Henry W. Corbett, U.S. Senator

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Henry Winslow Corbett

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Elijah Corbett and Melinda Corbett

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Immediate Family

About Henry W. Corbett, U.S. Senator


Henry Winslow Corbett (February 18, 1827 – March 31, 1903) was an American businessman and politician in the state of Oregon. A native of Massachusetts, he spend much of his early life in the state of New York before moving to the Oregon Territory where he continued his business interests in retail, and later transportation and banking. A Republican, he served as a United States Senator from 1867 to 1873.

Early years

Henry Corbett was born in Westborough, Massachusetts, on February 18, 1827. Of English descent, his parents were Elijah and Melinda Corbett. In 1831, he moved with his parents to the town of White Creek, New York in 1831. Corbett attended the local common schools and then engaged in mercantile pursuits in Cambridge, New York, starting in 1840. There he also attended Cambridge Academy before he moved to New York City in 1843 and was employed in the mercantile business there until 1851.


Later in 1851, Corbett sailed with a stock of goods around Cape Horn to Portland, Oregon, arriving on March 7, 1851. Corbett's supplies took over a month to arrive, so he explored the territory. Once his goods arrived, he set up shop at the corner of Front and Oak streets, paying $125 per month to operate his general merchandising business, opening on April 28, 1851. Backed by East Coast banks, his store grossed $83,000 in its first 14 months of sales, sending $20,000 to its supplier in New York, Williams, Bradford & Company and keeping $20,000 profit for himself. On the advice of his supplier who noted the downturn in the California Gold Rush, Corbett left for New York in July 1852, leaving his store with employees Finley McLaren and Robert McLaren. In 1853, Corbett married Caroline E. Jagger from Albany, New York, then returned to Portland by July 1853.

Corbett renamed the store as Corbett & McLarens, became an independent buyer. He began purchasing for his store and other merchants who wanted to buy directly from New York, rather than buying overpriced goods from San Francisco. He also offered credit to his customers, which increased his sales against competitors. In June 1854, Corbett dissolved his partnership with the McLarens and began specializing in high-margin farm equipment, including the McCormick combine harvester.

Having bought a house on their 1853 return to Portland, Caroline Jagger and Corbett had two sons. Caroline died in 1866, and he remarried the next year to Emma L. Ruggles. Corbett purchased the California Stage Line, which carried both mail and passengers, in 1863.

The First National Bank, established in Oregon in 1866 under the National Banking Act, was for a number of years the only bank west of the Rocky Mountains. Corbett and his brother-in-law Henry Failing, a former mayor of Portland, purchased nearly all First National's stock in 1869; Failing became the bank's president. The bank prospered under their joint management, becoming one of the most successful banks in the Northwestern U.S.

In 1871 Corbett joined the Failing family business, and two of Failing's younger brothers (Edward and James) later joined as well. The business was renamed to Corbett, Failing & Co. The business turned exclusively to wholesale merchandizing, and became the largest of its kind in the northwestern United States.

Also in the 1870s, Corbett made a brief foray into newspaper publishing. With others, he bought a majority portion of The Oregonian in 1872 from Henry Pittock; Pittock regained majority control in 1877.

Corbett and Failing were elected as directors of Oregon Railway and Navigation Company (ORNC) in June 1888, along with Henry Villard, Christopher Meyer, John Hubert Hall, Sidney Dillon, Charles S. Colby, Colgate Hoyt, C. H. Lewis, W. S. Ladd, Cyrus A. Dolph, W. H. Holcomb, and S. B. Wiley. Contemporary elections for the Oregon and Transcontinental and the Northern Pacific Terminal Company installed many of the same men on the boards of those companies as well. The elections were understood to signal no change at ORNC, underscoring their intent to extend the Farmington Line to the Coeur D'Alene Mines, and were viewed as a defeat of Villard and his initiative to jointly lease property of the Northern Pacific and the Union Pacific.

Corbett also became involved in building and investment business interests.

Political career

In Portland, Corbett was selected as city treasurer, and later was a member of the city council. Corbett also served as chairman of the Oregon Republican Party's central committee. Corbett was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1866, and served from March 4, 1867, to March 4, 1873. He was not a candidate for re-election in 1873, and returned to Portland where he resumed work on his business interests. On March 6, 1897, was appointed to the U.S. Senate for a second term in the office, set to begin on March 4, 1897. He was appointed after the Oregon Legislative Assembly failed to organize and elect a Senator, however, Corbett was not permitted to qualify and the office went unfilled. Corbett ran for the seat in 1901, but lost.

Later years

Corbett continued his business activities and served a director for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. He served as president of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition from January 1902 until his death the next year. Henry Winslow Corbett died in Portland on March 31, 1903, at the age of 76 and was interred at River View Cemetery in that city. The town of Corbett, Oregon is named after him. His descendants Gretchen Corbett and Winslow Corbett are television and stage actresses.

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Henry W. Corbett, U.S. Senator's Timeline

Age 76