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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Simmons, Zalmon Gilbert 1828 - 1910


businessman, manufacturer, philanthropist, b. Euphrates, Montgomery County, N.Y. He first visited Wisconsin with his parents in 1843, and in 1849 settled in Kenosha where for several years he operated a store. In 1856 he purchased a half interest in the Wisconsin Telegraph Co. As the Northwestern Telegraph Co., the firm expanded until 1881, when it was leased to Western Union; at that time, it owned 20,000 miles of line in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. In 1884 Simmons became a director of the Western Union Co. He was also president (1858-1864) of the Kenosha, Rockford and Rock Island R.R. (now part of the Chicago and North Western), and in 1889 he organized the Manitou and Pike's Peak R.R. in Colorado, and two years later saw the completion of the cograilway to the top of Pike's Peak. Simmons was president of the First National Bank of Kenosha (1871-1909). In 1872 he organized in Kenosha a firm to manufacture cheese boxes; soon afterward the firm became the Northwestern Wire Mattress Co., and eventually developed into the Simmons Manufacturing Co. It was the most important of Simmons' many enterprises, and at the time of his death, the company was one of the largest producers of wire mattresses, steel springs, and iron and steel beds in the world. A Republican, Simmons held local political offices, including that of state assemblyman (1865) and mayor of Kenosha. He was noted for his Kenosha philanthropies, and was the donor of the Henry M. Simmons Memorial Church, the Gilbert M. Simmons Library (1900), and the Soldiers' Monument. After the death of his father in 1910, ZALMON GILBERT SIMMONS, JR., became president of the Simmons Manufacturing Co., serving in this capacity until 1932, and from 1932 until his death was chairman of the board of directors. He was responsible for greatly expanding the business, and also carried on his father's tradition of philanthropy by donating a portion of Washington Island to the city of Kenosha, together with funds to develop it as a public recreation area. E. B. Usher, Wis. (8 vols., Chicago, 1914); Kenosha Evening News, Feb. 12, 1910; Racine Journal-Times, Apr. 27, 1934; WPA MS.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Zalmon Gilbert Simmons Biographical Sketch for details.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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