San Francisco County








NATHAN W. SPAULDING, the subject of this sketch, was born in the town of North Anson, Maine, on September 24, 1829. He is of English ancestry, being a descendant of Edward Spaulding, who came to America from England in the earliest years of the Massachusetts Colony, and settled in Braintree, Massachusetts, in the year 1630. Nathan’s father was a school-teacher as well as a practical mechanic, and in addition to mechanical skill, possessed a mind and intellect clear and undimmed, and that faculty of concentrating the powers of the mind upon any particular subject so necessary to success in the line of invention. From his mother he inherits strong common sense, keen and critical powers of observation and analyzation, and a remarkable faculty of reading and judging of character. Nathan was the eldest of eight children, all boys. As a youth, he possessed a sound constitution and a sturdy frame, and as he grew to manhood he became a splendid exemplification of physical strength and manhood, standing six feet and three inches in height, and weighing some 220 pounds. He had the usual common school advantages of New England boys of his day and the further advantage of home instruction so important to form the future tree. At the age of thirteen years he began to learn the trade of carpenter and builder, having his father as instructor. Having a natural aptitude for the use of tools, he made great proficiency at his trade and soon became an expert workman. One of his uncles being a millwright, he learned from him that trade also, and when he reached his twentieth year he stood in the foremost rank of the mechanics of his neighborhood. He had wrought both in Portland and in Boston, and while in the latter city he spent one winter in a saw factory, and there acquired that knowledge and insight into the technicalities of a business to the improvement and development of which so great a portion of his later life has been devoted.

      In 1851 Mr. Spaulding determined to seek his fortune in California, and, with a party of thirteen from his native State, started by way of the Isthmus of Panama for San Francisco. They arrived on the thirteenth day of September, and proceeded immediately to the mines and made their first attempt at gold digging near Campo Seco in Calaveras county. This not proving so successful as they anticipated, they removed to Mokelumne Hill, where they soon afterward separated and each sought fortune on his own account. Mr. Spaulding was soon engaged as superintendent in the construction of a quartz mill, the second built in the State. The irons for this mill were the second set manufactured by the late Peter Donahue, at his foundry on First street, since torn down to make room for the splendid business block now occupying the premises. The success of this mill soon led to the construction of a second on the same stream, and thus Mr. Spaulding became fully identified with the inauguration of that great industry in our State.

      In the summer of 1852 he with others toiled up the mountain sides on the banks of the Mokelumne river, and with whipsaws cut out 15,000 feet of lumber, with which to flume the river and enable them to mine the bed of the stream. There, through June, July and August they worked, much of the time waist-deep in the ice-cold water, under [t]he scorching rays of the mid-summer sun, only to see an early rain in September sweep away their flume, and with it all their golden visions for that season. Notwithstanding this great disappointment, Mr. Spaulding was by no means disheartened. He went further up the stream and built a sawmill in which was sawn the lumber for the Mokelumne Hill Flume and Water Company. After various mining ventures, reaping the usual rewards and disappointments, Mr. Spaulding returned to Campo Seco, and built and conducted the first hotel at that place, making considerable money by the enterprise. On May 25, 1854, he married Miss Mary Theresa, daughter of William Clinkinbeard, of Kentucky; but hardly had the newly-married pair arranged the details of housekeeping, before a destructive fire swept the hotel, as well as the town of Campo Seco out of existence. After this disaster, Mr. Spaulding proceeded to the head-waters of the Mokelumne river, where he built a sawmill, and afterward removed to the town of Clinton, where he also engaged in the sawmill business and built and rebuilt two of the principal bridges which cross the Mokelumne river.

      While making a tour among sawmills in the Northern part of the State Mr. Spaulding became convinced that a grand field was opening in the manufacture of saws, and he determined to devote his attention in future to that branch of industry. He accordingly removed with his family to Sacramento in 1859, and opened a shop for the repair and sale of saws. Here began a new era in his life. The spirit of invention came upon him and he devised an adjustable saw-tooth which has completely revolutionized the circular saw business and made his name a household word wherever those instruments are used. The demand for these teeth became so great that Mr. Spaulding found much difficulty in supply it, and he was compelled to invent other machines, finally culminating in the chisel-bit saw-tooth, which seems to the perfection of saw dentistry. Mr. Spaulding has been obliged to fight hard to preserve his rights from infringement, but has finally, we believe, succeeded in ousting all imitators from the field and securing his patents from the hands of the spoiler. In 1861 the saw factory was removed to San Francisco, and four years later Mr. Spaulding associated with himself in business, Messrs. C. P. Sheffield and James Patterson, and the firm was incorporated under the name and style of the Pacific Saw Manufacturing Company, for the general manufacture and sale of all kinds of saws, which company stands foremost among the leading enterprises of this coast, but is entirely distinct from the N. W. Spaulding Saw Company. There is a branch of the latter company in Chicago under the charge of two of the brothers, which we are informed is doing a prosperous business. Mr. Spaulding removed his family residence to Oakland in 1868, and has built two fine mansions, one at the corner of Ninth and Madison streets, and more recently one at Highland Park, East Oakland. Ten children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Spaulding, six girls and four boys. Four girls and two boys are still living, also eight grandchildren.

      Mr. Spaulding, although never an office-seeker, has always held it to be a patriotic duty to serve the people in any position he was called upon to fill, and at various times he has, at the sacrifice of his business interests and his ease and comfort, accepted office. Four years he served in the City Council of Oakland, and was twice elected Mayor of that city without opposition. During his occupancy of these important offices, he mapped out and crystallized into reality nearly all the substantial improvements which the people of Oakland now enjoy, and in many ways then, and since, has shown himself possessed of great executive ability. In those positions, with ceaseless vigilance and great personal sacrifice, he did his whole duty and earned the plaudits of all good citizens. Without solicitation on his part, President Garfield, in 1881, tendered him the important and responsible office of Assistant United States Treasurer of San Francisco. This Mr. Spaulding accepted, entering upon the discharge of his duties on May, 1881, and holding it until August 20, 1885. During that time he received and disbursed, or safely kept and transferred to his successor, more than $320,000,000 without the loss of one cent. In the Masonic fraternity Mr. Spaulding holds high rank, having been at one time Grand High Priest of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of California, and upon the death of the late Moses Heller, Grand Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of California, Mr. Spaulding was elected to that important office, which position he has held for ten consecutive years.

      In mechanics and invention, leading factors in our country’s progress, Mr. Spaulding stands in the front rank. He is a man of sterling integrity, a true and reliable friend, modest and unpretending, yet firm and unyielding as adamant in the discharge of duty.

      Senator Stanford paid a well-merited compliment to the character of the man when he selected him as one of the trustees of the Leland Stanford, Jr., University, and his associates will find in him a valuable coadjutor in the great work before them.



Transcribed by Donna L. Becker.

Source: “The Bay of San Francisco,” Vol. 2, Pages 477-479, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.

© 2006 Donna L. Becker.




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San Francisco County


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