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Posted on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 2:41 p.m.

Frank Porter Glazier: entrepreneur and guardian of his own self-interest

By Steve Feinman

As a newcomer to the area in 2008, I noticed “Glazier” this or “Glazier” that on various streets and buildings while driving around the county. Finally, I decided to find out who Glazier was and why the name was spread round the county as though planted by Johnny Appleseed. One would think that with the name distributed far and wide a great philanthropy would be in place or perhaps a pioneer in the spirit of John Allen or Samuel Dexter. Well, Frank Porter Glazier was a philanthropist of sort, maximizing his philanthropy for mostly his own interest, and now for the first part of the story…..

Glazier was an entrepreneur, building on the pharmacy and bank started by his father, who created a manufacturing and financial conglomerate in Chelsea that at its peak employed more than 200 people. The Glazier Stove Works was known worldwide for oil-fired kitchen stoves and heaters. Glazier became interested in politics with the notion of commonweal being that which is good for me is good for me, Chelsea, the county, as well as the state. Two examples of what was good for “me” and Chelsea were the installation of electric arc lights on the streets and later the installation of a water system for the village.

In the first instance, the idea of arc lighting in the streets was not initiated by the Village Council. It was initiated by Glazier after the formation of the Chelsea Electric Light Company, in which he held an interest and of which he was treasurer. The proposal for lights was vigorously promoted by the Chelsea Standard newspaper, in which Glazier had a financial interest. The Chelsea Standard published a letter articulating what Glazier had done for the village, the taxes he paid and the memorial honor roll he established at the high school. The proposal was rejected by the Village Council but put on the ballot coincidental with the next election for Village Council. The proposal for lights was defeated 299 to 84 on Feb. 28, 1895, but the new Village Council consisted of members of the new Workingman’s Party. The Workingman’s political party had been founded by Glazier. Within a month, the new Glazier-controlled council formulated a ballot proposal for arc street lights that was approved in a special election. Chelsea Electric Light Company turned the lights on June 1, 1895. Glazier’s first self-beneficial public improvement came to pass.

Glazier's second infrastructure project was the installation of a water system with fire hydrants. Glazier’s interest in the water system surfaced after two major disastrous fires destroyed various parts of the stove works. The damage from these fires was only partially covered by the insurance Glazier carried. Glazier formed a stock company to build the waterworks. All of his employees were required to buy a $100 share or they would be fired. The shares were paid for by with holding 2 percent of each employee's pay, and legal fees were covered through a $5 assessment on each share. The benefit to the city and residents was a reduction in insurance premiums. The benefit to Glazier, in addition to the reduction in fire insurance premiums, was protection for his factory, a contract from the city that paid for the operation of the system, and the formation of the company with forced-employee participation.

Then Glazier, through the Village Council sold the Electric Company and Waterworks to the village. With a public ballot approving, the council paid $ 25,000 for the waterworks and $20,000 for the electric company

Glazier’s business continued to prosper and his political ambitions grew. He tried to play monopoly with Chelsea politics, village life, schools, the workforce, even his church. He was only partially successful, and then it was time to move on to bigger and better things.

Under the auspices of William Judson, Washtenaw County Republican committee boss, Glazier engineered a nomination for state Senate and was elected in November 1902 with a less-than-stunning 254-vote margin of the approximate 19,000 votes cast. His major accomplishment in the state Senate was to block every piece of progressive legislation during his tenure. In 1903, after the Republicans’ suffered a disastrous defeat in countywide election, he succeeded William Judson as Washtenaw County party boss. He went on to run for and won the election for state treasurer in 1904 and was re-elected in 1906. His election allowed business and politics to merge to his benefit. The state treasurer determined which banks would be state depositories. He chose 105 banks, including his own Chelsea Savings Bank

During all of this business and political maneuvering, few were willing to cross Glazier. He evoked strong hostilities from many of his opponents and contemporaries. But none of the hostilities slowed his aggressive political and business activities. His business quest continued as the stove company continued to grow. Chelsea Savings Bank was prospering in part due to $900,000 in state deposits. He helped start and fund the Ann Arbor News, and somewhere along the line bought a controlling interest in the Dexter Bank, and continued expanding his real estate holdings in Chelsea, Ann Arbor and even Detroit. In January, 1906, he purchased the property at the corner of Huron and Main Street in Ann Arbor, to build the 7-story Glazier Building.

All was going well for Glazier, and might have continued that way except for one event, the Financial Panic of 1907. The panic started when an attempt to corner the copper market being financed by Knickerbocker Trust Company of New York collapsed. This event, coupled with seasonal demands for cash to pay for agricultural harvest and transportation, resulted in an unexpected shortage of cash among banks. To raise cash, banks in New York demanded payment on outstanding loans. Banks in Michigan, as well as nationwide, used New York Banks as depositories and borrowed from them. As New York banks applied pressure for repayments, Detroit banks called in loans to consolidate cash positions, pay off debts, and hopefully remain solvent. The Detroit Free Press in December of 1907 reported that Glazier could not meet a $50,000 demand for payment by a Detroit bank. That marked the beginning of the end.

This $50,000 loan was from what some might consider an inside real estate deal, made feasible by Glazier’s position as state treasurer. Glazier had bought Blodgett Terrace, a premium residential property on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. He bought the property from Detroit National Bank, which had foreclosed on the previous owner. Glazier bought the foreclosed property from the bank for $50,000. He paid for the property with a personal note. He then mortgaged the property for $100,000 with the Chelsea Savings Bank, where the mortgage was not recorded and where he happened to be the principal shareholder. So for a non-collateralized promise to pay and an unsecured mortgage, he ended up with $100,000 in cash without an audit trail.

Earlier in the year, he obtained a loan from the People’s State Bank of Detroit for $250,000 based on a verbal representation that his “assets were $300,000 above his liabilities.” The problem for the local bankers was that the verbal assurance of $300,000 in net worth secured over $ 1 million in debt among 8 banks. The astute city bankers thought it might be prudent to assess the financial condition of Glazier’s stove company and determine the veracity of his net worth statement.

An auditor was sent from Detroit to Chelsea to review the books. The auditor found one major impediment to the audit: no records. The stove company’s books that were found only covered the period from April 1907 to December 1907. The unfortunate truth was that records before April 1907 had been destroyed by Glazier's wife in the fireplace at their summer home on Cavanaugh Lake. She testified that she destroyed them because the books seemed to upset her husband. A grueling personal bankruptcy followed, but under Michigan law the wife’s assets were not touched. In today’s world, the purposeful burning of company books by one’s spouse would generally lead to an indictment, trial, and probable conviction for fraud and tax evasion at the least, but not in Michigan at the turn of the last century.

Now bankrupt, Glazier was indicted on 3 counts of embezzlement in March of 1908. The court record described an illegal use of state funds to facilitate transactions among selected banks and the stove company. He was convicted after four hours of deliberation by a jury consisting of 10 farmers, a mechanic and a lawyer. The verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court and was upheld, probably much to everyone’s surprise, in January 1909.

Glazier was sentenced on Feb. 4, 1910, to 5 to 10 years in Jackson Prison with the prosecutors requesting the maximum. His political and business connections softened his prison time. He served as prison pharmacist and was allowed to stay in a sleeping room in the prison hospital rather than a standard cell. As with all things political, including questionable indictments, politics intervened to free him from prison. He was pardoned by Governor Chase Osborne in January 1912 because he was suffering form diabetes. He went home to live the remainder of his life on Cavanaugh Lake where he died on Jan. 1, 1922.

So how is F. P Glazier remembered? He was responsible for the Methodist Home and bringing street lighting, municipal water service, and the telephone to Chelsea. He built a major employer and exporter of Michigan manufactured products. He was a hard-boiled businessman and politician, striving to promote his interest, create monopolies, suppress labor and use state funds for private purposes. He stirred strong feelings among his supporters and ongoing animus among his detractors.

The primary source for this post is the detailed research in: Doll, Louis William, “Less Than Immortal: The Rise and fall of Frank Porter Glazier of Chelsea, Michigan,” 1992

A secondary source used was: Reynolds, Cynthia Furlong, “Our Hometown”, Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI 2001