Henry W. Corbett arrived in Portland Oregon by ship on March 7, 1851. The 24-year-old aspiring merchant had the backing of his New York supplier Williams, Bradford & Company, this was to be key to Henry W. Corbett's success.
In July, 1852, Henry departed for New York, leaving his store operation to employees, he continued to buy and ship goods from New York on his own authority. Corbett remained in New York less than a year, marrying Carolyn Jagger of Albany, NY and establishing himself as an independent buyer.
Upon returning to Portland, Corbett witnessed a tide of immigration pouring into the city from all parts of the West, bringing "a better class of people." The astute trader clearly perceived that the great influx of potential customers, combined with a dwindling supply of gold dust, would require him to grant credit. By 1854 Corbett had expanded into farm equipment, which helped him to clear profits of from 50 to 80 percent a year.
By the 1860's Henry W. Corbett owned controlling shares in The First National Bank, was a US Senator, and he was involved in the incorporation of the Oregon Telegraph Company. In 1888 Henry W. Corbett and Henry Failing organized the Portland Art Association. Corbett donated the initial $10,000 to be used for the purchase of reproductions of classical works of sculpture.
In 1863 Corbett along with the Starr brothers, William Ladd, John Green, Cicero H. Lewis, and Henry Failing promoted and capitalized the Macadamized Road Company which was conceived as a toll road, it was to connect Portland with Taylor's Ferry, which crossed the Willamette River to Milwaukie. The road was later extended south to what later became Riverwood, where several stockholders owned property. This road is now know as Macadam Avenue, also Hwy. 43 and travels along Portland's west side of the Willamette River through Lake Oswego and West Linn Oregon.
In 1879 Corbett along with William S. Ladd and Henry Failing purchased 350 acres of land along the west bank of the Willamette River, including river water rights. In 1882 they opened the first non-profit cemetery in Portland, known today as River View Cemetery Association.
Josiah Failing, father of Henry Failing, had been fascinated by the Oregon Country for nearly 20 years, recognizing that Portland in 1851, offered him a fresh start in life. It was an uncertain opportunity at best, with his limited income and six children, and made less promising by a five-month wait for his supplies.
Josiah Failing located his store diagonally across from Henry Corbett & Co. The Failings survived and eventually amassed a small fortune, due to the cautious, methodical and tireless efforts of 44-year-old Josiah and his precocious 17-year-old son, Henry. Henry was relied upon heavily, do to his 5 years of experience working for a leading New York dry-goods house. The Failings were wholesalers, selling miscellaneous stock of goods largely for farmers and farm communities.
In 1853 when a large shipment of goods was lost while the ship was crossing the Columbia River bar; the Failings, New York supplier advised cornering the Portland nail market by purchasing all the nails in San Francisco and Portland and then reselling them at a 100 percent profit. Such practices were considered normal methods of successful business by merchants of that day, but Josiah was uncomfortable and so he left Henry, then 19, in charge of the store. Josiah turned to civic, educational and religious interests and was elected mayor in April, 1853.
Selling large quantities of imported ironware increased the Failing's business volume beyond that of Corbett's. Congenial and only partially competitive the two merchant houses were bound more closely together by Henry Failing's marriage in 1858 to Emily Corbett, Henry's younger sister. The tie cemented a family relationship that influenced Portland's history for over a half-century.
W. L. Ladd
William S. Ladd arrived in Portland, Oregon three months after the town's incorporation, in early April, 1851. Coming ashore with a small consignment of liquor, a character reference from his Congregational minister, a hole in his shoe, and cash to survive for two weeks. The 24-year-old Ladd was short on cash but long on ambition and was destined to become a major business and political leader in the territory, believing that Oregon afforded him great opportunity.
Ladd was barely covering expenses and hard pressed for money, when he needed to pay property tax. If Ladd could not pay the $6, he could in traditional American fashion dig up and remove two stumps in front of his shop, which he did.
Ladd added to his liquor stock by touring valley farms; adding eggs, chickens and other produce. He also became a commissioned merchant selling consigned goods consisting of shaving soap, tobacco, paper, farm tools, blasting powder, and other items. The sweet smell of success came to Ladd after only five months in Portland.
Ladd was involved in politics and was elected to the city council in 1853 and chosen mayor in 1854.
The gold strike put Ladd heavily into gold-dust transactions with San Francisco and New York banks. In 1854, he found himself extending credit along with other Portland merchants, making loans, receiving deposits and generally functioning as a banker to customers. Never a borrower himself, he loaned money to customers at 1 percent per month, probably standard for the period. If not repaid promptly and fully, Ladd took goods in exchange, or in later years, a piece of property. In 1859, Ladd and his San Francisco associate would form the Ladd & Tilton Bank, destined to become Portland's leading and most profitable financial institution. The bank indispensably advanced Portland's growth and industrialization by providing working capital to many non-mercantile enterprises, especially manufacturing. Ladd erected Portland's first brick structure during the summer of 1853.
Within 10 years, the group of dedicated Front Street merchants consisting of William S. Ladd, Henry W. Corbett, Cicero H. Lewis and Josiah and Henry Failing, and their families would dominate the economic, political and social life of Portland. All became warm and lasting friends, close-knit, they trusted and respected one another as business people without losing their sharp competitiveness.
All of Portland as well as the officials of River View Cemetery were shocked and dumbfounded when the one and only grave robbery occurred. William S. Ladd, one of the founders of the cemetery and one of Portland's leading citizens was buried at River View Cemetery Jan. 9, 1893. On Tuesday morning, May 18, 1897, a gardener noticed the grave of William S. Ladd had been opened, the top lifted off the wooden box, the metal coffin inside had been cut on three sides and the body was missing. Good detective work resulted in discovery of the body on the west bank of the Willamette River, opposite the Meldrum place, off old White House Road (which is now known as Macadam Avenue) and the arrest of the four men involved was made the following Friday. The body and grave marker, which had been taken for identification in ransom demands, were returned to River View Cemetery by a boat launch. Reburial was not sufficient. It was made certain Ladd's remains would never be disturbed again. After the box was closed, the grave was filled with cement instead of earth, and a guard stood by day and night until the concrete hardened.