|William J. Howard was born in St Paul, Minnesota on
October 29, 1857 to Andrew Howard (b. 1828) and Mary Ryan Howard, (b.
1832). Both of William's parents were born in Ireland and immigrated to
Minnesota where five more children were born in addition to William; these
were Andrew, Matthew, James, Mary, and John.
Little is known of William Howard's early years except for a few items in the 1860 St. Paul census which listed his father as a leather merchant. Andrew Howard evidentially had some experience in curing and tanning hides and turning them into leather goods for sale. Andrew and his son, William would prove to be as restless as the American West of their time.
Taking Horace Greeley's maxim to heart ("Go west, young man!") Andrew, William and brother Matthew went west to California in the early 1870s hoping to make their fortune through the skill with hides and leathers that was passed down to the new generation. There is evidence that Mrs. Howard followed the men to California, as William's daughter Loretta Howard (1884- stated in a biographical sketch Of her father by stating that Andrew and Mary Howard were "from County Wicklen, Ireland," and had lived in Alameda, California after the children were born in Minnesota.
Another interesting tidbit in the Howard's California sojourn was how they traveled west. While the sons traveled overland by rail, stagecoach or horse, the father is said to have taken the long route down the Mississippi, across the Gulf of Mexico, overland to the Pacific, and then by boat north to California. The Howards efforts on the west coast would not be nearly as successful as their later endeavors back east, and this lack of fortune provided the impetus for a coast to coast move.
The exact date the Howards moved from California to the east is unknown, but it was sometime in the late 1870s. William's death certificate lists him as a 40-year resident of New York City at the time of his death on August 5, 1919.
William Howard married Theresa McGrover in Yonkers, N. Y on January 1, 1883. The bride had been born in Brooklyn in 1861. Her parents were Richard McGrover and Esther Costello. Over the next eleven years William and Theresa Howard would have five children: Loretta (1884-1963), Gertrude (1886-1964), Elizabeth (1888-1970), William 1. (1890-1976), and Genevieve (1894-1963). William was not the only Howard to go west and then east. His brother Matthew worked in the leather manufacturing firm of Howard and McDermott in New York in the late 1880s. Matthew developed the process of Pebble Goat Kid, also called Morocco Tanning. The leather business proved more lucrative in New York than in California. In the 1890s Howard and McDermott had offices in Manhattan and factories in Brooklyn. This success enabled Matthew Howard to send his three daughters to college as the 20th century dawned.
William Howard joined his brother's firm in the late 1880s, increasing his knowledge of hides and the leather business. He left the firm to dabble in his own endeavors: in 1897 he purchased up to 37 acres of marsh land west of Hawtree Creek, upon which he planned to breed Angora goats that he was about to import from Mexico.
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