About Thomas William House, Sr.
Thomas William House, Sr. (1814–1880) was a Texan businessman. He was mayor of Houston, Texas in 1862.
House was born on March 4, 1814 in Stoke St Gregory, Somerset, England. His family was of Dutch origin. "House" was an anglicized version of the Dutch word Huis. In May 1835, House emigrated to New York City. There, he was a successful banker. In 1836, the owner of the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana invited House to run the bakery at the hotel. House agreed and moved to New Orleans. Eventually, in 1838, he opened his own firm, House and Loveridge in Houston, Texas. The next year, he obtained another partner in the form of Charles Shearn, later the chief justice of Harris County. House fell in love with Shearn's daughter Mary Elizabeth, and in 1840 they married. For a time he was alone in business. However, he did notably produce and sell Houston's first ice cream in his store.
Mid-life and Civil War era
In 1851, House helped to organize the steamboat company Houston and Galveston Navigation Company. Their steamboats carried not only freight, but also passengers and U.S. mail. Other companies he worked with included the Texas Transportation Company, the Houston Direct Navigation Company, and the Buffalo Bayou Ship Channel Company. All of these companies contributed to Houston's development. For a brief time, he had a second partnership with his father-in-law Shearn. Later, in 1853, House bought the jobbing business of James H. Stevens and Company. The company was a dealer in dry goods and groceries. He paid $40,000 for it. At the time, it was the largest sum of money to change hands in Houston's history. House renamed the company T.W. House and Company. Edward Mather, an employee since 1841, was his "company". However, when Mather left in 1862, House was alone in business again. During the time they were together, T.W. House and Company became Texas's largest wholesaler. House prospered selling commodities ranging from hides to syrup and from guns to blacksmithing tools. Ox wagons would wait 12 hours for their goods to be loaded into his store. Out of his store, he built his great private bank.
During the Civil War, House supplied the Confederacy. His cotton wagons would go to the Mexican border and back, returning with loads of vital supplies. General John B. Magruder was one of many Confederates to recognize the value of House and his business. From his home in Galveston, House would survey the blockading Union fleet on stormy nights. The next morning, he surveyed them again. If one ship was gone, they were usually chasing his blockade runners. During the war, in 1862, House served one term as the Mayor of Houston.
House did not stop developing Houston after the Civil War. In 1866, he organized the Houston Gas Company, Houston's first public utility. House erected the plant and the mains at a time when the general public was indifferent. Gas first came to hotels and public places. Slowly, it came to private homes, and eventually gas street lamps were erected on the streets of Houston. He also helped organize the first street railway, the Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange, the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, along with many other railroads. In 1870, his wife of thirty years died. In 1872, House purchased an extensive sugar plantation in Arcola. He also grew cotton. In La Salle County, he had a 70,000-acre (280 km2) ranch. However, his health was failing. After seeking medical attention, House died on January 17, 1880, in San Antonio. His will directed that his estate be held together for five years. His mercantile and banking business was also to be operated in his name. One of his sons, Edward M. House, became an adviser to Woodrow Wilson.