Los Angeles County
HIRAM AUGUSTUS UNRUH
UNRUH, HIRAM AUGUSTUS, Manager and Executor, estate of E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin, Arcadia, California, was born November 1, 1845, at Valparaiso, Indiana, the son of Joseph Unruh and Abigail (Bowman) Unruh. On the paternal side he is of German descent, while his mother is of the original Quaker stock that first settled in Pennsylvania. He married Jane Anne Dunn, October 10, 1868, at Gold Run, Cal. He has two sons, Joseph Andrew and David Spencer Unruh.
Mr. Unruh is a soldier, railroad man, construction engineer, banker, electrician and all-around business man of the highest caliber, and has had the varied education to fit him for a successful career in all these occupations. He lived and fought through the Civil War, and his was no humdrum part, but among the most romantic and severe. He is a part of the early development of the West, one of the Pathfinders, one of the men the work of whose hands is seen in many thriving industries and great institutions, and whose names should be written wherever a history of the West is compiled.
His parents entered him at Carley’s Institute, now the Indiana State Normal School, at Valparaiso, Ind. But before he had finished his course the great War of the Rebellion broke out, and patriotism made an irresistible appeal. The boy of sixteen answered the first call for volunteers.
He enlisted with the Twentieth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Company C, May 1, 1861, and, boy though he was, was made a non-commissioned officer. The regiment was sent to the front, and stationed on Chicamacomico Island, North Carolina. Mr. Unruh, along with hundreds of others, after a desperate battle, was captured by the overwhelming Confederate force. He was among the earliest confined in Libby Prison. Five months he suffered there, then was taken to Columbia, South Carolina, as one of the hostages for the rebel privateers captured by the North. He was released and honorably discharged from the service, by reason of being a “prisoner of war on parole.” He began his parole in June, 1862.
The North began capturing prisoners in numbers, to balance those that were caught by the Confederate Army, so he was formally exchanged a few months later. He did not feel that he had yet done his duty in fighting for the Union, so he re-enlisted at the close of 1862 in Company K, First United States Marine Artillery Volunteers, known better as the Burnside Coast Guards and famed as the only U. S. volunteer corps of its kind in existence during the war. The position of these guards was one of the anomalies of the Civil War. They were kept in active service for two years, only to be honorably discharged on the ground that there was “no Congressional authority for organization.” By that time the war was over.
Mr. Unruh at once studied telegraphy, and became an operator for the Western Union Telegraph Company. He then accepted a better position with Wells, Fargo & Co., at Southern San Juan and Watsonville, Cal., as agent, and held it from July, 1866, to January, 1867.
Then began the period of his pioneering. The Central Pacific was under construction, an event of as much contemporary importance and interest as the digging of the Panama Canal is today. He joined the telegraph construction crews building the first railroad telegraph line over the Sierra Nevadas, and was well ahead of the first whistle of the locomotive as the line was pushed eastward into the desert. When the line was completed he was promoted to advance agent and operator. This place he held until 1869, when he was given the office of assistant freight agent of the Central Pacific at San Francisco. He saw the beginning of the freight traffic over the new transcontinental railroad, and, although San Francisco and California were not then in an advanced state of development, the growth of the traffic was almost dramatic. He began with one clerk, and the opening weeks the two had hardly enough to do, aside from the necessary work of organization. Then came the flood. In less than five years under Mr. Unruh were eighty-four clerks, and they were hardly able to handle the business. He resigned in 1874 and the office was at once reorganized. The duties he had performed were divided among five men.
He joined the L. E. Wertheimer, wholesale tobacco firm, and was with them until 1877. He moved to Highland Springs, Lake County, in that year and joined the Eureka and Palisade Railroad, remaining with them in various official capacities until 1879. Meanwhile, he had become acquainted with the late E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin, and the latter persuaded him to take charge of his vast estates and business interests. In 1879, he took over this responsibility, which required him to move to Arcadia (in Southern California) in 1884. He has been so occupied since.
In the management of the Baldwin property, and, since Mr. Baldwin’s death, of the estate, Mr. Unruh has handled a wide variety of business enterprises. The Baldwin ranch is an immense property, containing many square miles in the San Gabriel Valley. Mr. Unruh has laid out several towns, all of which are growing rapidly, owing to the unusual beauty of the sites. He made the property yield all the money that Mr. Baldwin needed during life in his various costly occupations. This alone gave him a reputation as a cleaver financier. He is a merchant, running a number of big stores. He operates hotels; he personally keeps an eye on mines; he has laid out water systems, and manages them; he operates gas, light and power plants of no mean magnitude. On the farm proper he is a fruit grower, stock grower, and general all-around agriculturist.
Among his historic achievements was the first test of the Bell telephone for distance in 1877. He found the limit then to be eighteen miles. About 1883, he laid the first underground electric light cable in San Francisco.
Mr. Unruh has, meanwhile, been active in other ways. He is president of the Ramera Oil Company. He is a director of the Los Angeles Racing Association. As a banker he is a director of the Monrovia First National Bank. He is also director of the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Company, and president of the Southern California Floral Company.
He belongs to the Masonic order and to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Transcribed by Joyce Rugeroni.
Source: Press Reference Library, Western Edition Notables of the West, Vol. I, Page 415, International News Service, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta. 1913.
© 2010 Joyce Rugeroni.