Biography of Henry D. Sharpe

President and treasurer of the Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company, of which his father was one of the founders, Henry D. Sharpe came to this business as a young man and later succeeded to executive control. Under his guidance the high standards of excellence always associated with the company name have been carefully maintained, while the varied mechanical product has found even wider sale in the markets of the world.

The Sharpe family is one of the older families of New England, Robert Sharp, the American progenitor, coming from England to Massachusetts in 1635, and settling at Brookline. His descendants remained at the original settlement until 1721, when Pomfret became their home. There Wilkes Sharpe was born and lived until coming to Rhode Island. He married Sally A. Chaffee and settled in Providence, where their son, Lucian Sharpe, father of Henry D. Sharpe, of this record, was born on March 20, 1830. He received his education at Hartwick Seminary, Cooperstown, New York, and in Providence schools. At the age of eighteen he began his apprenticeship as machinist under Joseph R. Brown in Providence, becoming versed in the clock and watch-repairing business which was the foundation of the fine mechanical industry later of so much prominence in the industry of this State.

Mr. Brown was born at Warren, Rhode Island, on January 26, 1810, and in 1848, when Lucian Sharpe first came to him, he was considered one of the finest mechanics in the city. Between him and his apprentice there grew up a genuine friendship, which eventually grew into the business connection so important in the industrial and commercial life of Providence. The firm of J. R. Brown and Sharpe was formed on March 1, 1853. In 1858 a contract was made with the Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company for the making of their new invention. This connection has never been severed. This gave the new firm an added prominence in mechanical work, and eventually led to the manufacture of machine tools. The two partners “were as one,” it has well been written, “in their determination that only work of the best quality should bear their name, and that determination passed into a law of the plant, not less unalterable than that of the Medes and Persians.” While Mr. Brown devoted himself largely to the mechanical and manufacturing departments, until his death on July 3, 1876, Mr. Sharpe gave his efforts to the general building up of the business, to which he brought untiring energy and an ability of the highest order. In 1868 the firm became a corporation with four stockholders. With the death of Mr. Brown and the retirement of two others Mr. Sharpe became the dominant director of the enterprise.

In addition to his own company, Lucian Sharpe was also a director of the Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company beginning with 1874; a trustee of the Providence Institution for Savings from 1881, a director of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company from 1897; a director of the Providence Gas Company, and president of the Providence Journal Company. In 1892, in recognition of his service, Brown University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts. Mr. Sharpe’s death occurred on October 17, 1899, while returning from a European visit. He had won a secure place in the affectionate esteem of the entire community, and his passing caused great sorrow and regret everywhere. In his relations with his employees, he was most happy, and always he was interested in the welfare of Providence and its people, seeking in every way to add to it. Lucian Sharpe married, on June 25, 1857, Louisa Dexter, daughter of Lewis and Mary (Angell) Dexter, of Smithfield, Rhode Island. They were the parents of two sons and four daughters.

Henry D. Sharpe of this record, son of Lucian and Louisa (Dexter) Sharpe, was born in Providence on December 12, 1872. He received his early education in Mowry and Goff School and later at Brown University, where he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1894. Immediately afterwards he began his business career with the Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company, remaining for three years in their shops to become thoroughly familiar with the details of operation and manufacture. After this practical experience he later entered the office, and on his father’s death in 1899, assumed the official direction of the business. While serving as treasurer and executive head of the company, he has become interested with other enterprises, being a member of the board of directors of the Manufacturers Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the Providence Gas Company, the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, the Providence Journal Company, of which he is vice-president, and a trustee of Providence Institution for Savings. Since 1904 Mr. Sharpe has been a member of the corporation (trustee) of Brown University, and a trustee of the Rhode Island School of Design; for some years past he has been president of the Providence Community Fund; and he is an associate member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Mr. Sharpe is affiliated with Brownian Chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi, and Phi Beta Kappa fraternities. He holds membership in many clubs, including the Hope Club, the Art Club, the Agawam Club, and the Turks Head Club, all of Providence, and the Alpha Delta Phi Club and the University Club of New York City.

Mr. Sharpe married, June 25, 1920, Mary Elizabeth Evans, of New York City. They have one child, Henry D. Sharpe, Jr.

Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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