ALEXANDER H. KERR
A successful businessman, a Christian, a philanthropist, Alexander H. Kerr was known internationally. As the head of Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corporation, manufacturers of fruit jars, he achieved a commercial success. Mr. Kerr was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 4, 1862, a son of Thomas M. and Jeanie (McGloughlin) Kerr, and was educated in the public schools of his native city. As a young lad with a desire to work out a career for himself, he came west and located in southern Idaho and in a short time engaged in the retail grocery business. Leaving Idaho he located in Portland, Oregon, and for several years was a trusted and successful salesman for Mason-Ehrman Company. Later he embarked in the produce business with two partners under the name of Richet, Roberts & Kerr. In 1897 with William Wadhams, a retired capitalist, Mr. Kerr and his brothers formed Wadhams & Kerr Brothers, a wholesale grocery concern. In 1902 he read a book, “Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright,” in which attention was called to the blessings Jacob received through tithing. To prove the matter, though troubled with doubts Mr. Kerr began to tithe on June 1 of that year. Making a covenant to set aside a certain per cent of his income and increase for the Lord’s work. In other words he determined to prove God. Almost immediately unexpected and unforeseen blessings came to him and continued to pour out richly upon him the balance of his life. In 1902, with a capital of one hundred dollars, Mr. Kerr organized the nucleus of what is now the Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corporation. He was his own bookkeeper, advertising man and salesman. He had his jars made by the Illinois-Pacific Glass Company in San Francisco. In 1906, along came the great fire and earthquake in that city. Advance orders for fruit jars and their manufacture had tied up all of his available cash and his friends told him he was ruined; Mr. Kerr replied, “I don’t believe it, or if I am then the Bible isn’t true, and I know God cannot go back on His promises.” He sent a telegram to San Francisco—he was in Portland, Oregon, at the time—and received this replay: “factory in the heart of the fire. Undoubtedly destroyed. Heat so intense will be unable to find out anything for several days.” His faith never faltered and in a few days he received this wire: “Factory miraculously saved,” and immediately took a train for San Francisco. The factory was a frame building containing two large tanks where glass was melted, and which were kept at a heat of twenty-six hundred degrees. Oil was used for fuel. The building was one of the most inflammable in San Francisco. The fire had raged on all sides of the factory, burning everything else in its wake, but the building stood. A miracle? “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Mr. Kerr continued his business and later purchased a glass plant at Altoona, Kansas, but soon after moved it to Sand Springs, Oklahoma, where it is still located. In 1912 he left Portland, Oregon, and located his company offices in Chicago, where he remained until 1915, when he transferred them to Sand Springs. His business grew and prospered and at the time of his death was the second in size of its kind in the United States.
As a Christian and philanthropist Alexander H. Kerr was a firm believer in the Bible and lived his belief in every act and deed. He placed implicit faith and trust in God for everything and knew that the “Everlasting Arms” were always about him. At the age of fourteen he had been converted and joined the Presbyterian Church. In 1916, wishing to share with others the plan and blessings which were his since he began to tithe, he wrote a leaflet on tithing entitled “God’s Cure for Poverty,” and soon after anther, “God’s Loving Money Rule for your Financial Prosperity.” Every case of fruit jars sent from his factory contained one of these leaflets and up to the time of his death some five million had been given away. He would supply any minister or Sunday school superintendent who would agree to talk on tithing, sufficient tracts for his church free of charge. He also spoke in various churches on tithing. He gave liberally to the support of missions at home and in foreign lands, and helped establish nurseries and rescue homes in many cities. When he left Portland, Oregon, he gave the use of his Portland home to the Pacific Coast Rescue and Protective Society and requested the mission to start a baby home for unfortunate and abandoned babies, or those who mothers must earn a living and could not care for their infants. The home grew rapidly and it became necessary to have larger quarters, so Mr. Kerr bought a large plot of ground and gave liberally towards the new building. In May, 1921, the building was completed and given the name of the Albertina Kerr Nursery Home and today this home is one of the finest and best equipped baby nurseries in the United States and is constantly filled. In 1907 Mr. Kerr became an associate member of the Pacific Protective Mission Society, and in 1913 became a trustee, and president of the southern division in California. He supported liberally the different homes conducted by the Society.
“He held his place—
Held the long purpose like a growing tree—
Held on through blame and faltered not a praise.
And when he fell, he went down
As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,
Goes down with a great shout among the hills,
And leaves a lonesome place against the sky.”
His widow, Ruth Kerr, and eight children survive him: A. Thomas W.; Mrs. Kenneth Holbrook; John; Alexander H., Jr.; William; MacRae; Albertina Ruth and Constance. While a resident of Portland Mr. Kerr organized the Portland Hunt Club and was its first president; he was also president of the St Andrew’s Society; and was largely instrumental in securing the Carnegie Library for Portland. In December, 1917, Hon. D. F. Houston, Secretary of Agriculture, appointed Mr. Kerr a special assistant in which capacity he served one year without salary except one dollar. He took his family to Washington as well as two of his associates, whose salaries and expenses he paid personally. The following testimonials show the esteem in which he was held:
Washington, D. C., February 10, 1925.
“Permit me on the part of the entire personnel of this Department as well as in my own behalf, to tell you of the great shock and sorrow which the news of your bereavement has brought upon us. Let me hope that the first pain of separation may be a little lightened by thought of the heartfelt sympathy of the many who learned to value and love your husband in the momentous days when he so finely served the nation in this Department.
Howard M. Gore, Sec’y of Agric.”
* * * * *
“Secretary of Agriculture,
Washington, February 11, 1925.
“I feel that I should add to yesterday’s message a further expression of the esteem in which Mr. Kerr was held by his associates here.
“Upon those who served with him in the Department he left a deep impression. He came to the Department during the World war, at a time of tense public effort. His chief task—of great importance—was to coordinate certain activities of a considerable group of the food handling agencies. He faced problems of organization, publicity, and the harmonizing of differing views; and at all points he succeeded so admirably that his coming seemed providential. He won a high place in the affection of the employes of the Department by his generous and practical interest in the department welfare organization. Throughout the national emergency he was unstinted in the use of his time, his energy, and his gifts of organization, tact and resourcefulness; yet he served without compensation or the thought of compensation, and at a great personal sacrifice.
“The Department feels that it has the right to share your pride in Alexander H. Kerr as well as your grief at your loss.
Howard M. Gore, Secretary of Agriculture.”
During the later years of his business career Mr. Kerr employed a welfare worker at the factory whose duty it was to visit all employes, see if they were comfortable, help out in times of sickness or distress. On Thanksgiving and Christmas free turkey dinners were distributed among the needy. When he was taken with his last illness he was active in the Community Chest drive in Riverside, California. Honors came to Mr. Kerr from abroad. In 1909 King Edward conferred upon him the title of Lord Kerr, Lord of the Manors of Kings Hall, Rouse Hall, Westerlys, and Brentha; and a few years later the Princess Eugenie de Paleogue, direct descendant of Constantine the Great, conferred upon him the title of Baron Kerr of Katento of the Islands of Mitylene, Chios and Lemnos. He died February 9, 1925.
“Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”
“Ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.”
“Be thou faithful unto death and I will give these a crown of life.”
Hail and Farewell
Transcribed by Joyce Rugeroni.
Source: California of the South Vol. V, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 389-393, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 Joyce Rugeroni.