Many and varied have been the lines of activity which have claimed the attention of Hon. Thomas M. Blackstock. His business interests have contributed to public prosperity as well as to individual success and his cooperation has been an important factor in advancing humanitarian, charitable and political interests in the state. He is not only one of the early settlers of Sheboygan but has always been one of its prominent citizens, and today in all the county there is no man more highly honored or respected than Thomas M. Blackstock. He was born in County Armagh, in the province of Ulster, Ireland, on the 12th of January, 1834, and is the only son of Thomas and Sarah (Martin) Blackstock, who were also natives of Ulster. The father died when his son Thomas was but three years of age. The latter, until nearly fourteen years of age, received religious instruction under the auspices of a strict Presbyterian Sunday school. He then came to America in 1848 in company with an aunt and his three sisters, his mother having preceded him to the new world several years.
Thomas M. Blackstock, on crossing the Atlantic, took up his abode in St. Catharines, Canada, and in the spring of 1849 came to Sheboygan. The mother, who had previously arrived here, died in this city in 1872. Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is now Mrs. James McBride, of St. Catharines, Canada. Agnes, the second daughter, is the wife of George Churchill and resides near Hamilton, Canada. Susannah is the widow of Theodore Martens and makes her home in Chicago.
Thomas M. Blackstock started out in the business world on his own account, depending upon no influence or aid but solely upon his own efforts for success. For a time he was employed in a hotel and later secured a position in 1850 as clerk in the drug store of Dr. Brown. He devoted six years to that business and his constantly broadening experience and knowledge qualified him for more important undertakings. About 1856 he was made superintendent of construction of the Sheboygan and Fond du Lac plank road and served in that capacity until 1861.
On his retirement from that position he purchased the drug business of Dr. J. J. Brown, of Sheboygan, and conducted the store along profitable lines until 1876. The year previous he was one of the most active in the organization and establishment of the Phoenix Chair Company, of which he was secretary for about a year. He was next chosen president and general manager of the company and held a controlling interest in the business ever since. To him may be largely attributed the founding of the business and its management. Others aided materially, but his connection therewith was a guarantee for the safety of the invested capital. The business grew steadily and along substantial lines and the success of the Phoenix Company has encouraged the establishment of other factories not only of similar character but also of diversified interests.
Mr. Blackstock has ever been a resourceful man, meeting every position of life with the confidence and courage that come of a recognition of his own powers and capacities and a just conception of those experiences which go to make up life's contacts. While he figured prominently in industrial circles as the manager of the Phoenix Chair Company, he also became one of the promoters of the Sheboygan Mutual Loan, Saving and Building Association, of which he has been the president since its organization. This corporation is now capitalized for five million dollars. The association has done much to promote the growth and improvement of the city and to aid people of limited means in securing comfortable homes. From the beginning its business has steadily grown and is still increasing along substantial lines. The association is today the most prominent in the state, having larger assets and a greater number of members than the seven similar associations located in Racine, La Crosse and Kenosha, each of which cities has a greater population than Sheboygan. This business, too, is the result of the enterprise, the sagacity and the executive ability of Mr. Blackstock, who was its organizer in 1885 and has continuously been its president. Its assets amount to one million dollars and its membership is three thousand.
In November, 1861, Mr. Blackstock was united in marriage at Sheboygan, to Miss Bridget Denn, a native of Waterford, Ireland, and a daughter of Martin and Ellen Denn. In addition to the attractive home which he owns and occupies, Mr. Blackstock is largly interested in other real estate in the city and is the president and owner of the South Sheboygan Land Company. He also has a fine farm of one hundred and seventy-four acres within a mile of the city, lying to the north.
While the business interests that have claimed the time and attention of Mr, Blackstock have been extensive and important, he has yet found opportunity to promote many public projects and no plan for the benefit of the city or for the assistance of its people seeks his aid in vain. In politics he is a stalwart republican, taking an active and prominent part in the councils of his party. He has been a central figure in many local and state conventions and his political addresses are always attentively received. While his friends do not claim that he possesses the powers of a great orator, they assert that he has a happy faculty of saying the right thing at the right time, that his speeches abound in pleasant humor and sound sense and that they hold his audience in close attention, leaving a favorable impress upon his hearers. In fact his public speaking in conventions and upon other occasions has won for him a creditable reputation throughout the state. Previous to the republican convention of 1894 his name was prominently mentioned in connection with the gubernatorial candidacy. Mr. Blackstock, however, has served in various local offices. For four terms he was a member of the common council and for three terms was mayor of the city. He was also sent to the state legislature as a member of the lower house. In 1892 he served as a delegate to the republican national convention held in Minneapolis and he was appointed one of the committee to notify President Harrison of his nomination. He was also a delegate to the republican league convention at Denver, Colorado, in May, 1893, and was appointed vice president for Wisconsin. While serving as mayor and after his retirement from that office he was a member of the board of commissioners of public debt and was instrumental in effecting a satisfactory and profitable settlement of the city's indebtedness.
It was Mr. Blackstock who was instrumental in having the soldier's monument placed in Fountain park. It is due to him that a hospital was established in Sheboygan, and thus in these as well as in many other connections his labors have been a vital element in the city's growth. Mr. Blackstock has ever been a generous friend to the Grand Army of the Republic and although he was never an enlisted soldier, the local post of Sheboygan has elected him an honorary member - the only citizen of Wisconsin upon whom such an honor has been conferred.
In a review of the life of Thomas M. Blackstock there is much to commend. He is preeminently a self-made man whose example is well worthy of emulation. Sheboygan's citizens know that he came to this country from a foreign land a penniless lad, that he courageously started in the battle of life and that he has won the victory with enterprise, integrity and indomitable energy as his weapons. He has advanced to wealth and honorable position, and perhaps the memory of his own experience accounts for his warm interest in and kindly aid to young men starting out in life where timely encouragement at a critical turn has brought success and prosperity where failure and utter disappointment seemed inevitable.
In a word, Thomas M. Blackstock has fully met every obligation of life in meeting his personal duties and in his relations with his fellowmen. Progress has been his watchword and as he has advanced he has ever held out a helping hand to fellow travelers on the journey of life.
Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL