Conners, William James - Erie County

WILLIAM JAMES CONNERS, Chairman of the Democratic State Committee and proprietor of the Buffalo Courier, the Buffalo Sunday Courier and the Buffalo Enquirer, is one of the country's most remarkable examples of the self-made man. He is a captain of industry, a capitalist and financier, the owner of three great newspapers, a leader in Democratic politics, and a representative citizen. Yet Mr. Conners is comparatively a young man, still in the vigor and prime of life, and the results above summarized have been achieved in a relatively short space of time and solely by his own efforts.

Mr. Conners was born in Buffalo January 3, 1857. Until he was thirteen years old he attended the local public schools. He then began work as a porter on a lake steamer, and for several years sailed on boats running between Buffalo and. Duluth. Though without capital of his own, his ability and energy enabled him to obtain means to engage in business in Buffalo, and he prospered from the outset. In 1885 he entered into a contract with Washington Bullard whereby Mr. Conners agreed to handle all the Buffalo freight of the Union Steamboat Company. He effected a revolution in the freight handling methods at the port of Buffalo, introducing a system which brought order out of confusion, and the superiority of his methods was so manifest that the managers of other lake lines and carriers hastened to make contracts with him. He acquired the virtual control of the lake freight business at Buffalo and other ports, having contracts for the loading and unloading of cargoes at Buffalo, Chicago, Milwaukee and Gladstone, Mich., of all vessels belonging to the Union Steamboat, Western Transit, Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley, Union Transit, "Soo," and Northern Steamship transportation companies. Mr. Conners is the largest contractor in the world in this business, employs 3,000 men in the contract branch alone of his enterprises, and his payroll is one of the heaviest in Buffalo. In 1889 he was elected President of the Vulcanite Asphalt Paving Company and carried on the business with great success for a number of years. In 1890 he invested heavily in the property of the Roos (later the Iroquois) Brewery, and conducted the plant for about a year. In 1895 he purchased a large interest in the Magnus Beck Brewing Company, of which he was chosen President, and his administrative ability increased the output of the brewery one-third. Meantime he acquired a quarter interest in the Union Transit Company, operating a line of steamers between Buffalo and Duluth. He is a Director or stockholder in several banks. He is also a large owner of real estate, and has taken a leading part in the purchase and development of South Buffalo property. In recent years Mr. Conners has become prominently identified with suburban electric railway interests.

On the 23d of December, 1895, Mr. Conners bought a controlling interest in the Buffalo Enquirer, and his powerful initiative was quickly shown by a threefold increase of the circulation of that paper, of which he presently became the sole proprietor. In September, 1896, he established a magnificent modern newspaper plant with independent light and power engines, linotype machines, equipment for photo-engraving, and a superb Hoe sextuple press. A year afterward he founded the Record, the first one cent morning newspaper ever established in Buffalo. Its success was decisive, and in 1897 he bought the Morning Courier, which he reorganized, merging it with the Record under the name of the Courier-Record. Shortly afterward the paper became the Buffalo Courier, its name at the present time. Besides the Courier and the Enquirer Mr. Conners publishes the Sunday Courier, a splendid example of the modern illustrated newspaper. Both through his newspapers and by personal influence and leadership, Mr. Conners is a power in the Democracy of Western New York, and a representative figure in the Democratic politics of the State. In the gubernatorial campaign of 1906, one of the most notable in the history of New York State, Mr. Conners, because of his political ability and experience, was elected to direct the Democratic forces as Chairman of the State Committee. He established headquarters at the Victoria Hotel, New York City, and worked night and day. The result of his work is well known. Although the candidate for Governor was defeated by forces beyond the reach of the Chairman, the entire balance of the ticket was elected by a splendid majority.

Mr. Conners' absorbing business pursuits permit him little time for diversions, but he is fond of yachting, and in the summer of 1896 launched the yacht " Enquirer," one of the finest steam yachts ever built.

Mr. Conners has been married twice. His first wife was Catherine Mahany of Buffalo, whom he wedded in November, 1881, and who died, leaving a son, Peter Newell Conners, since deceased. On the 2d of August, 1898, Mr. Conners married his second wife, Mary A. Jordan of West Seneca, N. Y. Their children are: Mary M., Katharine A., Alice J., William J., Jr., and Ruth L. Conners.

A life of brilliant promise, sadly cut short ere its fruition, was that of Peter Newell Conners, eldest son of William J. Conners. Young Mr. Conners was eighteen years old at the time of his death. He was a youth of fine abilities and rare personality, widely known in Buffalo and beloved by all who knew him. When assailed by the illness which removed him from the world, Peter N. Conners was a student at the Michigan Military Academy, Orchard Lake, Mich., where he died November 20, 1906. He was then in his third year at the Military Academy, and would soon have graduated from that institution. He was of high standing in his classes, was regarded with affectionate esteem, by his teachers and fellow-students, and held in the Academy corps the rank of First Lieutenant and Signal Officer. A youth of high aims and serious ambitions, it was the intention of Mr. Conners' son to take a course in college and then become associated with his father in the newspaper business. The death of Peter Newell Conners in the dawn of his rich promise of usefulness was one of those mysterious dispensations of Providence to which man can only bow, trusting in the Divine Wisdom.

SOURCE: Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York; Volume I