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Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard

American businessman
The basics
Date of birth Windsor, Windsor County, Vermont, U.S.A.
Date of death Sep 14, 1886 Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, U.S.A.
Authority VIAF id Openlibrary id ISNI id Library of congress id
The details

Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard (August 22, 1802 in Windsor, Vermont – September 14, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois) was an American fur trader, insurance underwriter, and land speculator. Hubbard first arrived in Chicago on October 1, 1818 as a voyageur. He went on to build Chicago's first stockyard and help foment a land boom for Chicago in the East.

Early life

Hubbard at age 28, by Anson Dickinson

Hubbard was born in Windsor, Vermont, to Elizur Hubbard and Abigail Sage Hubbard. When his father, a lawyer, lost his money around 1812 in speculative ventures, he took the family north and settled in Montreal. In 1818, Hubbard was indentured to John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company for five years at $120 per year.

Hubbard first arrived in Chicago in 1818 as a member of a brigade led by Antoine Deschamps. Hubbard carried an introduction to John Kinzie, a trader in Chicago, whose son, Morris, had befriended Hubbard. Although Hubbard eventually became a major booster of Chicago and one of its leading citizens, he wouldn't make his permanent home in the city until 1834.

On several trips throughout Illinois, he became the adopted son of Chief Waba of the Kickapoo and married Watseka, niece of Chief Tamin of the Kankakee Potawatomi. After he walked for 75 miles in a single night to warn the town of Danville of an impending raid by Indians, he earned the nickname "Pa-pa-ma-ta-be," or "Swift-Walker." When a local Indian tribe questioned his ability to perform this feat, he challenged their champion walker to a race. Hubbard's challenger lost by several miles and was unable to move the next day. Hubbard seemed to be unaffected.

Life in Chicago

Upon settling in Chicago in 1834, Hubbard purchased a cabin near Lake Michigan from Billy Caldwell and became one of the village's first trustees.

In the 1830s, Hubbard served in the Illinois General Assembly. While there, he advocated ending the Illinois and Michigan Canal at the Chicago River instead of the Calumet River.

In Chicago, Hubbard became a leading figure in the fur trade and opened the first meat packing plant in Chicago as part of his work to supply Fort Dearborn with meat. In support of this business, he built the first warehouse, known as "Hubbard's Folly," in Chicago on the south bank of the Chicago River, near modern-day LaSalle Street.

Building his fortune in meats and furs allowed Hubbard to enter into the insurance business, and he was the first underwriter in Chicago. Following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, he was nearly bankrupted by the insurance payments he had to make, but he was able to survive the setback.

Hubbard was the owner of the Lady Elgin, a steamship which was rammed by a schooner and sank in 1860 off of the coast of present-day WInnetka, IL. Although Hubbard accepted insurance money for the loss, he never abandoned ownership of the ship, which was discovered in 1989. 1860 also saw Hubbard elected alderman of Chicago's 7th Ward.

In the late 1860s, Hubbard began work on his autobiography and had produced an 800-page manuscript which was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Following the fire, he set to work to reproduce the manuscript, only completing it up to 1829 at the time of his death.

After the fire

Hubbard recovered from his financial setbacks following the Great Chicago Fire, but his health began to deteriorate. In 1883, he became ill and in 1884, he had his left eye removed. The following year, his right eye was removed. Hubbard died on September 14, 1886 and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.

Legacy and honors

  • Hubbard Street, Chicago, Illinois
  • Hubbard High School, Chicago, Illinois
  • Hubbard's Cave, a tunnel in Chicago carrying the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/I-94) under several railroads and city streets, including Hubbard Street
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