William I. Prince

William I. Prince (Image: Duluth Public Library)

William I. Prince, for many years a banker in Duluth, had the distinction of serving as first mayor of the city under the commission form 6f government, and during the past two or three years has served as secretary of the Commercial Club of Duluth, supplying the place and service of younger men who went to war.

Mr. Prince was born at Camden, Ohio, October 11, 1867, son of George C. and Lucy A. (Hill) Prince. He is of old New England ancestry. His first American ancestor, Daniel Prince, was born in England about 1655 and came to the Colonies as a soldier in the British army, and after his discharge remained in New England, where he died in 1728.

His grandson, Abel. was born in Connecticut in 1763 and lived out his life in that state. William Prince, grandfather of William I. Prince, was born in Connecticut in 1791 and died in 1842, having spent his active life as a merchant, for many years near Buffalo, New York. George C. Prince was born in Erie County, New York, December 10, 1830, and after the death of his father came with his widowed mother to Ohio, where he spent most of his life and where he died at the age of eighty-seven in the college city of Oberlin. He began his career with a limited education as a farmer, but laid the foundation of a substantial fortune as a sawmill and lumber man, at one time operating half a dozen mills.

He was also identified with banking and finally retired. He was a Republican, interested in the welfare of his community, and held some township and village offices and was also entrusted with the management of estates. He was a member of the Congregational Church. He married Lucy A. Hill in 1861, and their six children are all living, William I. being the second.

William I. Prince attended public schools, the Oberlin Business College, and spent several terms in Oberlin College. Though reared in a good home of well-to-do parents, he showed his initiative and began earning money when about fourteen years of age, working out on farms during the summer seasons both for his father and other farmers. He received much valuable business training during two years as an employe of the Oberlin postoffice, and in 1889 began his banking career as clerk and collector in the Citizens National Bank of Oberlin, where he remained six months.

1077For the past thirty years his activities have identified him with northern Michigan and northern Minnesota. Leaving Ohio, he became bookkeeper in the First National Bank of Escanaba, where he remained two years, for ten years was cashier of the First National Bank of Bessemer, Michigan, and was then elected president of that institution, an office he still occupies. While a resident of Bessemer he served three successive terms as mayor.

Mr. Prince came to Duluth in December, 1902, and, associated with others, organized the City National Bank, becoming its cashier and a director, offices he occupied nine years, when he sold his interests. About that time he was the choice of the citizens as the first mayor under the commission charter and ably administered the municipal government four years. When America entered the war the secretary and assistant secretary of the Duluth Commercial Club went into the army, and Mr. Prince was drafted for the duties of secretary, an office he still holds. He was president of the Commercial Club in 1909.

Other important business interests are as a director in the Gogebic Powder Company, Brotherton Iron Mining Company, Sunday Lake Iron Mining Company, vice president of the Midland Trust & Savings Bank of St. Paul, and president of the Otsego Land Corporation. He is a member of the Duluth Boat Club, the Congregational Church, and is a Republican voter, but his only public office in Duluth has been that of mayor.

October 7, 1897, at Wraupaca, Wisconsin, he married Mary A. Baldwin, whose people came from New Hampshire and New York state.

They are the parents of four sons: George B., Gerald C., W. I. Prince, Jr., and Milton H. The oldest son was born November 12, 1898.


The first mayor of the city under the commission form of government, William Prince (1867–1941) was born at Camden, Ohio, in 1867. He attended Oberlin College and found work there, first in the post office and later at the Citizens National Bank before striking out for Escanaba, Michigan, to work for the First National Bank. After two years he moved on to the First National Bank in Bessemer. There he not only rose to become the bank president, but was also elected Bessemer’s mayor three times. He won his first election by a two-to-one margin, ran unopposed in the second, and took the third by just six votes—without campaigning. He kept the bank position in Bessemer even after moving to Duluth in 1902 to establish the City National Bank and work with the Duluth Commercial Club, predecessor of today’s Chamber of Commerce. He sold his interest in the Duluth bank in 1911, prior to his campaign for mayor of Duluth. His mayoral predecessor and fellow Republican John McCuen chose not to run for reelection, opening the doors for Prince to run against Democrat William E. McEwan. The results were so close the winner had to be determined in court. The case dragged on until August, 1913, nearly four months after the new mayor was to take office. Prince was declared mayor by a margin of six votes. After his single term in office Prince continued his work with the Commercial Club; he also held interests in several banks, manufacturing concerns, mining companies, and land corporations.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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