McCarters Helped Shape City and State

Industry and Commerce
Published April 10, 1997

McCarters Helped Shape City and State

| Published April 10, 1997

Thomas Nesbitt McCarter served as state attorney. The Newark Public Library

Among the great families of America to come from Newark, the McCarters were especially outstanding. No other family has so altered events in the city’s history in one generation as much as 'The Magnificent McCarters'.

Like the Clarks of Scotland and the Frelinghuysens of Holland, the McCarters selected Newark as home because it was simply the 'hot place' to settle in the early part of the last century, partly because of the potential for economic growth.

The founder of the American McCarters was John McCarter. Born in the Parish of Gauhyon, County Donegal, Ireland of Scottish-Irish stock, he came to America in 1774, settling first in Philadelphia and later in Mendham. Appointed to several minor political positions in Morris County by Governor Bloomfield, he eventually moved his family to Newton where John’s son, Thomas McCarter, began legal practice before moving his family to Newark, the state’s business hub. While the family line boasted several generations of successful achievers, the three sons of the second generation – Thomas’ offspring, Robert Harris McCarter, Uzal Haggerty McCarter, and Thomas Nesbitt McCarter Jr. – are credited with making the family so well recognized. All three lived in Newark simultaneously and achieved unparalleled success in separate but overlapping fields of endeavor.

Robert Harris McCarter

The first of the triumvirate was Robert Harris McCarter, born on April 28, 1859, when the family still lived in Newton. Like his father he became an outstanding lawyer and eventually was named a senior partner in the prestigious firm of McCarter and English. One of the state's and nation's leading law firms, it is located today in Newark's Gateway Center. Robert practiced all branches of the law, but was especially known for his skill in criminal cases and for his courtroom brilliance. In his New York Times obituary, he was described as 'one of the most successful attorneys in the East.' His services were in such demand that in 1941 it was said that he received upward to $1,000 a day.

Educated at Newark Academy, Pingry School in Elizabeth and Princeton University, he was a product of Columbia Law School. He served a clerkship in the office of McCarter and Keen and was admitted to the bar in 1882. Three years later became a counselor-at-law. In 1903, he was appointed New Jersey Attorney General, a position he held until 1908 when he returned to full-time practice at McCarter and Keen. So great was his skill in the courtroom, he was frequently referred to as dean of the New Jersey Bar Association, which he served at one time as president. As attorney general, Robert was widely respected in all quarters as a strong supporter of New Jersey, especially when defending it from suits by the railroad lobby. But it was his defense work in the sensational Hall-Mills murder case for which he was most famous. He was retained to defend Mrs. Hall, whose husband and a choir girl from Hall's church were mysteriously murdered. He also won fame in cases brought against U.S. Steel and Northern Securities. In many ways, his life was his profession. He lived in Rumson on his estate, Wynmoor, and worked in his offices in downtown Newark for a full half century.

Uzal Haggerty McCarter

Uzal Haggerty McCarter, second son of Thomas and Mary Haggerty McCarter, also was born in Newton. After attending Newark Academy and the Pingry School, and graduating from Princeton in 1882 he went on to become the state's leading banker. From Princeton, he went to New York to work for Kidder, Peabody and Co. for $4 a week. Five years later he transferred to the Lombardy Investment Co., where he became heavily involved in western farm loans. Within two years he had become assistant manager of Lombardy's New York office. After a discussion about his career with an associate of John Dryden, founder and first president of the Prudential Insurance Co., he moved again, this time to a position with the Newark-based Fidelity Title and Deposit Co., where he spent the remainder of his working career. By 1907 he had become president of Fidelity which merged in 1921 with the Union National Bank to become Newark's great Fidelity Union Trust Co. From 1921, Uzal embarked upon a merger policy absorbing one bank after another under the control of the Fidelity, the theory being that each additional bank was self-sustaining. The mergers made possible central control with economy of operation and vastly increased resources. In his climb to the top of the banking industry in Newark, he helped organize the New Jersey Bankers' Association, and was elected its president. He also became a director of the Public Service Corp., which brother Thomas N. served as president.

Uzal, known as U.H. to colleagues and 'Uze' to his brothers, was referred to as 'The Big Man' to the general public. Big he was, for much of his life was spent outside the counting house and not just in making heaps of money. His interest in improved transportation, as one example, resulted in better regional transportation with an eye to New York, Consequently the newly completed Route 21 was named in his honor, a suggestion of the Chamber of Commerce approved by the State Legislature. He was also largely responsible for the building of Newark's first prestigious hotel, the Robert Treat, which was completed in time for the city's 250th anniversary celebration. And he was the anchorman as well as an active member of the Committee of 100 which planned that six month celebration. A life-long Republican, he served as president of the Newark Board of Trade and was responsible for changing its name to the Newark Chamber of Commerce. He chaired all five of the city's Liberty and Victory bond drives and was active in the American Red Cross and the Community Chest. Characterized as jolly and fun-loving, he could also be 'blunt and outspoken and unmindful of whose toes he stepped on in his denunciation of what he considered undesirable or inadvisable.' Upon his death, Mayor Jerome Congleton commented: 'No individual has been a greater force in carrying forward all of our outstanding civic projects than Mr. McCarter. I have know him for 40 years, ever since I was an office boy and had frequent opportunity to notice his unsurpassable energy for hard work. His great powers of leadership and organization were ably manifested in the Liberty Loan drives during the World War, the success of which in Newark as well as that of the Community Chest were due largely to his indefatigable efforts. … His death is an immeasurable loss to this city and state.'

Thomas Nesbitt McCarter

Thomas Nesbitt McCarter, the youngest of the trio, was born in Newark on Oct. 20, 1867. Like his older brothers, he attended Newark Academy, the Pingry School, and Princeton, and went on to Columbia Law School to become a member of McCarter, Williamson and McCarter in Newark. In 1898, he was appointed judge in the Newark District Court. The following year he resigned to become a state senator from Essex County. He subsequently was appointed Attorney General for New Jersey after helping Newarker Franklin Murphy get elected governor. He resigned the following year to assume the presidency of the newly formed Public Service Corp., where he spent the remainder of his working career and built both fame and fortune as that company's executive. Just as his brother Uzal created the state's greatest bank, Thomas created the giant corporation which was to provide much of the state with power and transportation. Under Thomas' leadership, Public Service pulled together the Newark Passenger Railway Co., the White State Line, the South Jersey Gas and Electric Co., the Essex and Hudson Gas and Electric Co., and the Paterson-Passaic Gas and Electricity Co., then merged them into the giant Public Service Corp. As a result, he was appointed president for his 'proved genius in directing the financial and operating ends of Public Service and mastering opposition in many forms, including the invasion of the transportation field by jitney buses in 1915 …'

His general interests were not limited to Public Service, for he was involved with the Chase Bank in Manhattan, was supportive of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, and was associated with his brother Uzal at the Fidelity. He also was concerned about the quality of Newark drinking water, fought for election law reform, and assisted several governors in cabinet matters. Like his two brothers, his life was involved in big business and what was good for Newark. 'Unquestionably his foresight and initiative contributed to the advance of Newark and its environs at a much greater rate than would have been possible without the tying together of the area's utilities, ' one observer said. Another contemporary described him as hating 'sham and pretense and all the trappings of intrigue and deviousness. … He had a deep sense of the importance of the great work he was engaged in and honesty and purpose and high regard for all the interests that were intrusted to his care.'

The Institutions

As if the life-long business and civic activities of the McCarter brothers weren't enough to keep the family name alive, the institutions they founded were. Robert's memorial is largely based upon the success of McCarter and English – a Newark company with a rich 150-year tradition, offices in New York City, Cherry Hill, Wilmington, and Boca Raton. The firm has 500 employees, including 200 attorneys. Thomas perpetuated the family name through the co-establishment with Princeton's Triangle Club of the McCarter Theatre of Princeton University. A gift of $500,000 and a matching fund led to the founding of one of the state's great theaters in honor of his father, Thomas. The theater's Gothic-designed building is comparable to theaters at Harvard and Yale. Its 42 by 90 foot stage faces an auditorium designed to seat more than 1,000 people. Founded in 1930, it remains a strong cultural anchor in central New Jersey. Uzal's name, and that of the family in general, is immortalized in the Newark section of Route 21, more commonly known as McCarter Highway. Dedicated in 1934, the 'super highway' along the double-decked road. Quite appropriately, it was named for Uzal, for he dedicated his life not only to improving Newark's energy, but to meeting its transportation needs. Given all their endeavors to build the city and state, is it not unreasonable to refer to the McCarters as 'The Rockefellers of New Jersey.'