Biography of Oscar Swanson

Pioneer in the business of department public markets, Oscar Swanson, of Providence, president of the Providence Public Market Company, with branches in other cities of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, has long been one of the leading citizens of the Commonwealth, his enterprises of much importance to the community. Markets are ordinarily nothing but places where certain definite commodities may be purchased, but markets to Mr. Swanson convey an entirely different conception of what the public wants. To meet that demand he long since brought to bear an unusual ability for organization, the result being that many thousands of persons are served daily and without confusion by means of his system and the turnover in money reaches into many millions of dollars annually. Energetic and enthusiastic, industrious and capable, he is also interested in other enterprises, but the markets are his hobby and his just pride. His civic interest is sincere and his time and ability are always at the command of those who seek his aid in any public matter that is promulgated for the benefit of all the people. Fraternally and socially, he is one of the most popular of our citizens, while in the commercial world he stands among the leaders.

He was born in the village of Elmtaryd, Sweden, May 6, 1862, a son of Swan and Christina (Jonasson) Swanson. Oscar Swanson studied at home during his youth and for a time was a clerk in a country store. He came to the United States when he was eighteen years of age, arrived in Boston and then went to live with a married sister in Maine, where he remained for several months. In the spring of 1881 he joined a brother in Ashland, Massachusetts, where he obtained employment in a shoe factory and where he continued for eight months, when he was incapacitated by injuries received by being struck by a railroad train. During the period of his recuperation he lived with a married brother in Marlborough and later in Lowell, Massachusetts. He finally became associated in the employment of the Booth Cotton Mills in Lowell, where he remained for eighteen months, leaving that employment in 1883 to engage in the market business with Mr. S. P. Pike of Lowell. In 1885 he was sent to open and manage a branch in Manchester, New Hampshire. Under his guidance there was built up a flourishing and profitable business and in 1890 he was commissioned by Mr. Pike to open a large market in Boston. Success attended this venture and a second was established in the following year. In 1892 he withdrew from his association in the Pike establishments and, with Messrs. Pettee, Amidon and Malmstead, formed a partnership to engage in the market business. Their first market was opened at No. 380 Westminster Street, Providence, October 13, 1892, and this has continued to be the headquarters of the company; from time to time it has been enlarged and improved, so that it is now the finest and best appointed market in Rhode Island. Mr. Swanson and his associates also own and operate a number of high-class markets in Rhode Island. High standards of business dealing, products of the finest quality, strict sanitary precautions and effective displays and features that make for the popularity of these enterprises, are largely due to the efforts of Mr. Swanson and his associates.

Mr. Swanson is a director of the Rhode Island Insurance Company. He also belongs to the Providence Chamber of Commerce, which he served as vice-president in 1917 and 1918. In politics he is a Republican. Fraternally, he is affiliated with the Order of Free and Accepted Masons, having attained the thirty-second degree. He belongs to Adelphi Lodge, No. 33, of which he has been master; Providence Chapter, No. 1 7 . Royal Arch Masons; St. John’s Commandery, No. 1, Knights Templar; and Rhode Island Consistory, thirty-second degree, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Masons. In this order he also belongs to the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. His clubs include the Squantum Association, Turks Head, Noonday, and Rhode Island Country. He is the owner of a large farm of six hundred acres at Franklin, Massachusetts, known as “Ellerslie Farms,” in which he takes great pride. There he conducts a modern dairy farm and maintains about sixty head of high bred cattle. The entire farm is one of the finest examples of its class in New England and here he spends his summers and spare time in continually improving where such is possible his beautiful estate.

Oscar Swanson married, October 24, 1893, Frances Howard Henry, daughter of George Oel and Frances (Howard) Henry, natives, respectively, of New Hampshire and Massachusetts and descendants of pioneer New England families. George Oel Henry was for a quarter of a century a well-known inn keeper of Springfield, Vermont. Their children are:

  1. Alfred Howard, born January 22, 1902.
  2. Hugh Henry, born March 3, 1907.

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

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