincam

Date: 1938

Source: Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 165-174 


From the Historic Indianapolis.Com 

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