Robert Kenneth Cameron is 100 Years old. This blog honors him and his father, William Cameron, as “Great Scots.”
William Cameron was born October 11, 1873 in Charleston, Nigg outside of Aberdeen, Scotland. His father was a crofter and the family of ten lived in a small stone house, constructed in an L shape with three fireplaces to withstand the cold winds off the North Sea. “From this humble beginning he rose to be included in a list of 8,000 prominent Scots worldwide and President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.”
In 1896, at the age of 22, he left for America with his friend, David Mackie. They traveled in steerage. In 1903, William Cameron, with his wife and first son returned to Scotland, traveling second class. Before the stock market crash in 1929, he traveled again to Scotland with his family, this time in first class. His method of travel is indicative of his success in America.
In 1910, Mr. and Mrs. Cameron built their first house at 174 N. LeClaire Ave. (Chicago), not far from their plant at Ashland and Fulton. He bought his first automobile in 1914. In 1924, they built a larger house at 824 Bonnie Brae in River Forest, west of Chicago. In 1926, he bought 1,300 acres of land on the Kankakee River in Indiana. By 1927-28 he had built a house, garage and barn and dredged channels to create a “game preserve returning the land to the old Kankakee river beds and marshes.” The property is still owned by members of the Cameron family.
Mr. Cameron belonged to the Medinah Temple and was a 32nd Degree Mason. He was Past Chief of Clan Campbell, No 28. He was Director of two banks which failed in the stock market crash of 1929, In one bank, all the company money was lost. The Harris Bank came to his rescue with loans and assistance.
“In the 1930's William Cameron, by setting up a Will and Trusts leaving all his assets in Trust to the four children and Mother, he again showed foresight and wisdom considering his untimely death in 1934 at the age of 60 years when he had reached the height of his career as President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.” His death was caused by pneumonia, and poor medical care may have been a contributing factor.
(Let me pause here and refer our readers to the family website “Our Cameron history.” Here you can trace the family history and a complete summary of the life of William Cameron written by his son Robert Kenneth. There are many pictures. The quotations in this article come from the family web site.
William Cameron spent almost his entire life in the canning business, especially in can-making machinery. He rose quickly in this business and we know him as the President of the Cameron Can Machinery Company. His building still stands on Ashland Avenue and has recently been renovated into office spaces and stores. The name CAMERON engraved in large letters remains above the front door. (We have driven by this building several times on our various history tours.) A six-story tower and clock that once chimed makes the building visible to the community. Its assessed value is presently $1,500,000.
Mr. Cameron owned a total of 48 patents before his premature death in 1934. He was a prolific inventor. “It was his custom when living in River Forest that after dinner he would retire to the living room, sitting in an easy chair in semi-darkness smoking a cigar, thinking and with his dog Queenie lying at his feet. He got a box of cigars every week from Cuba.” Not only was Mr. Cameron a prolific inventor, he was also an outstanding businessman. The Cameron Can Machine Company had offices in Paris, London, Hong Kong and New York with agents around the world.
In 1989, I began a search for the oldest son, Allan W. Cameron, whose last know address was in Naples, Florida. Unable to find a telephone listing, I wrote to every person named Cameron with a Naples address. Allan W. replied and I had one short conversation with him before his death.
Shortly after, I become acquainted with the youngest son, Robert K. Cameron who in now 100 years old. His wife, Gertrude M. is celebrating her 99th birthday as I write this article. Mr. Cameron is probably the oldest Life member of the Society. If someone is older, please let us know.
In 1935, the sons, Robert and Allan presented to the St. Andrew Society a check with the following comments:
“We have always felt that our father, William Cameron, would have made a contribution to the Scottish Old Peoples Home had it not been for his sudden death. We would like to have a room in the Home dedicated to his memory. In the belief that the Board of Governors will set aside a room for that purpose, we are enclosing a check for $10,000 made payable to the Illinois Saint Andrew society. We trust to be in a position in future years to make further contributions to this worthy cause.”
On June 9, 1989, I first visited the family plot located in Forest Home Cemetery. It is in Section 12, lot 34 and contains an angel hovering over a beautiful monument. We also visited the family plot one of our History Tours.
This coming Saturday, September 29, 2012, the remaining son, Robert Kenneth will have a birthday party at the Chicago Yacht Club. He is also the oldest member of the Yacht club. I have been invited to attend and honor this outstanding man, his father, and the entire Cameron Clan in Chicago.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society
The last day to reserve your place on our History Tour is September 30, 2012. Go to our secure store to make your reservations.
November 6 - History Club meeting featuring Molly McNeil who spent a month in Africa. Also, our reigning Heather Queen, and Rosie Johnson.