From Genealogical and Personal History of Western Pennsylvania, Volume 3, John Woolf Jordan, Lewis historical Publishing Company, 1915, pp. 1624-1638.
Thomas W. Phillips, son of Ephraim and Ann (Newton) Phillips, was born in Lawrence county, Pennsylvania, February 23, 1835, died at Newcastle, Pennsylvania, July 21, 1912. The home atmosphere in which he was reared was earnestly religious, and with the strict Christian training Thomas W. Phillips received from his mother there was taught another lesson, whose influence upon his career was no less marked, the dignity of honest labor. With the burden of eight children and the additional load of a debt-ridden farm, the widowed mother was compelled to circumscribe the education and scholastic training of her sons, and Thomas W. Phillips enjoyed few of the advantages in this line that are the blessing of many. Part of his inheritance, however, from a race of leaders of their fellows through superior talents, was an aptitude and desire for learning, and he supplemented such teaching as he obtained at the district schools and under private instruction by diligent independent study. The fact that his opportunities were of his own making and not granted by favorable fortune gave him a keener appreciation of their value, and so assiduously and persistently did he apply himself to study that from the student the scholar rapidly developed. His native taste was excellent, and though to a large degree his studies were undirected, his choice was remarkably fine, and while a lad he was exceptionally well read in history, biography and scientific literature. The meetings of the Mount Jackson Literary Society knew him as a regular attendant, and he was conspicuously able in the debates that were frequently a part of the program of that organization, displaying keen reasoning powers and an originality of attack that gained for him the reputation of the leading speaker of the society. His early intention was entrance of the ministry of the Christian church, an ambition that was thwarted by an injury to his lungs, which necessitated out-of-door employment, although afterward he preached at intervals and until his death remained in the truest sense a minister of the gospel.
It is an interesting fact that his youthful study of the Bible was closely connected with his choice of a career. There is a passage in the book of Job, “and the rock poured me out rivers of oil,” upon which he could place no satisfactory construction, and when, in 1859, Drake struck rock oil or petroleum in Western Pennsylvania, curiosity led him to investigate the matter. Strongly attracted by the oil industry, he and his brothers in 1861 began oil operations, the firm of Phillips Brothers being composed of Isaac, John, Charles and Thomas W., and in this business, through success and failure, through struggle and disappointment to final triumph, he remained until his death, his the longest term of service known to the oil industry.
The new firm at once entered upon a career of unprecedented success, and within a few years their holdings were among the largest in the oil country and amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in value. The course pursued by the brothers when on the flood tide of fortune was one that reflected the greatest of credit upon them, as upon the parents who taught them the love of mankind and the responsibilities of the strong toward the weak. With the larger share of their profits they built churches, endowed colleges, paid teachers and founded charitable institutions, a proceeding as unusual as it was noble, At the height of their prosperity the country was overtaken by the Jay Cook panic and at the same time vast deposits of oil were discovered, the price of petroleum dropping from four dollars and fifty-five cents to sixty-five cents per barrel. When the tidal wave of financial ruin had subsided, the firm of Phillips Brothers found itself one-half of a million dollars in debt. Many of the claims composing this vast debt were of so doubtful a nature that they would have been left unsustained by any court, and the remainder could have been discharged at a very small rate on the dollar, but recourse to such a method was far from the thoughts of Thomas W. Phillips.
For fourteen years he labored to retrieve his lost fortune and to free himself from the incubus of that encumbering debt, which, with interest, finally amounted to eight hundred thousand dollars, and at the end of that time the entire indebtedness was dissipated, and Mr. Phillips had finished his self-imposed and Herculean task. To such a work he was impelled by the dictates of an immovable conscience supported by indomitable courage, unimpeachable honor, and a will before which a way must needs appear. Before the claims of his many creditors had been satisfied, his eldest brother, Isaac, died, the dissolution of the firm occurring soon afterward. For a number of years thereafter Mr. Phillips remained in the oil industry independently, conducting operations on a large scale and he successfully repaired his broken fortunes. In 1896 he organized the Phillips Gas Company, the name of which in 1904 was changed to the T.W. Phillips Gas and Oil Company, its capitalization being increased, and, in addition to assuming the holdings of T.W. Phillips, Sons & Company, a co-partnership, it purchased all of the stock of, and merged with, the Home Natural Gas Company, of Butler, the Enterprise Natural Gas Company, of Freeport, and the Mahoning and Citizen’s Natural Gas Companies, of Punxsutawney.
One remains well within the bounds of the closest veracity in stating that from the efforts of no other man has the oil industry in Pennsylvania benefited more than from those of Thomas W. Phillips. He led in every movement for its protection and development. In 1866 he was directly responsible for the removal of the direct internal tax on oil of one dollar per barrel, and he was at the head of the committee formed in 1879 to oppose a direct tax on oil well rigs of one thousand dollars or the alternative tax of ten cents per barrel proposed in the Pennsylvania legislature. He was instrumental in the defeat of the two last-named measures, and when the movement to restrict production was made he refused to curtail his operations until satisfactory provision was made to compensate and to protect the laborers employed in the fields.
His political career was brilliant and its influence far reaching. He first came into prominent political notice in 1880. General Garfield was probably his most intimate personal friend and when Garfield was nominated for president, Mr. Phillips laid aside his business and devoted his entire time to the canvass. He conceived, planned and assisted in bringing out the Republican Text-Book used so extensively in that campaign, the first campaign text-book ever published, but which has since become a prominent feature in the campaigns of both parties. He was given credit for the organization of the party in Indiana which carried the state for the Republican nominee for governor and for General Garfield. His name was repeatedly mentioned and voted for in the Pennsylvania legislature for the United States senatorship, and while he was not elected, he was instrumental in securing the election of a senator favorable to the Garfield administration.
In 1890 he was nominated for congress but was defeated, owing to the presence of two Republican candidates in the field. However, in 1892 he was elected to congress by a very substantial plurality and in 1894 was re-elected by a plurality of nearly 12,000, larger than that ever before received by any candidate in the Twenty-fifth Pennsylvania district. As soon as he was elected to congress he planned to be appointed on the committee on labor, a committee at that time of comparatively little importance, but was the committee on which he believed he could render the greatest service. He introduced into the fifty-third congress an important bill authorizing the creation of a non-partisan industrial commission, but was unable to secure its passage, as many congressmen thought it was designed to intermeddle with their prerogatives, while the head of the powerful and notorious senatorial clique which represented special interests frankly told Mr. Phillips that it was presumptuous for him, a new member, to expect to have such an important measure enacted into law, that members who remained in congress many terms rarely succeed in passing any important or far reaching measure.
Mr. Phillips again introduced his bill, this time in the fifty-fourth congress, and was successful in securing its passage through the senate during the closing hours of the final session. President Cleveland refused to sign the bill, stating that its provisions would demand careful examination on his part and that it would create important offices for his successor to fill. Mr. Phillips had spent too much time and energy on his pet measure to accept this as a final defeat. Although he was no longer a member of congress, he still had many influential friends in both the house and senate and had through labor organizations and otherwise created a public sentiment strongly favorable to his bill and therefore requested a member of congress, who had previously served with him, to introduce the bill for the third time, but even its final passage was due largely to his own influence and personal effort. The scope of the work to be undertaken by this commission can best be appreciated by quoting the first three paragraphs of the act, approved June 18, 1898, which created the commission:
[Sec. 1.] Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a commission is hereby created, to be called the Industrial Commission, to be composed as follows: Five members of the Senate, to be appointed by the presiding officer thereof; five members of the House of Representatives, to be appointed by the Speaker, and nine other persons, who shall fairly represent the different industries and employments, to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Sec. 2. That it shall be the duty of this commission to investigate questions pertaining to immigration to labor to agriculture to manufacturing and to business and to report to Congress and to suggest such legislation as it may deem best upon these Subjects.
Sec. 3. That it shall furnish such information and suggest such laws as may be made a basis for uniform legislation by the various States of the Union, in order to harmonize conflicting interests and to be equitable to the laborer, the employer, the producer, and the consumer.
President McKinley appointed Mr. Phillips a member of the commission which his bill had created, and he was chosen vice-chairman and presided at most of its meetings. His four years’ work on this commission represents some of the hardest, most painstaking and most unselfish work of his life. He was largely instrumental in holding the commission to the work for which it was created and he successfully opposed those who desired to make it a junketing commission. In order to more properly get his bearings for the great work he had undertaken, Mr. Phillips not only consulted an eminent authority on constitutional law, but at his own expense employed a competent attorney to aid him in his work. The sinister and potent influence exerted by the great monopolies and by the proteges of special privilege made his task most disagreeable and would have driven a less courageous and determined man off the commission. He thoroughly believed, however, that the work he had undertaken or a similar work by someone else was absolutely necessary for the well-being and perpetuity of the nation, that our republic could not continue to exist unless proper steps were taken to prevent the gulf between the classes and masses from becoming wider and wider, indefinitely.
The final report of the commission [see above] was printed in nineteen volumes and contains valuable and useful information which has been used extensively in formulating both state and national laws. In addition to the report of the commission in which he joined, Mr. Phillips filed and had printed in the nineteenth volume of the report, a supplemental report which attracted more attention than the balance of the report of the commission. From his recommendations finally came the bureau of corporations and the United States department of commerce and labor, strong and essential arms of the government.
Few men since the establishment of our government have accomplished more along the lines of constructive legislation than Mr. Phillips accomplished directly and indirectly during the four years he served in congress and the four years he served on the industrial commission. Today, there is no laborer, farmer or independent business man within the confines of the United States, who is not in some measure indebted to Mr. Phillips. The forces he set in motion will become more and more important and potent as the years, the decades, and the centuries, roll away.
It would seem, that with the above enumerated interests and activities, that Mr. Phillips bore more than his due share of responsibility but there yet remains to be mentioned that phase of his life which he held most dear, and to which he devoted himself, with sincere and serious purpose his philanthropic educational and religious work. This was the absorbing motive of his life and so diverse were the channels through which his wise and benevolent philanthropy found its outlet that memory fails in recounting them for his life was one long act of charity and uplift With tongue pen brain energy and purse he worked continually for the relief of the needy the comforting of the afflicted the lifting up of the down trodden the guidance of the wandering and the promotion of the best welfare spiritual and temporal of all those with whom he came into contact.
With his brothers he built the First Christian Church of Newcastle, Pennsylvania, deeding it complete and unencumbered to the trustees of the church. The state and national work of the Young Men’s Christian Association and of the Young Women’s Christian Association was substantially helped by his generous contributions both of money and of service, and many young men were educated for the ministry at his expense in Bethany, Drake and Hiram colleges, and at Eugene Bible College in Oregon. Among the numerous colleges and schools to which he donated largely was Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia, where he built Phillips Hall for young ladies and without his generous support in making up deficits in all probability this college would have closed its doors or passed into other hands more than a generation ago.
He established ministerial loan funds at Bethany, Hiram, Drake, Christian Phillips and Eugene, which have enabled hundreds to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ and to carry the gospel tidings to the uttermost parts of the earth who otherwise could not have attained their worthy ambitions. The Foreign American State District Church Extension Ministerial Relief and Benevolent societies of the Christian church were all special objects of his bounty. Home missionary work in his native state had in him a firm friend and he supported a missionary, William F. Cowden, his intimate friend in the Northwest, also aiding the societies engaged in such work when the territory of Oklahoma was admitted to statehood. Mr. Phillips submitted the following proposition to E.V. Zollars former president of Hiram College, Hiram, Ohio, and a gentleman of Christian worth and characteristics: If you will go out into that new country and undertake the establishment of a school, I will support you in the undertaking. As a direct result of President Zollars labors, made possible only by the financial backing of Mr. Phillips, the Oklahoma Christian University was founded at Enid, Oklahoma. Soon after the death of Mr. Phillips the trustees changed the name of the institution to Phillips University, thus giving recognition and honor to the father of the university.
Mr. Phillips throughout his entire life was a deep thinker and all of his plans for improving the condition of his fellows were evolved from deep and prayerful meditation. During the latter years of his life, the conviction grew upon him that there was most urgent need of an institution that would take care of all who desire to equip themselves for definite Christian service, regardless of their previous educational advantages. A few months before his death, his action upon this conviction found completion and his long cherished hopes realization in the Phillips Bible Institute located at Canton, Ohio, an institution whose supreme business it would be to instruct its students from the practical side and which threw open its doors for its world wide work within two months after its founder had fulfilled his long varied and blessedly eventful life. It was his belief that this institute was destined of all of his works to bear the greatest fruit.
During his entire life Mr. Phillips occupied advanced positions on all the great questions of his day, and while in some respects he was so far in advance of the prevailing notions that he appeared almost visionary, yet business ethics, social justice and religious dogma are steadily progressing towards the principles that always directed and dominated his life. His position on any important point of issue was usually well nigh unassailable, because he had cultivated the faculty of considering questions thoroughly, and from a disinterested view point. With him, no legal right could justify a moral wrong. Robbery within the law was just as dastardly and far more cowardly than burglary. To him, civilization was the art of living together peaceably, harmoniously, considerately, in human society. Needless to say, he considered the present age more barbarous than civilized. Religious organizations and educational institutions should he thought adopt a policy at least abreast of that forced by public sentiment upon political parties otherwise they would be deaf alike to the spirit of the age and the spirit of Christianity and he could conceive of no financial or other exigency whereby any officer or board would be justified in betraying a trust violating a principle or swerving from a course of strictest probity.
While Thomas W. Phillips was not a man of one idea, his success was due in a large measure to his ability to concentrate all his thought and energy on one line of work until his object was accomplished, whether it took one day or a series of years, when, as he often said, “he was ready for something else next.” He was solicitous for the welfare of the young and the old, for those near and those afar, for people now living and the generations that will follow them. He endeavored to place his benefactions where they would “do the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time.” Surely his was a life rich in useful service, spotless in integrity and most valuable in achievement.
The scholarly qualities that he had cultivated in his youth came to the fore in his authorship of a work entitled “The Church of Christ,” which was published in June, 1905, by Funk & Wagnalls Company, the author concealing his identity by attributing its authorship to “A Layman” in order that it might be read without prejudice and judged solely upon its merits. Under the caption, “The Church of Christ, by a Layman,” fourteen editions comprising a total of more than 52,000 volumes were published, and after the death of the author his family purchased the copyrights and plates and arranged to have it re-published. “The Church of Christ” is used as a text book in several colleges; it has been translated into the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Hindu languages, and is now (1915) being translated into the Russian language. Hundreds of commendations were received from editors, professors, missionaries and clergymen who differed widely in their religious beliefs, which clearly indicates that the author has handled his subject in a logical and convincing manner, having built upon the plain and unequivocal statements contained in God’s Holy and Eternal Word.
While still a young man and long before the modern innovation came in vogue, to use his own expression, “of teaching the Bible by the ‘hop, step, skip and jump’ method,” Thomas W. Phillips taught in the Bible school through the entire New Testament twice consecutively. During this teaching he made copious notes, which were filed away together with a few carefully prepared sermons which he preached when a boy or a very young man. After he had retired from politics and largely from business also, he collected all his old notes and manuscripts that he could find and used them as a basis in the preparation of this epoch-making volume. It was on February 23, 1905, his seventieth birthday, that he took his manuscript, just completed, and arranged for its publication. Subsequent to this date he prepared and had published two articles which will be reprinted in the new edition of “The Church of Christ,” one entitled “The Lord’s Prayer,” the other “The Lord’s Supper,” and his last illness came upon him when he was engaged in preparing an article on “The Resurrection.”
No eulogy is here needed, now that the recital of the life and works of Thomas W. Phillips is completed. He departed this life at New Castle, Pennsylvania, July 21, 1912, to join Him whose faithful servant he had been and now rests with Him in glory.
Thomas W. Phillips married (first) in 1862, Clarinda, daughter of David W. and Nancy Rebecca (Arter) Hardman, who died in 1866. He married (second) in 1870, Pamphila, a younger sister of his first wife.
Children of his first marriage: Herbert C., born in 1864, died 1912; Norman A., born 1865 died 1903. Children of his second marriage: Victor K., born 1872, died 1901; Thomas W. Jr., of whom further; Clarinda Grace, born 1877, Benjamin Dwight, born 1885.