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About Samuel Cupples

Samuel Cupples was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 13, 1831, one of the 13 children of James and Elizabeth Cupples.

Samuel CupplesHis parents emigrated from County Down, Ireland. Cupples' Irish heritage is remembered in the many decorative references to Celtic patterns throughout Cupples House. His father established a school in Pittsburgh, which Cupples could have attended. Ironically, however, Cupples had very little formal education.

At the age of 15, Cupples left for Cincinnati, Ohio, where a company selling woodenware employed him. It sent Cupples on a barge bound for New Orleans to sell its products and to establish a branch of the company. But, since the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers were the main conduits for trade at this time, rivermen told Cupples to go to St. Louis, the "gateway to the west." Even before he reached Cairo, Illinois, Cupples sold all his goods. He went back to Cincinnati to get another load of woodenware to start his own business on the levee in St. Louis.

Samuel Cupples in St. Louis

Cupples was in the right place at the right time. St. Louis was filled with people, and the city was growing. His firm, Cupples Company, distributed wooden utensils. He later took a partner and the firm became known for a short time as Cupples and Marston. Original shipping invoices of sales to Mississippi riverboats show he expanded his business to include additional products. The firm continued to grow, and Cupples began to manufacture, as well as wholesale and distribute.

In 1866, Cupples hired brothers Harry and Robert Brookings, who ultimately became partners in the business, and the company entered into a major period of growth. By 1880, Robert, then 30, had already become a millionaire through his dealings in real estate. As Cupples grew increasingly debilitated by severe asthma, the Brookings brothers often ran the business. Together, the three men amassed 22 warehouses by 1893. Known as Cupples Station, each was built directly next to and over railroad freight lines. (The Cupples Station site is located southeast of Busch Stadium.) The complex contained space for 40 companies doing an annual business of $100 million. This strategy enabled shippers to warehouse their goods so efficiently that Cupples and his partners essentially tied up the distribution in the city of St. Louis.

The Cupples Family

Cupples married Margaret Amelia Kells in 1854, but their marriage was tragically Margaret Cupplesshort. Plagued by health problems, Margaret Amelia died only four years into to marriage and did not live long enough to reside at Cupples House. Their only child died in infancy. Before she died, Amelia asked Cupples to marry her older sister, Martha. This custom was not unusual for wealthy families in the era, because it served as a way of keeping money in the family.

Samuel married Martha in 1860. They had three biological children, all of whom died in infancy or early childhood of cholera or diphtheria. They also adopted their 12-year-old niece Amelia, the daughter of Martha's older sister, Harriet Kells Loman.

Like her husband, Martha Cupples involved herself in philanthropic activity. When Martha Cupplesthe Methodist Orphans Children's Home was founded in December 1867, Martha served as one of its directresses. By 1870, she served on the Executive Board of the Home as a second vice president, and she was also the secretary of the board of managers. Through the years, Mrs. Cupples also participated in fundraising for the Children's Home. While she devoted most of her energy there, the directors of the St. John's Ladies Aid Society named Mrs. Cupples as its first president upon the society's organization in 1876. In 1877, she became involved with the Industrial School and Home for Girls as the secretary of its board of managers. Mrs. Cupples was also interested in the Memorial Home for the Aged (Charless Home), the Women's Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Christian Home for Single Women.

Illness forced Mrs. Cupples to surrender all of her charity work when she succumbed to a mysterious illness that left her bedridden in 1891. She remained paralyzed, unable to leave her room, until her death in 1894. 

In 1895, Cupples provided $100,000 for a new Methodist Orphans' Children's Home building in honor of Martha Kells Cupples. He functioned as treasurer of its board of trustees. The Home was dedicated in May 1896. Mr. Cupples sat on the men's board from the time of its inception. 

The Cupples Home

Cupples' house was designed by Thomas Annan. Construction began in 1888, and the house was ready for the family by 1890. There are 42 rooms in Cupples House and 22 fireplaces. Entertainments and galas, though no dancing, were held in the formal rooms of the first floor while the second and third floors were reserved for the family. In 1904, a conservatory was added to the rear of the house.

Vintage photographs illustrate how the house was furnished when the family lived here from 1890 to 1919. Although typically described as a Victorian-era home because of its date of construction, the Cupples House's interiors in the family's days in the home reflect a variety of decorating styles and tastes. Family comfort catalyzed a rather eclectic collection of furnishings. So, too, changing taste encouraged the purchase of art and furniture which did not necessarily coordinate with what was already in the home or what would be later added to the home. As a strict Methodist, Cupples did not approve of dancing. Therefore, the third floor of the house did not have the traditional ballroom. However, society articles in the newspaper report that after Cupples' death, champagne and oyster parties were held in the house to celebrate New Years' Eve.

Wealth, Philanthropy and Legacy

In the days before personal income tax, men could amass considerable wealth regardless of a lack of formal education. Like many successful entrepreneurs of his day, Cupples felt he owed a debt of gratitude to the country that had provided such great opportunity. He was both generous with his wealth and civic-minded, endowing charities and establishing the Methodist Boys Home.

Cupples became a major benefactor of Methodist-related charities. One of them, the St. Louis Provident Association, helped establish Barnes Hospital and also Washington University. Cupples also built a library at the Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri, established the first technical school in St. Louis, and built two engineering buildings at Washington University, named Cupples One and Cupples Two. He ultimately bequeathed the entire Cupples Station to Washington University, substantially establishing their endowment.

When Cupples died in 1912, his adopted daughter, Amelia, was at his bedside. He was interred in the mausoleum he had built in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Cupples' estate was valued at $1.5 million, which did not include his gift of $2.5 million to Washington University and other gifts totaling $5 million. He stipulated in his will that his house could not be sold for at least eight years after his death and also that the building could not be sold to Saint Louis University. The house remained in the family's hands until 1919, when it was sold to the American Railroad Telegraphers' Union. It remained in their hands until 1946, when it was sold to Saint Louis University for $50,000.

The University used the home as a student union and office space until 1970. By 1973, the house was under threat of demolition. But, the efforts of Fr. Maurice McNamee saved the house. He oversaw its renovation, remodeling, and then opened it to the public in 1975. The Samuel Cupples House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Timeline of Samuel Cupples Life  

1831

  • Samuel Cupples born in Harrisburg, PA, on September 13. He is the 13th child of James and Elizabeth Bigham Cupples.

1840

  • The Cupples family relocates to the Pittsburgh, PA, in or about this year.

1843

  • Samuel begins working in a grocery store in Pittsburgh starting from about the age of 12.

1846

  • Samuel and his family move to Cincinnati to begin working for A. O. Taylor (or Tylor) Woodenware Company.
    1851
  • Cuppples entices his friend Asa Americus Wallace to come with him to St. Louis When they arrive in St. Louis, they begin Cupples Company in leased space on the 2nd and 3rd floors of 9 Locust Street.
  • Samuel also begins his affiliation with the Fourth Street Methodist Church located at the corner of 4th and Washington and reportedly teaches Sunday School there.

1853

  • Cupples moves the business from Locust Street to larger quarters on the levee.
  • Samuel buys property on Cote Brilliante for $5,627. The property originally belonged to Auguste Choteau. This property later became his principal residence and farm property.

1854

  • Samuel Cupples marries Margaret Amelia Kells in St. Louis on February 15. Between 1854 and 1858, Amelia has at least one child who dies at birth and is buried on December 22, 1854.

1858

  • Margaret Amelia dies of consumption (tuberculosis).
  • Samuel Cupples and Asa Wallace expand their partnership to include Thomas Marston of Chicago.
  • Cupples and Marston Wholesale Wooden and Willow Ware is now relocated to 55 and 57 N. Second Street in St. Louis.

1860-1874

  • Samuel and Martha have three children, all of whom die in early childhood either from diphtheria or typhoid.
  • Harriet Lillian ("Lillie") Kells, born December 8, 1866, and buried June 7, 1874.
  • Belle Marston, born October 28, 1869, and buried June 30, 1879.
  • Clara Taylor, born August 28, 1871, and buried June 1, 1874.

1864

  • Cupples & Marston listed as members of the St. Louis Provident Association. The Association was originally founded in the 1850s. Its annual reports stated that its mission was: "to alleviate poverty caused by an increasing population, the cholera epidemic of the 1840s, a city-wide fire shortly thereafter and the disruption of the Civil War." At this time, the Association distributed aid to 1,167 families.

1866

  • After a stop in Cairo, IL, where he is told that "St. Louis is where the action is," Harry Brookings comes to St. Louis and joins Cupples & Marston. Harry was the internal pricing expert. Harry's brother, Robert Brookings soon joins Cupples & Marston. Robert became the premier traveling salesperson for the firm.

1868

  • Amelia Ross Lowman (1862-1933), at age 6, comes to live with Samuel and Martha. Amelia is the daughter of Martha's sister, Harriet Kells Lowman.

1870

  • The Marston name is dropped from the business. Samuel Cupples Wood and Willowware Wholesaler is operating from 108 & 110 North 2nd Street in St. Louis.

1871

  • About this time, the Brookings brothers propose leaving Cupples Company. According to Fr. Maurice McNamee, Mr. Cupples replied, "Boys, you can't do that; I'll make you full partners!"
  • Samuel and Martha Cupples officially adopt Amelia Ross Lowman on March 7.

1873

  • The Cupples family is received into St. John's Methodist Church, precursor of the current St. John's on Kingshighway at Washington. The original St. John's Church, built in 1867, was located at 2901 Locust. According to the church records, the names of those received into St. John's are: Samuel Cupples, Mrs. Samuel Cupples (Martha), Amelia Cupples, and Lillie Cupples.

1876

  • From 1876-1890 and from 1900-1911, Cupples served as a curator at Central Methodist in Fayette, MO.

1881

  • Cupples begins to serve on the Washington University board. He served on the Board from 1881 until his death in 1912. Later, he will become involved with Robert Barnes in the Washington University Medical School and also in the founding of Barnes Hospital.

1884

  • Work begins on construction of the Cupples Station Property, which is shown below. In time, the Cupples business became the hub for transportation through St. Louis.

1885

  • By the mid-1880s, according to the Brookings file at Washington University, Mr. Cupples was in poor health and retired from the active running of the business. Asa Wallace, his sons, and the Brookings brothers begin to run the business about this time.

1887

  • Construction begins on the Samuel Cupples House at 3673 West Pine. The family lived at the home of a Dr. Lawrence at 3611 West Pine until construction was completed.

1890

  • This is the first year that 3673 West Pine is listed as the Cupples' residence address in the St. Louis Business Directory.
  • The Cupples family travels to Europe.

1891

  • Martha Cupples is struck by paralysis on June 1. She is reportedly "prostrate" by her condition from this time until her death in October 1894.

1892

  • According to the St. Louis Business Directory, the business relocates to an address known as "Cupples Block."
  • Samuel Cupples appears on the 1892 New York Tribune list of millionaires. Summing up the Gilded Age spirit, the paper states, "The late 19th century was the heroic age of the forceful individual personality in American enterprise."
  • Cupples begins his tenure on the Board of Trustees of Vanderbilt University, a position he held until 1911. He actually submitted his resignation in 1897 citing that ill health caused his inability to attend the annual meetings, but the Board refused to accept the resignation. To repay the Vanderbilt Board, in 1987, Mr. Cupples pledges an annual contribution of $1500 toward the salary of a professor of practical theology on the condition that the remainder be raised from other sources.

1894

  • Martha Kells Cupples dies on November 18 of pneumonia paresis at the age of 64. She had been a bedridden invalid for three years prior to her death.
  • Sometime in the 1890s, Cupples and Brookings become involved with Barnes Hospital. Brookings plays a role in aligning Washington University with Barnes Hospital. Both the Brookings brothers were in on the early Barnes Hospital decisions.
  • Cupples continues his philanthropic activities. He is Vice President on the Executive Board of the St. Louis Provident Association. By this time, Provident sponsors 75 percent of all the charity in St. Louis. Comparable groups include the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the United Hebrew Charities. Provident serves approximately 3,500 families, 1,205 foreign citizens, 1,450 United States citizens, and 866 African-Americans. Cupples also sits on the board of Missouri Children's Home, an organization dedicated in memoriam his wife in honor of her many philanthropic activities.

1895

  • Cupples provides $100,000 to build the Methodist Orphans' Children's Home in honor of Martha Kells Cupples. He functions as Treasurer of its Board of Trustees. The Home was later dedicated in May 1896. The Methodist Orphans' Board was founded in 1867 by the First Methodist Church South. Martha Cupples was one of the founding directresses and Cupples sat on the Men's Board from the time of its inception nearly thirty years earlier.
  • Cupples donates money to restore Lafayette Park Church after a cyclone devastated it.

1900

  • Cupples' business holdings now includes Samuel Cupples Envelope Co., which held the official license to sell postcards at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Postcards from the company were designated as "Official Souvenir World's Fair Saint Louis 1904."

    The hold-to-the-light postcards were some of the most popular postcards, because the image on them changed once they were held up to the light. When the postcards were held up to the light, the buildings in the image lit up.
  • Cupples is one of the 115 donors for the building of the new St. John's Church on Kingshighway. Ground was eventually broken for the Church in June 1901.
  • In May, capital stock from the Cupples Station property is transferred to Washington University. The stock carried a book value of $3,000,000. Cupples supposedly gave the property with an attached debt of $3,000,000, which the University paid off through tax savings because of its tax-exempt status. The situation led to a policy that tax-exempt institutions cannot accept gifts of this kind.
  • In November, Cupples attends the dedication of Washington University. He sat in attendance with the University faculty.

1901

  • On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Cupples Wooden Ware, employees of the company present Cupples with a memorial booklet, in which the company history was recorded. Some of the quotes testifying to the corporate traits of Cupples Wooden Ware included:
    • "Fairness, honesty, quality, service. . ."
    • "Business has a duty to society that is bigger than just its economic job."
    • "Human obligation to employees, customers, and to the community at large."
  • The cornerstone is laid on May 11 for Cupples Hall I of Washington University. The building was later used by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company to be used as its Service Building for an anthropological exhibition of mummies in the basement.
  • The cornerstone for Cupples Hall II is laid on May 25. It was also used in the 1904 World's Fair under the name of the Jefferson Guard Building. The Cupples Engineering Laboratories building cornerstone is also laid on May 25.

1906

  • On November 1, an imposter named Matilda Cupples came forward attempting to extort money from Mr. Cupples. She claimed to be his niece and ordered invitations to her wedding in the name of Samuel Cupples. The Cupples family had to endure a court proceeding to reverse this charge.

1909

  • Samuel Cupples, his daughter, and his granddaughters, board the R. M. S. Republic. However, the Republic collided with an Italian ship off the Nantucket coast. This incident marked the first use of the Marconi wireless communication, or the telegraph, and was heralded as saving the passengers and crew. The shipwreck aggravated Mr. Cupples' asthma and left him with nervous prostration, both of which reportedly contributed to his death.

1912

  • At 11 p.m. on January 6, Samuel Cupples dies of pneumonia and bronchitis. His daughter, Amelia, is the only relative at his side. In addition to his business and philanthropic activity, his obituary also lists him as one of the directors of Boatmen's Bank. The Cupples estate is valued at $1,575,129.29, which does not include his properties and their furnishings and artwork.