Orlando F. Weber
MAN OF WEALTH AND MYSTERY
WDT 08 12 1960
Not many people know that one of the 12 wealthiest men in this century hailed from Watertown. He was the late Orlando F. Weber who spent his boyhood here and was generally regarded as a native of this city.
He went on to become an international figure, ranked among the 12 wealthiest men in the world, a man who had a positive genius for making money and organizing international business combines.
He was the founder and head of the Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation, one of the world’s greatest and most potent industrial empires. Mr. Weber died in New York on Sept. 6, 1945, at the age of 66. He had several homes but death came to him while he was in his apartment in the Waldorf Towers at 910 Fifth Avenue.
Although Watertown was frequently given as his birthplace, it apparently was not. The New York Herald Tribune gave his birthplace as Grafton, Wis., the New York Times said he first saw the light of day in Fredonia, Wis., and a Milwaukee paper gave it as Ulao, near Port Washington, Wis.
Regardless of where he was born, he did come to Watertown as a child and spent his early years here and went to school here and played and went swimming with a lot of Watertown boys who lived in the Sixth Ward.
At the time of his death Mr. Weber’s personal fortune was immense. One year his salary alone was $740,000.
He maintained three homes in New York, one, an apartment, in the Waldorf Towers, a town house on Fifth Avenue and a country estate at Mount Kisco.
New York papers did not mention the place of his burial. He insisted on strict secrecy even in death. And he lived up to the title publications had given him in his lifetime — “The Mystery Man of Wall Street.”
After spending his boyhood here, he went to Milwaukee, where he entered his first business venture — a bicycle shop.
In 1902 he moved to Chicago and became one of the pioneers in the automobile business. Thereafter, still following the lure of the auto industry, he went to 'Detroit and then to New York.
His executive talents were soon discovered by Eugene Meyer, publisher and financier, who in 1915 put him in charge of the Maxwell Automobile Company. The business prospered under Mr. Weber’s direction . . .
Despite his wishes, Mr. Weber’s name appeared in print almost daily for several months during the battles. At the time, the Stock Exchange threatened to remove from its stock lists all shares of Allied common and preferred stock unless the corporation complied with demands to release information about its holdings.
Mr. Weber charged that foreign interests were trying to obtain representation in the corporation in an attempt to uncover the Allied company’s secrets. His main argument against the opposition was that the management should be supported “in maintaining the American Chemical industry for American capital and American labor.” However, Mr. Weber agreed later to give more data about the corporation.
In 1934 Mr. Weber resigned as president of Allied and a year later as chairman of the board.
Mr. Weber was a personal friend of Walter Schroeder, head of the Schroeder hotel chain and on the occasion of one of his rare and unpublicized visits to Milwaukee, had breakfast with Schroeder in the hotel coffee shop when a Milwaukee newsman “stole up” and snapped a picture of him. It was one of the few pictures ever taken of Mr. Weber and he was displeased that it had been obtained.
It appeared in Life magazine and gave many in the financial world their first glimpse of the man about whom they heard so much and knew so little.
Mr. Weber’s father, strange to relate, was a Milwaukee Socialist and long active in the union labor movement.
At the time of his death Mr. Weber was survived by his wife, the former Clare Harding of Mount Kisco, N. Y., a daughter, three grandchildren and a brother, Charles F. Weber.
The final rites for Mr. Weber were held in secret with only members of the family “invited” to attend.
At the time of his death not even the few former friends of his in Watertown learned of it until they saw a report in the Daily Times and that came the day after his death and was relayed to the Times through a private New York news agency.
Mr. Weber’s movements were always shrouded in mystery and even on his visits back to Wisconsin he traveled in a private railroad car and made several trips to northern Wisconsin for vacations cloaked in absolute secrecy.
He was from all accounts, a typical tycoon.
- Cl. H. W.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin