Heritage \ Writings \

William L. Clements (Apr. 1 1860 - Nov. 6, 1934)
Obituary of former industrialist of Bay City.

Contributed by Alan Flood (June, 2007).

The Bay City Times - Wednesday, November 7, 1934.


Retired Manufacturer Dies At 74;
Gave Library To University of Michigan.


William L. Clements, former Bay City manufacturer, for quarter of a century a member of the board of regents of the University of Michigan, and one of the country’s foremost collectors of Early Americana, is dead.

Stricken with a heart attack, Mr. Clements died at 10 p.m. yesterday at his residence, Center and Park avenues. He was 74 years old.

While his health had been failing for the past three years, he did not become seriously ill until last March while vacationing in Florida. At the time he attributed his heart condition to an attack of indigestion, and was confined to a hospital for several weeks. Following apparent recovery, though still in a weakened condition, he returned to Bay City.

Entered Detroit Hospital.

A few weeks ago, when his condition took a change for the worse, he entered a Detroit hospital, remaining there until several days ago, when he came home.

Mrs. Clements with Mrs. Robert B. Eddy was en route to New York city for a week’s stay when her husband was fatally stricken. Mrs. Clements started her trip yesterday noon, it not being believed that Mr. Clements condition was serious.

Mr. Clements enjoyed an international reputation as a collector of Early American history source material. On this labor of love he spent a fortune to bring to this native land from England, and elsewhere, documents, manuscripts, letters, military orders, etc., pertaining to the revolutionary period.

As he often said himself, he did not collect for the purpose of collecting; he had, rather than a selfish interest, an academic objective. Musty chests, filled with papers many of which had not been looked at for more than a century, were purchased by him in the contents catalogued, and laid before the historians of this day. Here were the facts, materials of which new text books were to be made to tell the true story of the revolution.

Valued U. of M. Connection.

While president of the former First National Bank for many years, and at the time of his death a large stockholder in the National Bank of Bay City, which succeeded the First National Bank, Mr. Clements loved most his association with his Alma Mater, the University of Michigan. When defeated for reelection as regent of the university in the democratic landslide of 1932-33, his friends knew he was heartbroken. His disappointment did not hinge so much on the fact that he lost at the polls, as it did on the thought that he no longer would have an official connection with the institution he had aided so materially.

Our of respect for his long service on the board, the regents together with the president and several other university officers, suspended their practice of holding their last meeting of 1933 in Ann Arbor, to meet with Regent Clements in his home here. For him this was an occasion of mixed sorrow and joy.

Born in Ann Arbor.

Mr. Clements was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., April 1, 1860. He was educated in the public schools of Michigan and entered the University of Michigan in the fall of 1878, graduating with the degree of B. S. in 1882.

His parents were James Clements, an Englishman, born in Addington, near Oxford, in 1837, and died in 1896, and Agnes Macready, of Scotch parentage, born in 1838, and died in 1893. Her father’s family were carpet manufacturers in Scotland and came to Thompsonville, Conn., and were among the founders of the Hartford Carpet Company. James Clements was a long resident of Ann Arbor, and engineer by profession, and he also served as representative in the Michigan legislature in 1863. He was the instigator and founder of various manufacturing plants throughout the state, the principal one of which was the Industrial Works, now the Industrial BrownhoistCorp., Bay City.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, he entered the employ of the Industrial Works in Bay City and remained continuously with this concern until 1925, occupying the positions of engineer, superintendent, and manager, and finally president, which position he held for 20 years before his retirement in 1925.

As early as 1893, the formation of a library on the subject of American history was commenced by Mr. Clements, and with increased financial resources the desires of a book-collector were more or less satisfied. With such satisfaction and with an earnest desire that the historical library formed should be of benefit to research workers in American history, he decided in 1920, to give to the University of Michigan this rather extensive library upon the specified subject of American history, also to erect a proper building for receiving it. Accordingly, this was done with the full approval of the board of regents of the University of Michigan, and in the summer of 1922, the building was presented to the University and formerly dedicated. The library is now functioning and many important accessions have been made to it since its dedication. Among them were the historical manuscripts and documents of Major General Nathaniel Greene, pertaining to the Revolution – some 12,000 documents and letters. These with the many volumes of printed materials pertaining to the Revolution make the library at Ann Arbor very strong in this division of American history. A general resume of the library has been written in the form of a book, entitled “The William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.”

On Regent Board 24 Years.

Mr. Clements was first elected a member of the board of regents of the University in 1909, being reelected for eight year terms in 1917 and 1925. He ended this service in 1933. He also was chairman of the special committee of three named to select a successor to Dr. Clarence Cook Little as president of the university and later assisted in the selection of Dr. Alexander G. Ruthven.

Mr. Clements was also a corresponding member of the Massachusetts Historical society, the American Antiquarian society, the Club of Odd Volumes, Boston, Grolier club, the American Historical society, and others.

In 1916 he was appointed a member of the Michigan Historical commission.

Mr. Clements was long identified with the financial life of Bay City, and was president of the former First National Bank of Bay City and the Bay County Savings bank.

In 1919 Mr. Clements together with James E. Davidson, presented to the city of Bay City a modern flying field, named James Clements. He also assisted in the erection of a large hangar and administration building at the airport.

Home is Showplace.

Mr. Clements home is the showplace of Bay City and ranks with the finest residences in the country.

For many years Mr. Clements was prominently identified with Trinity Episcopal church, Bay City, being head of the vestrymen. Always a staunch republican, Mr. Clements never sought political office in his home city, confining his efforts to the work of the board of regents of the university, which he considered a labor of love.

In 1887, he married Jessie N. Young of Pittsburgh. There were three children, Wallace W., Elizabeth, who married Harry Finkenstaedt, and lives in Detroit, and James who died in France in service during the World war.

Mr. Clements obtained a divorce from Jessie Clements in 1930. On April 22, 1931, he married Miss Florence K. Fisher, prominent in Bay City society, in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian church, New York. They traveled in Europe on their honeymoon.

On June 18, 1934, Mr. Clements received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Michigan – the highest degree the university can confer.

Besides his widow he is survived by a sister, Ida Clements Wheat, of Ann Arbor.

Regret Finds Expression.

The regret with which Bay City looks upon the death of William Lawrence Clements last night, was today expressed by Dr. Robert H. Criswell, president of the University of Michigan club of Bay City, who said:

“It is with deep regret that members of the U. of M. club learned of the death of Mr. Clements. His love for the university and the incalculable value of the contributions he made to it as a regent and as an alumnus, have broadened the scope of the school immeasurably. Mr. Clements has always been an active and helpful member of any graduate group he was in. We shall miss him.”

“I am inexpressibly shocked at Mr. Clements’ sudden and untimely death,” said James E. Duffy, Sr. “Entirely aside from the important part Mr. Clements had as a citizen in advancing the material and intellectual interests of his city, his place among those who have done things worth while in furthering the cultural development of his country is firmly and definitely fixed on a high plane. His work in this respect will be more highly prized and more deeply appreciated as the advancing years place, as they will, their high appraisal upon his work."

Related Note & Pages

William L. Clements

William receiving the airmail delivery at the airport in 1928.

William L. Clements...
was president of the Industrial Works, a company of which his father was a founding partner in 1873. William, although a native of Ann Arbor and regent of his alma mater, the University of Michigan, maintained his homestead in Bay City until the time of his death. His son, James, was a WWI pilot who died in France, and for whom the James Clements Airport was named.
Related Pages:
Clements, Henry (bro)
Clements, James (father)
Industrial Works
People Referenced
Clements, James Sr.(father)
Clements, James (son)
Clements, Elizabeth (dau)
Clements, Wallace W. (son)
Clements, William L. (subject)
Criswell, Robert H. Dr.
Davidson, James E.
Duffy, James E. Sr.
Eddy, Robert B. Mrs.
Fifth Ave. Presbyterian ch.
Finkenstaedt, Harry
Fisher, Florence K (wife)
Green, Nathaniel Maj. Gen.
Little, Clarence Cook Dr.
Macready, Agnes Miss.(mother)
Ruthven, Alexander G. Dr.
Young, Jessie N. Miss.(wife)
Wheat, Ida Clements (sister)
Subjects Referenced
American Antiquarian society
American Historical society
Ann Arbor, MI
Bay City, MI
Bay Co. Savings bank
Boston, MA
Board of Regents
Club of Odd Volumes
Detroit, MI
First Natl. Bank Bay City
Grolier club
Hartford Carpet Co.
Industrial Works (Brownhoist)
James Clements Airport
Massachusetts Historical society
Michigan Historical commission
National Bank Bay City
Thomasville, CT
Trinity Episcopal church
Univ. of Mich.
U of M club, Bay City
Wm. L. Clements Library
Internet References
  • [Wm. Clements Library] - Univ. of Michigan.
    Michigan's Bibliomaniac
    by J. Kevin Graffagnio.
    Excellent article by the director of the Clements Library, detailing Mr. Clements life in collecting rare Americana and other historical books. The article gives insight into how the Clements Library came into existence.
  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.