Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fred Morgan Kirby

Woolworth Chain Partner is Dead
(Newspaper Article - October 17, 1940)

Wilkes-Barre, Pa., October 16 - Fred Morgan Kirby, 79, one of the founders of the vast Woolworth store chain, died Wednesday at his summer home at Glen Summit, near Wilkes-Barre.

Kirby became vice-president of the fast-growing five-and-ten system in 1912 when his ninety-six stores merged with those of Frank W. Woolworth to form the present company.

Kirby began his business career in the store of Moore & Smith at Watertown, N.Y., where the five-and-ten idea was originated by Frank Woolworth. (Dallas Morning News)


Mr. Kirby was born in Brownville, Jeffer­son County, New York, October 30, 1861, the son of William and Angeline Elizabeth (Slater) Kirby.

The early education of Mr. Kirby was obtained in the public schools of his community, and at the age of fourteen years he attended the high school at Watertown, Jef­ferson County.

When about fifteen years of age, Mr. Kirby became a clerk in the dry goods store of Moore & Smith, at Water­town. Among his fellow-employees in this store were F. W. and C. S. Woolworth, both of whom were to become his associates in the operation of five-and-ten-cent stores.

It was in the Moore & Smith establishment that the five-and-ten-cent store idea had its in­ception. A former resident of Watertown, who was the senior partner in the firm of Barrett & Goulding, of Port Huron, Michi­gan, while visiting the former city, mentioned that a firm in Michigan had experienced great success in getting rid of some slow-moving stock by putting up temporary counters and offering any article thereon at five cents. Mr. Moore was greatly impressed with the story and during the next “Fair Week,” then the busiest part of the year in Watertown, he gave the idea a trial, with the result that he got rid of a lot of merchandise that had been for some time on his shelves. This was the circumstance that revealed the possibilities of the five-and-ten-cent system, and which eventually led nearly all the employees of the Moore & Smith store into the new field.

For eight years Mr. Kirby remained with the Moore & Smith concern and then, with his savings of five hundred dollars as his share of the capital, he formed a partnership with C. Sumner Woolworth, of Scranton, Lackawanna County.

On September 1, 1884, the firm of Woolworth & Kirby opened its first flve-and-ten-cent store at No. 172 East Market Street, Wilkes-Barre, in that part of the Hollenback Block owned by Edward Welles. This partnership lasted for three years, at the end of which time Mr. Kirby purchased Mr. Woolworth’s interest.

In the spring of 1888, Mr. Kirby took in his father as a partner and the business continued under the firm name of F. M. and W. Kirby. In 1892 they removed to a new location in the Derr Block, at the western corner of Market and Washington streets and, after the death of the elder Kirby, the firm name became F. M. Kirby & Company.

After 1888, the expan­sion of the firm began with the founding throughout the country of stores similar to the Wilkes-Barre establishment, operating under the name of F. M. Kirby & Company. On January 12, 1910, the company that had made such a humble beginning in 1884 was incorporated with a capital of three million dollars, which in the following month was increased to five millions. By the close of the year 1911, F. M. Kirby & Company owned and operated ninety-six stores, located in as many towns throughout the United States.

On January 1, 1912, occurred the great mer­ger of the five-and-ten-cent stores of the country. The consolidation was incorporated with a capital of sixty-five million dollars, the stores number over a thousand, and they have become a recognized national institution.

In addition to his interests in the five-and­ ten-cent stores combination, of which, as stated, he is vice-president and director, Mr. Kirby was elected second vice-president of the Second National Bank of Wilkes-Barre, which post he held until his resignation in October, 1916. On November 2, 1909, he was elected a director of the Miners’ Savings Bank, became first vice-president April 22, 1912, and succeeded to the presidency Sep­tember 29, 1914, and then chairman of the board. He is a director and executive com­mitteeman of the Lehigh Valley Railroad; president of the Wilkes-Barre Railway Com­pany: director of the United States Lumber Company, the Mississippi Central Railroad, and a trustee of the American Surety Com­pany, of New York. In many Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley enterprises Mr. Kirby was for a long time associated with Abram Nesbitt.

The residence of Mr. Kirby, at the corner of River and South Streets, is located on a very historic spot. It is the site of a log house where Colonel Denison, who was next in command to Colonel Zebulon Butler at the battle of WyomIng, July 2, 1778, was married to Elizabeth Sill, the first marriage In the Wyoming Valley. Later, a large frame house was erected by Rosewell Welles, one of the four lawyers admitted to the bar on the foundation of the county and the organi­zation of the courts. The present mansion was erected in 1873-74 by S. L. Thurlow and was occupied in 1875. The property changed hands several times before coming into the possession of Mr. Kirby, by whom it was remodeled into the present beautiful resi­dence. The summer home of Mr. Kirby is a handsome stone structure located at Glen Summit Springs.

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