John McEwen, well known among the successful businessmen of Allegany county, was born in New York City in 1849. His father, Duncan McEwen, came from the Highlands of Scotland, and learned the machinist’s and millwright’s trades in Glasgow. He was a man of high character and exceptional ability, and ultimately obtained the position of superintendent of one of the large government shipyards at Liverpool. He was ambitious, however, to have a business of his own, and wisely decided that America promised the quickest realization of his hopes. In April, 1819, accordingly, he embarked with his family from Liverpool in one of the first steamships constructed for ocean traffic. They made the passage in eighteen days, then regarded as marvelously quick. John was born the day they landed in New York City.
After sojourning in various places, Duncan McEwen finally established himself in Wellsville, Allegany County, in May, 1854. Beginning operations modestly — a lathe and a drilling machine, indeed, comprised his entire plant at first he enlarged his business prudently as opportunity offered, and laid the foundations in his little foundry and machine shop for the magnificent business afterward developed therefrom by his sons. At the time of his death, however, in February, 1864, the works were hardly self-sustaining, and John McEwen, his eldest son, was still a boy. The shop was rented for a few years, therefore, while John and William, the next son, prepared themselves to take up the business, By 1868 they felt ready to carry on the work, and formed the firm of McEwen Brothers.
This was nearly thirty years ago, when both the brothers were under age and comparatively inexperienced. They had traits of mind and character, however that more than countervailed these deficiencies, and they achieved a rare degree of success. Suffering a temporary setback in October, 1876, when their plant was burned, they at once erected a substantial brick building, and equipped the same with the finest and latest machinery. The firm now employs about sixty workmen, and manufactures annually engines, boilers, mill and general machinery valued at $125,000 or more. They make a specialty of fitting up tanneries, and for twenty-five years past they have furnished the machinery for all the tanneries within 150 miles of Wellsville, including the enormous plant at Costello, Penn., the largest in the world. John McEwen has been the head and front of the concern from the beginning, and its success may be ascribed in a superior measure to his energy and business sagacity.
Aside from his career as a manufacturer Mr. McEwen deserves mention as a public-spirited citizen. In political matters he has long been an important factor in the Republican party of Allegany County, though he has felt unable to neglect his business interests in the way that public office might require. He was a delegate, however, to the Republican National Convention held at Minneapolis in 1892. He is a Knight Templar Mason of St. John’s Commandery, Olean. His connection with the Wellsville, Coudersport & Pine Creek railroad illustrates both his public spirit and his ability as a financier. The road was originally planned many years ago, but work was abandoned after eight miles had been graded. In 1890 it was rumored that Hornellsville capitalists intended to build a competing line that would seriously retard the growth and prosperity of Wellsville. Under the circumstances Wellsville deemed it highly important to put its road through at once. Mr. McEwen personally circulated the paper for subscriptions; and he was elected president and general manager of the new company, and gave close attention to the construction, equipment, and operation of the road. The enterprise was highly successful, and when the road was sold, in 1895, the stockholders realized a handsome profit on their investment.
PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY – John McEwen was born at New York City April 21, 1849; moved to Wellsville, Allegany county, N. Y., in 1854; married Emma Alger October 30, 1879; began business as a manufacturer of machinery at Wellsville in 1868, and has continued the same since.