Early Evansville Portraits And Biographies
From History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana
by Brant & Fuller

William Heilman

Previous Home Next


HON. WILLIAM HEILMAN was born in Albig, Rhenish Hesse, Germany, October 11, 1824. His father, Valentine Heilman, was a reputable farmer who died in 1826. For her second husband Mrs. Heilman married Peter Weintz, and in 1843 the family came to America, landing in New Orleans. Thence they moved to St. Louis and shortly afterward to Posey County, Ind., where Mr. Weintz engaged in farming.

William was at this time a sturdy lad of nineteen years and had evidenced the possession of those traits of character which have since contributed so largely to his success. Life on a farm was not congenial and he resolved to seek a more profitable vocation.

In 1847 he came to Evansville, and in company with his brother-in-law, Christian Kratz, established a small machine shop and foundry on Pine Street, using two blind horses to supply the motive power. In a comparatively short time the tact and sagacity of Mr. Heilman as a man of affairs began to attract attention. Three years later the business had increased to such an extent that increased facilities became absolutely necessary, and the firm built a commodious brick shop and commenced using steam power. In 1854 they manufactured their first portable engine, and in 1859 their first thresher.

Upon the breaking out of the war of the rebellion many of Mr. Heilman's business associates were in doubt as to the ultimate success of the Union armies. Mr. Heilman and his partner took a decided stand for the preservation of the union of the states, and it was here that that business forecast so essential to the successful business man was exhibited in its strongest light. In 1864 Mr. Kratz, receiving for his interest $100,000, thus showing with what success they had worked up to that time, retired from the firm, since which time Mr. Heilman has conducted the business alone. Through his energy the establishment has grown to massive proportions, occupying nearly an entire block.

While so deeply engrossed in business, matters of public import have always received Mr. Heilman's careful attention. In 1852 he was elected Councilman, and for many years discharged the duties of that office with credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of his constituents. Mr. Heilman has always been a staunch republican. In 1870 he was elected to the State Legislature, and in 1872 was nominated for Congress, and although the district was democratic by 2500 votes, he reduced his opponent's majority to 112. In 1876 he was elected to the State Senate, and while in Europe in 1878 the republicans of the First Congressional District of Indiana again selected him as their standard bearer. He accepted the proffered honor, and after a short stay in his native land, returned, and at the close of a spirited canvass of sixteen days, was elected by a flattering majority.

In Congress as everywhere else, Mr. Heilman evidenced that keen perception and sterling good sense which have been conspicuous in all his under takings. In evidence of this fact, a portion of a speech delivered in the house it 1879, on the "Warner Coinage Bill," measure intended to enrich the holders of silver bullion at the expense of the people to the extent of 15 cents on the dollar is quoted below. Mr. Heilman was thoroughly convinced that the success of the important measure of resumption, then but a few months old, required nothing but letting alone. He insisted that "honesty is the best policy" in governmental matters as well as in everything else, and while denied a finished education in books, he had always been an apt pupil in that other school in which the teachers are observation and experience.

In his speech his business acumen asserted itself. He thus expressed his views on the bill: "I am strongly in favor of well considered, practical legislation to benefit the agricultural and manufacturing interests, to increase our commerce and wealth, but by all means let us have some stability in our financial legislation. The condition of the country is at last surely, although perhaps slowly, getting better, and what commerce and finance need just now more than anything else is to be let alone."

In Congress he was noted for his keen foresight and watchful study of public affairs, and he was regarded by his fellow members as one of the best of business legislators. his views were always practical and his advice sound. While Mr. Heilman's political record is enviable, his pre-eminence lies in his career as a man of affairs, and it is safe to assert that what his enterprise and genius have done to advance and foster the commercial prosperity of the city of Evansville has not been excelled by the efforts of any other individual.

The cotton mill owes its existence to his energy and capacity in financial investments, and the same remarks will apply to many other important enterprises. Every project having for its object the advancement of the interests of the city of Evansville has always found in him a warm friend arid supporter. To him the Latin phrase "faber suac fortunae" is eminently applicable. Beginning with little more than his natural endowments as his capital, he has achieved success in all departments of life, and his course is worthy of emulation by all classes of young men.

Commencing at the bottom round of the ladder with a borrowed capital of $500, he is now regarded as one of the wealthiest manufacturers of the state. His capacity for work has been great and his dispatch of business rapid. He is now sixty-four years of age, but is still an indefatigable worker and always punctual. These characteristics have contributed largely to the successful achievements of his life.

In 1848 Mr. Heilman was married to Miss Mary Jenner. She was born in Germany, and came to this country when nine years of age. The result of this union is a family of line children. His sons, George P. and William A., are prominent business men, the former manager of the Heilman Hominy Mills and the latter associated with his father in the Heilman Machine Works.

Mr. Heilman has been a consistent member of St. John's Evangelical church since its organization in 1851.