History of the Nickerson Mansion: 1858

Matilda Nickerson (left), Samuel Nickerson (right)

Above: Matilda Nickerson (left), Samuel Nickerson (right)

The Nickerson Family Arrives in Chicago


Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, July 1912, Vol. 6, No. 1, page 3.

Matilda Pinkham Nickerson (1837-1912)

By the death of Mrs. Nickerson in New York, March 15, the Art Institute lost one of its best friends. The portrait here reproduced was painted by Madrazo in 1901. The Nickerson Collection in the Art Institute, made up of jades, lacquers, porcelains, bronzes and other oriental art objects, and of modern paintings, occupying galleries 41, 42 and 44, was the gradual accumulation of Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson through years of travel and discriminating selection. It was formerly installed in their Chicago home, but when they moved to New York, in 1900, they dedicated the collection to public use in Chicago by presenting it to the Art Institute. Although the gift was unconditioned, Mrs. Nickerson’s interest did not cease, and she has from time to time re-visited Chicago and personally supervised the cleaning and rearrangement of the collection. Her presence was always most welcome.

Chicago Daily Tribune, March 30, 1890, page 26

He Makes a Voyage to Florida and Fails, Comes to Chicago and Wins

Mr. S. M. Nickerson, President of the First National Bank of Chicago, is about as democratic as anyone who makes a specialty of being so. You are not heralded into his presence. The latchstring of his office door is not only out during business hours but afterward. The door is never closed. You go in unannounced. There is no guard anywhere. If someone is ahead of you he tells you to wait. When you leave it is with the impression that you have the entrée again. All this of course, if your mission has been such as business-men have. Not inclined to seek publicity, never on dress parade, whether at home or abroad, he has no tomfool mock modesty about him which says: “Excuse me.” His early life is no mystery. His beginning in business is not locked up in a closet grooming a skeleton.

He was born in Chatham, Mass., in 1830. The 14th “rare day” of June. His father was a poor man. He moved to Boston when Samuel was 7 years of age in order to give him the benefit of a public school. He finished his course. He had a brother in business in Appalachicola [sic], Fla. Samuel’s father bought him passage from Boston to Florida. He had an opportunity in the voyage to realize that he had to make his own way. The day he arrived in Appalachicola [sic] he went behind the counter as a salesman for his brother. Just a plain country store it was. He remained in that capacity for three years, during which time he saved some money. He concluded to go in business for himself. He hadn’t enough money, but some business-men in New York who had noticed his attention and politeness in the store liked him and backed him, and he began. In 1857 he was burnt out. He had, through no plunging or speculation, made some obligations. The fire left him unable to meet them. There was no prospect in Florida. He came to Chicago in the Spring of 1858 and with the assistance of friends engaged in the distilling business on a small capital: In 1861 he took his earnings and cancelled all the Florida obligations, principal and interest, of his own volition, for his creditors had never pressed him. In 1863 he retired from the distilling business. He invested capital in the Chicago City railway company and First National Bank. In 1871 he was President of the railway company. On the organization of the First National Bank in 1863 he was made Vice-President. In 1867 he was President. He is still in the chair. In 1867 he organized the Stock-Yards National Bank and was President of that institution until 1873. He now gives his entire time and attention to the affairs of the First National. Men who fret and worry over the little things of this life ought to study this man’s history and habits.

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