Luther Mendenhall

Luther Mendenhall and his beloved bank. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Born on a Pennsylvania farm, Luther Mendenhall (1836 – 1929) attended the University of Michigan  and served in the Union Army during the Civil War before going to Philadelphia to study law. In the late 1860s he became involved with Jay Cooke’s Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad; Mendenhall was part of a team sent to Duluth to complete the railroad and set up banking houses, hotels, and oversee other Cooke investments. Mendenhall made investments of his own, and with other pioneers financed Duluth’s first blast furnace and established its First Methodist Church. After the Panic of 1873 left Cooke penniless, Mendenhall—instead of leaving bankrupt Duluth—doubled down on the Zenith City and stayed. When Duluth lost its city charter in 1877, Mendenhall acted as treasurer of the reforming community and was instrumental in salvaging Duluth’s financial future. He became president of the Duluth National Bank and later the First National Bank and invested in other enterprises as well. He and Guilford Hartley, who together owned much of the Duluth Street Railway Company, incorporated Duluth Dry Goods and the Duluth Shoe Company. He served as the first president of the Duluth Library Association and the second president of Duluth’s Parks Board. Mendenhall’s reputation was sullied in the 1890s when his relationship with the headmistress of the Hardy School led to a scandalous divorce. Despite his connection to the Methodist church and his marital indiscretions, before he died at age 93 Mendenhall credited his long life and health to the fact that he was a Quaker and had led “a Quaker’s calm and temperate life.”

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