William Mather - Chairman Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company

12407 Lake Shore Boulevard
William Gwinn Mather
William Gwinn Mather

William Gwinn Mather entered the family business as a clerk in the Cleveland Iron Mining Co. in Ishpeming, Michigan, after graduation from college. Scholarly and well trained, he worked his way up to vice-president in 1885. After his father died in 1890, he became president. In 1891, the business merged with the Iron Cliffs Company to form the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company.

Within the next ten years, the company endured the financial panic of 1893 and the subsequent depression, labor unrest, and a severe drop in iron ore prices. Mather guided the company through all these challenges.

In 1933, Mather became chairman of the board, and, in 1947, he retired from the board and was named honorary chairman.

Mather served as chairman of the board of the Otis Steel Company, president of the Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad Company, the Grand Island Steamship Co., and the National Commercial Bank; vice-president of Citizens Savings and Trust and the Pioneer Iron Co.; and as director of the Kelley Island Lime & Transport Company, and Central Steel Company. In 1930, he helped form the Republic Steel Corporation and served as a director.

Mather was long known as “Cleveland’s most eligible bachelor.” With his white hair, dignified bearing, and cultured accent, he seemed very much the aristocrat. Elizabeth Ring Ireland, the widow of James Duane Ireland, Sr. since 1921, lived next door. Her mischievous adolescent son, James, found the Italian Murano blown glass globes on Mather’s estate irresistible targets for his new bb gun. He had to face Mr. Mather and pay for the damage out of his pocket money. It took some time to do that, and perhaps it brought Elizabeth Ireland and William Mather closer together.

Elizabeth & William Mather
Elizabeth & William Mather

In October 1927, Mather wrote his architect about a conversation he had with “our mutual friend, Mrs. Ireland” regarding a gateway they wanted to have built through the impenetrable wall that separated the two estates. Ireland's family lore explained the gate as a convenience for the postman and the milkman. Still, it symbolized more than a convenience, as visits between the two households became increasingly frequent.

On May 18, 1929, Elizabeth age 38, and William, age 71 were married. She and her young son, James, moved to Gwinn.

Before the wedding, Elizabeth had telegraphed a favorite uncle asking him to come to the ceremony at Trinity Cathedral. Thinking that meant a memorial service, the uncle sent a memorial wreath. William, known for his dry sense of humor, said, “Just cut it in half and put it around our necks.”

Mrs. Mather served as the first president of the Garden Center of Cleveland in 1930, leading the institution to become one of the nation’s most critical horticultural centers. She also promoted a vegetable relief garden project during the Depression, which helped feed over 40,000 people. A leading proponent of beautification efforts in Cleveland, Mrs. Mather funded the development of a master plan for rebuilding the University Circle area into a significant cultural center for the city. She also supervised the beautification of the grounds surrounding the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Mrs. Mather also worked as a social worker at Rainbow Hospital for Crippled Children and made generous contributions to Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. She established the Elizabeth Ring and William Gwinn Mather Fund.

William Mather, the half-brother of Samuel Mather, was born on September 22, 1857, in Cleveland to Samuel Livingston Mather and his second wife Elizabeth Lucy (Gwinn) Mather. William attended Cheshire Academy in Connecticut and received his A.B. in 1877 and M.A. from Trinity College in 1880. William was raised and continued to live with his mother after his father’s death in 1890. He maintained the 1369 Euclid Avenue home until 1909 when it was acquired and razed by the Higbee Company.

Mather was the first chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and in 1933 the Chamber awarded him the medal for distinguished public service. He was chairman of the City Planning Committee and the first president of the Cleveland Stock Exchange and was a trustee of many institutions including Trinity College, Kenyon College, Adelbert College, Case School Corporation, Cleveland Museum of Art, Lakeside Hospital, and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

He was a member of Psi Upsilon Fraternity and the General Society of Colonial Wars. Social clubs included The Country, Grolier, Rowfant, and Union clubs as well as University Clubs of Cleveland, Chicago and New York and the Duquesne Club of Pittsburgh.

\William Mather spent his leisure time poring over seventeenth-century documents attempting to clear the name of his best-known ancestor, Cotton Mather. He was able to prove conclusively that Cotton Mather had absolutely nothing to do with the witch trials.

William retired in 1947 and, being dedicated to the welfare of his employees and their families, he introduced many benefits for them. Known as Cleveland’s “first citizen,” he died of uremia on April 5, 1951, at the age of 94. He is buried in Lake View Cemetery. He had no children of his own.

Elizabeth died in Cleveland on November 10, 1957, at age 66. At her death, Elizabeth was the largest landowner in the Village. She was buried alongside William in Lake View Cemetery.