Alfred Jonathan Harwi, deceased, during life was one of the leading business men of Atchison, and his keen foresight, energy, and marked business ability made him a millionaire. He was born at Ritterville, Lehigh county, Pennsylvania, Jan. 21, 1847, the oldest of four sons born to Michael and Lucretia Harwi. One of the children died in infancy, and the others followed the elder brother to Atchison and helped him in the business he had established there. Edward C. Harwi died suddenly a few years ago and the surviving brother, W. H. Harwi, is secretary and treasurer of the A. J. Harwi Hardware Company. There was one sister, but she died when a child in Pennsylvania. The father was just preparing to come West to his sons, in Atchison, when he, too, was summoned by the angel of death. During his life Michael Harwi was what is known as a heavy carpenter and engaged in building canal locks. He also farmed for a time, and when he died was engaged in quarrying and contracting for slate. His widow came to Atchison and lived here some years before her death.
Alfred Harwi was educated in his native state, attended the district schools until ten years of age, and then entered a Moravian school at Bethlehem, walking four miles across a mountain every day in order to complete his education. After spending two years in this institution he entered a general store at Bethlehem and continued his education in the great school of experience. While acquiring knowledge of business, he read, listened, and learned, and thus became a man of advanced thought, learned to read men, and was one of the refined and polished men of affairs. While working in the store at Bethlehem he was thrifty, saved some of his wages, and at the age of twenty-one went into the furniture business with J. B. Zimmelle, but sold out two years later to come West. He married Cora Wheeler, of Bethlehem, while in business there, and when he located at Butler, Mo., engaged in the hardware and implement business with his father-in-law. This partnership was dissolved a few years later and Mr. Harwi went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he clerked in a hardware store, but remained there less than a year. In 1875 he came to Atchison. At that time he did not have sufficient capital to start in business alone, so he took C. H. Dearborn as a partner, and they began a retail hardware business in a small way in the building at 408 Commercial street. At once the affairs of the concern began to prosper, due to Mr. Harwi's intelligence and common sense business methods and also to his wonderful capacity for work. This retail hardware store soon became one of the leading, local business enterprises of the rapidly growing city of Atchison. In the early '80s, when the business had assumed enormous proportions as a retail establishment, Mr. Harwi conceived the idea of engaging in the jobbing business, and in accordance with the characteristic methods of his successful business career, found action for his ideas. The result is one of the great wholesale hardware houses of the West, represented by about twenty traveling salesmen, covering four states, while over fifty local employees are engaged to handle the vast amount of office work and the great warehouse and shipping details incident to such a mercantile institution as the A. J. Harwi Hardware Company has developed into within thirty-five years. Their commodious four-story office and warehouse building, located on the corner of Commercial and Ninth streets, is one of the modern business houses of Atchison. One can begin to realize the scope and extent of this business when he stops to think that it requires 75,000 square feet of floor space to afford ample warehouse facilities. In 1889 the A. J. Harwi Hardware Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000.
The first time Mr. Harwi was ever known to deviate from his commercial career came when he was elected state senator from the Atchison district, but he did not let this interfere with his supervision of the business, for he worked all day in Topeka and then took the evening train for Atchison and spent the greater part of the night working at his desk. His ability was soon recognized by his colleagues and there was some talk of running him for governor, but he did not encourage it, as the demands of his business, which had been reorganized as the "Harwi Hardware Company," demanded all of his time and energies. The head of such a concern was of necessity a hard worker, but he was a man who never spared himself, and had he conserved his strength he might have lived longer. For over twenty-five years he was a sufferer from locomoter ataxia, but up to within six months of his death was able to give full attention to his business. He passed away Sept. 5, 1910. His wealth was not wholly represented by the wholesale business, as he had accumulated money and loaned it out to the extent of over $500,000, and yet was never known to have foreclosed a mortgage.
Mr. Harwi was married three times. Of the first union one child, a daughter, was born, and she is the wife of E. P. Ripley, of Boston. Mr. Harwi's second marriage was to Elizabeth Whitehead, of Atchison, in 1873, and two children were born of the unionMrs. H. P. Shedd, of Bensonhurst, Long Island, and Frank H., president of the Harwi Hardware Company. Mr. Harwi's third marriage occurred June 3, 1909, to Mrs. Mary E. Holland, who survives him. All his life Mr. Harwi was a public-spirited man and contributed generously to philanthropic work. Although a member of the Congregational church, he was a trustee of Midland College, Atchison, and established the Harwi prizes. he also served as trustee of the county high school at Effingham.Pages 96-98 from volume III, part 1 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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