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Ohio businessman who became a powerful force in the Republican Party
Marcus Alonzo Hanna was born in New Lisbon, Ohio, on September 24, 1837, the son of Leonard and Samantha Converse Hanna. The family moved to Cleveland in 1852, where his father established a successful wholesale grocery business. After graduating from Cleveland Central High School in 1857, Mark entered Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio; he was expelled after a year for participating in a prank.
After leaving college, Mark entered his father's business. Starting out as a salesman, he learned the business from the ground up and before long had become a partner in the firm. He assumed management of the company upon his father's death, on December 15, 1862.
Unwilling to leave his family for service in the Union Army during the Civil War, Hanna did serve as one of Ohio's Hundred Days Men in 1864. He saw no combat while serving on garrison duty at Washington, DC., and left the army with the rank of Second Lieutenant. On September 27, 1864, he married Charlotte Augusta Rhodes, the daughter of a successful iron and coal merchant; the couple ultimately had two children, Daniel Rhodes and Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms.
With the Civil War over and a new wife to support, Hanna began exploring new business ventures. Foreseeing a demand for petroleum products, he built a refinery. He also invested his own money in the Lac La Belle, a swift Great Lakes steamer. Unfortunately, the ship sank and the refinery burned, and Hanna was reduced to near bankruptcy. Fortunately, his father-in-law saw great potential in his son-in-law and took Hanna into his business as a partner in 1867. The firm, Rhodes and Company (later M.A. Hanna and Company), dealt principally in coal and steel, but under Hanna expanded into many fields, including the ownership of a fleet of lake steamships constructed in their own shipyards and the control and operation of valuable coal and iron mines. The company also had close dealings with the railroads. Hanna assumed control of the company upon his father-in-law's death in 1877, and changed its name to M.A. Hanna and Co. in 1885. Hanna also owned the West Side Railway, which later became the Woodland Ave. and West Side Railway Co., and, in the late-1870's, he purchased the Euclid Ave. Opera House so it could continue to operate even when it could not afford to pay rent. In 1880, Hanna added The Cleveland Herald newspaper to his business empire.
Hanna's involvement in politics began in 1868, when he supported Ulysses S. Grant during the presidential campaign. In 1869, he was elected to the Cleveland Board of Education, but as he was traveling a good deal for business at the time, was able to attend less than half the meetings. Hanna's involvement in Republican Party politics remained primarily local until 1880, when Ohio Representative James Garfield was nominated for the presidency. Hanna helped found a businessman's fundraising club to raise money for Garfield's personal expenses in the campaign, and he personally roamed across Ohio to persuade business owners to contribute to the Garfield campaign. After Garfield's assassination, Hanna headed the committee which took charge of the late president's body when it was brought to Cleveland and saw to the funeral arrangements and interment at Lake View Cemetery.
At the 1884 Republican National Convention, Hanna supported the nomination of U.S. Senator John Sherman (a fellow Ohioan) to succeed Chester Arthur as President, but the nomination ultimately went to Maine Senator James G. Blaine. Although he remained a supporter of the Republican ticket, Hanna did not actively participate in the presidential campaign. Blaine ultimately lost the election to Democrat Grover Cleveland.
During the first Cleveland administration, Hanna continued to run his businesses, and prepared for another presidential bid by Sherman. President Cleveland appointed Hanna as one of the Union Pacific Railroad's directors, and his knowledge of the coal business led to him being appointed head of one of the board's committees with responsibility in that area.. He also served as a major campaign adviser and fundraiser for Joseph B. Foraker's successful runs for Governor in 1885 and 1887.
As a delegate to the 1888 Republican National Convention, Hanna once again supported the nomination of John Sherman, but Sherman once again failed to win over enough delegates and the nomination ultimately went to Benjamin Harrison. Despite his favored candidate losing the nomination, Hanna was an active supporter of and fundraiser for Harrison's campaign. After Harrison won the election, Hanna began looking for another Ohioan to run for President. As Sherman was already in his 60's, Hanna knew he needed to find a younger candidate, and the man he chose to be Sherman's successor was U.S. Congressman William McKinley.
In November of 1889, Hanna managed McKinley's campaign for Speaker of the House, which was unsuccessful, and in 1890, McKinley lost his bid for re-election to Congress. Rather than give up on his favored candidate, Hanna instead helped him gain the Republican nomination for Governor of Ohio. With McKinley's candidacy needing little of his personal attention, Hanna spent most of 1891 working to secure Sherman's re-election to the U.S. Senate by raising funds to secure the election of as many Republican candidates to the Ohio State Senate as possible (Senators were elected by state legislatures at the time). McKinley won the governorship, Republicans secured a majority in the Ohio State Legislature, and Sherman was re-elected to another term in the U.S. Senate. This string of successes served to establish Hanna as a major force in the Republican Party.
Hanna presented McKinley as an alternative to the unpopular Harrison at the 1892 Republican National Convention. Although Harrison was ultimately re-nominated, McKinley gained valuable support within the party. McKinley won re-election as Governor of Ohio the following year.
In 1894, Hanna withdrew from his business interests so he could devote his efforts to getting McKinley nominated as the Republican candidate for President in 1896. Although McKinley refused to publicly commit to running for the nomination until his term as Governor was over, Hanna considerable time organizing support, raising funds, and making deals in preparation for the 1896 Republican National Convention. By the time the Republicans met in St. Louis, even Democrats acknowledged that McKinley would be the Republican candidate for President. Once McKinley was formally nominated, Hanna took care of the active campaign against Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan while McKinley stayed with his sick wife in Canton, Ohio, and gave speeches from his front porch.
When McKinley won the presidency in 1896, it was assumed that Hanna would be rewarded with a Cabinet position. Hanna, however, declined a position, saying that he would prefer a seat in the U.S. Senate. Hanna got his wish in 1897, when Ohio Governor Asa Bushnell appointed him to the Senate seat vacated by John Sherman, who had been named Secretary of State. Elected to a full term by the Ohio Senate in 1898 and re-elected in 1904, Hanna ultimately served in the Senate from March 5, 1897 to his death. Relatively quiet in the Senate, Hanna's only major contributions during his tenure was supporting the Spanish-American War and convincing Congress to support building of the Panama Canal. In 1904, there was talk of placing Hanna's name on the ballot at the Republican National Convention, but Hanna nixed the idea in favor of maintaing peace within the party, despite not being a fan of Theodore Roosevelt.
Mark Hanna died of typhoid fever in Washington, D.C., on February 15, 1905, and was buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
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This page was last updated on September 24, 2018.