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Henry H. Thomas (1843-1908)
By James Petrimoulx (December 2007)

As it happens so often when doing genealogy or other searches ,the search takes you on a completely different course. Recently this once again happened to me. I was doing some research on my wifeís great-grandmother Eliza Halligan. I came across a notation someone had written down about Edward Halligan, brother of Eliza. It stated that Edward was killed in an explosion at a dynamite factory in Kawkawlin. This was something that I had to check into, Elizaís story would have to wait.

Official Year Book
Michigan Federation of Labor

A manufacturing concern of Bay City, Mich., the Ajax Dynamite Company, which independent of the trust, manufactures all the standard and competing grades of dynamite suitable for all kinds of blasting, also caps, safety fuse, electric fuses, batteries, leading wire, stump augers, combination cap crimpers and fuse cutters, and all blasting supplies. It also manufactures nitro-glycerine for use in increasing flow in oil, gas and water wells.

This company enjoys an enviable reputation for the high standard of excellence attained, and its dynamite is uses in preference to all other, where ever it has been introduced.

The managers are of high commercial standing, and any representations they make can always be relied upon.

Henry H. Thomas is the proprietor of this establishment and as a friend of the workingman, we know of no other who has done more or given more of his influence to the betterment and furtherance of cause of labor than Mr. Thomas, and we wish for him continued success, and ask for him your patronage and influence in protecting and fostering an independent industry located within our state.
-- Source: Google Books.

Searching the old directories of Bay City, I found in the 1872 edition a man named Henry Thomas, a nitroglycerine salesman living at the Campbell House on Water street. In later editions there was a listing for the Ajax Dynamite Works, Henry H Thomas proprietor. Armed with this information I began to see what I could find out about Mr. Thomas.

According to the 1905 History of Bay City by Gansser, he was born to emigrant parents on December 13,1843 in Stafford, New York. At the age of nine years Henry was sent off to learn photography and where he was introduced to chemicals. Staying in this field until 1862 . He then enlisted in Company G, 129th Regular New York Volunteer Infantry, this unit later became the 8th New York Heavy Artillery. This is where Henry became familiar with explosives. The unit spent most of the war in the Baltimore, Maryland area. They later did go to Virginia. In Virginia they were involved in battles at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Before the battle at Petersburg ,Henry was seriously wounded and sent to a hospital at Buffalo, New York. In 1864 he was made a sergeant . The colonel of his regiment and later a lieutenant both letters of recommendations for his bravery, but he never received the medals for which he was recommended.

After the war Mr. Thomas returned to Stafford, New York for a short time. In 1865 the oil fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia called Henry, he first worked as an engineer and then became an owner. Nitroglycerine and dynamite were both used in the oil fields and Henry became interested in their production.

Somehow Henry heard of the Bay City area and its many salt wells where explosives were also used. The area also had a vast abundance of stumps left by the lumbering business, explosives were the easiest way to rid the land of the stumps to clear the land for farming. So in 1872 Henry came to Bay City.

Oak Grove Hotel

He established his plant at Oak Grove on the Bay shore, which today is at the end of Finn Rd. In 1883 the first of many setbacks occurred , the plant blew up and Henry Shamberg his chief operator was killed. Oak Grove was a popular area and the Oak Grove Resort Hotel was there, not the best place for a dynamite factory. Henry moved his plant out to Kawkawlin about a mile from the Village of Kawkawlin. In 1885 the plant again exploded. Things then went along smoothly for awhile the plant producing up to 1,000,000 lbs a year at its peak. On April 21st 1900 the plant again exploded, this time killing three men, William Weaver, William VanVasler and Edward Halligan a fourth man had just left and had reached the road when the explosion occurred.

In 1904 the plant suffered a fire and had to be rebuilt. Tragedy stuck once more on April 04, 1905. Once again three men were killed, William Godfrey, Moses James and George Uhlricht. Windows were blown out for miles around the blast was heard as far as Caro, Michigan and left a thirty foot deep crater .

A final accident struck Henry in 1908, he was driving south on Washington Avenue near McKinley and his car was struck by a streetcar. Henry was badly shook up but did not appear seriously hurt. His was confined to his home and there suffered a stroke and died.

Henry H. Thomas was married twice, the first time on May 12, 1881 to Maria Smith daughter of Thaddeus Smith a well known lumberman. They had three children Elizabeth, James and Henry Randall. Maria and Henry Randall died within days of each other in 1885. Henry married Delia Stewart and they had one daughter Ida Belle.

Daughter Elizabeth M. Thomas.

The story could end here, but Henry was not the only interesting person in the family, Elizabeth M. Thomas the first born daughter of Henry and Maria is a story in itself. Henry did very well in his business a became quite well to do in life. He purchased the beautiful home of Archibald McDonnell at 306 N. Vanburen Street, in Bay City. His wealth offered many advantages to his family She was one of the first women in the nation to fly in a airplane and later one of the first to get a pilotís license. She was sent abroad to Paris to study opera with Jean Bereski a well known voice instructor. She traveled the world singing. At one point she became engaged to a British viscount. In traveling to Russia she met the Empress Eugenie who gave her a gold ring. She became briefly engaged to a Russian prince. At that time she was called home by dad to talk about things. On the way home she met Philip Werlein of New Orleans whom she had met years ago while in Paris.

Elizabeth (sitting) and Phillip Werlein (insert)

Back in Bay City on July 6th, 1908 she announced her engagement to Philip Werlein. They were married in an elaborate ceremony at her fatherís home. The reception was held under a large white tent in the yard. The Russian Consul from New York attended as well as guests from Paris. After an extended honeymoon Elizabeth and Philip made their home in New Orleans. The Werlein family had been in the music business there for some time. They manufactured pianos and also were into music publishing. Not content to live a life of ease Elizabeth became involved in civic affairs.

At this time the Vieux Carre which was the French Quarter of New Orleans was very rundown and many had suggested getting rid of it altogether. Elizabeth formed the Vieux Carre Commission to save the French Quarter. She got help from the Mayor and began to clean up the area. When her children got older she moved to 630 St. Ann Street in the quarter for her elegant home on St Charles Avenue. During World War II she headed opposition to removing all the cast iron ornamentation in New Orleans for the war effort a move that made her very unpopular at the time. Afterwards she was awarded for her work to save the architecture of New Orleans. She died shortly afterward on April 24th , 1946.

Additional Notes.

    1881 - Michigan Marriages: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Date: May 12, 1881.
  • Groom: Henry H. Thomas age 36, born in NY
  • Bride: Maria L. Smith age 28, born in Canada
  • Official: Alford A. Bulter, Episcopal glergy man
  • Withnesses: Thaddious Smith and Benjamin Whipple

    1900 - Census: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Thomas, Henry - age 57, b. NY
  • Anna D, wife - age 45, b. NY
  • Bessie M. daughter - age 16, b. MI
  • James P., son - age 15, b. MI
  • Idabelle, daughter - age 8, b. MI
  • Stewart, Helen B., mother-in-law - age 86, b. Scotland

Notes & Related Pages

Henry Thomas
Donated by Ronald E. Schultz.

Maria Smith:
Henry's first wife was born 1875, in Canada.(1880 Census)
Related Pages:
Civil War, Bay Co.
Theatre News
Bio. (Writings)
McDonell, Archibald
Thomas, Elizabeth dau
People Referenced
Bereski, Jean
Bulter, Alford A.
Godfrey, William
Halligan, Edward
Halligan, Eliza
James, Moses
McDonnell, Archibald
Shamberg, Henry
Smith, Maria (1st wife)
Smith, Thaddeous
Steward, Anna D. (2nd wife)
Stewart, Delia
Stewart, Helen B. (m-inlaw)
Thomas, Elizabeth M.(dau.)
Thomas, James (son)
Thomas, Henry H. (son)
Thomas, Ida B. (g-dau.)
Uhlricht, George
VanVasler, William
Weaver, William
Werlein, Phillip
Whipple, Benjamin
Subjects Referenced
Ajax Dynamite Works
Bay City, MI
Baltimore, MD
Buffalo, NY
Campbell House
Caro, MI
Civil War
Kawkawlin, MI [Map]
Oak Grove, MI
Oak Grove Resort Hotel
New Orleans, LA
Paris, France
Stafford, NY [Map]
West Virginia
Article Sources
History of Bay County, MI
- Gansser, 1905
Polk City Directories
Bay City Tribune
12/17/1885, 04/21/1900, 04/04/1905, 04/07/1905, 04/09/1905, 07/06/1908, 08/09/1908
Bay City Times & Press
04/20/1900, 04/21/1900, 04/23/1900
Bay City Sunday Times
Bay City Evening Times
Bay City Times

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