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Wilder, John Thomas, 1830-1917



  • Existence: 1830 - 1917


John Thomas Wilder was born January 31, 1830 in Hunter County, New York to Ruben Wilder of Massachusetts and Mary Merritt of New York. John Thomas Wilder married Martha Stewart on May 18, 1858. Together they had five daughters and one son: Mary, Anne, Rachel, Martha, Edith, and Stewart. After Martha Wilder’s death, Wilder married Dora Lee in 1902.

Wilder moved to Ohio around 1848 and worked as an apprentice engineer. In the late 1850s he moved to Indiana, established a foundry, and patented an improved waterwheel in 1859. When the Civil War began, Wilder joined the 17th Indiana Volunteers. He and his regiment served extensively in the western theater and gained the reputation of “Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, “playing a particularly significant role in the Chattanooga area campaign of 1863. In 1864, Wilder was brevetted a brigadier general. Laster that year, Wilder resigned from the army due to illness, but he remembered the rich mineral deposits of East Tennessee and returned to Chattanooga in 1866 to invest in the redevelopment of the area. In 1867, Wilder and two associates organized the Roane Iron Works in Roane County, Tennessee.

In 1871, Wilder became active in politics and was elected mayor of Chattanooga. He resigned the following spring to focus on the various business interests. In 1876, Wilder made an unsuccessful bid for Congress but never sought another political office. He accepted several political appointments, one of which was postmaster of Chattanooga from 1877 until 1882. In 1897, President William McKinley appointed Wilder to the pension office in Knoxville and that appointment was renewed by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft.

Wilder along with other Civil War veterans supported the development of a military park at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga battlefields and contributed to the erection of the Wilder Brigade Monument. He served first as commissioner of the Chickamauga Memorial Association and then as president in 1889.

As an industrialist, Wilder helped establish Chattanooga an important industrial city in the redeveloping South. His civic leadership won him the admiration of many, and the Confederate veterans elected him an honorary member of the Forrest Camp of the United Confederate Veterans.

He later became involved in a number of other coal and steel companies, as well as the production of the waterwheel that he had invented. At Johnson City, Wilder built a large hotel to accommodate the businessmen he hoped would be coming to buy land from his Carnegie Land Company. He also pushed the development of the state’s railroad system and developed a rail manufacturing company.

Wilder died on October 20, 1917 in Jacksonville, Florida, where he had gone to spend the winter. His body was returned to Chattanooga and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

Biographical notes regarding John T. Wilder were taken from the The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Carroll Van West, editor-in-chief, Tennessee Historical Society, Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1998.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William Flinn Rogers Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UnivRec-0277

The collection is arranged into five series. Series 1: Personal Papers. Series 2: Professional Papers. Series 3: Photographs. Series 4: Audio Material. Series 5: Oversize Materials. The items are arranged alphabetically by subject title within the series.

Dates: 1812-1973; 1925-1968