Walter Cottingham - Sherwin-Williams President

9717 Lake Shore Boulevard
Walter Horace Cottingham
Walter Horace Cottingham

From a humble Canadian boy of poor parents, Walter Cottingham rose from penniless to be one of the world’s foremost paint manufacturers and the guiding director of Sherwin-Williams Company doing business in every part of the world.

Walter believed there was no way a man could be of higher public service than by running a legitimate and successful business. He was the author of many business books published in America and England sold in every country in the world. He was known for authoring many quotations. His favorite being, “A dead fish can float with the stream, but it takes a live one to swim against it.” Another was, “Intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings.”

Walter Horace Cottingham was born in Omemee, Ontario, Canada, on January 8, 1866, to William and Lucy Cottingham. His mother was an English woman, and his father was an Irishman. His mother died when he was six years old, and his father died two years later, with his affairs in such poor shape that nothing was left for his small son.

Walter lived with a sister and attended public schools. At the early age of fifteen, he began as a clerk in a hardware store in Peterboro, Ontario. The following year he went to Montreal. He spent four years employed at a hardware and paint store.

In 1887, a 21-year-old Walter Cottingham went into business for himself manufacturing gold paints, the formula for which he bought for $25. He organized his business after four years into the Walter H. Cottingham & Company.

In 1892, he became the Canadian agent for the Sherwin-Williams & Company, which led to Walter H. Cottingham Co's formation to manufacture Sherwin-Williams products in Canada.

Several years later, he engineered a merger between his own company and the Sherwin-Williams & Company. Mr. Cottingham was placed on the board of directors and made manager of the Canadian branch.

The business of Sherwin-Williams became so diversified that it was more than Sherwin and Williams could handle. In 1898, Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams brought Cottingham to Cleveland to become the general manager of the consolidated company.

Five years later, he was made vice president, and he was elected president in 1909, succeeding Henry Sherman, who became chairman of the board. During his presidency, five additional companies were acquired. The company also began manufacturing dyes, intermediates, and chemicals. Sherwin-Williams became a worldwide concern.

In 1922, Cottingham resigned from the presidency to become chairman of the board and devote more time to its business in England. Walter moved to England, buying an estate, “Wooley Hall,” in Maidenhead, England.

Cottingham was a director of the Cleveland Box Co., Ozark Smelting Co., and the Cleveland Trust Company. He was chairman of the board of Lewis Berger & Sons, Ltd., London.

Cottingham was a member of Chagrin Valley Hunt, Country, Mayfield, and Union clubs; Maurice Fish and Game Slug, Canada; and Phyllis Court Club, Henley on Thames, England.

Walter married Gertrude Bennett on May 22, 1888, in Montreal. Gertrude was born in 1867. When troop trains stopped at the Glenville station during World War I, soldiers were invited to walk to “Springbank,” their summer home. Here the canteen operated by the Cottinghams and their neighbors provided accommodations so that the boys who had been riding in hot, stuffy trains for hours could take a dip in Lake Erie.

Gertrude died on May 26, 1918. Walter died suddenly from pneumonia at “Wooley Hall” on March 11, 1930. Both were buried in Lake View Cemetery.

Walter and Gertrude had four children: Gladys (Dangler), born in 1890; Gertrude Joyce (Allen), born on May 17, 1891; Sherwin; and William Caldwell, born on June 14, 1898.