Most executives at the helm of U.S. Steel Corp. during the 20th Century were honored by having one of the companys ore boats named after them. Judge Elbert Henry Gary, did them one better. U.S. Steels longest-serving chief executive officer had several U.S. communities named after him, including Gary, Ind., and Gary-New Duluth, a suburb of Duluth, Minn.Gary was born in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Ill., in October 1846. Gary graduated at the top of his class at Union College of Law in 1868, which later became Northwestern University Law School, and he practiced law in Chicago through much of the 1870s and 1880s. For much of that time, Gary was a corporate attorney for a number of the railroads based in Chicago, and he was president of the Chicago Bar Association in 1894. From 1884 to 1892, he served as a DuPage County Judge, a position that resulted in his being called Judge Gary for the rest of his life. Garys association with the iron and steel industry began in the late 1890s when he was named president of Federal Steel Corp., a Chicago-based manufacturer of barbed wire and other long products. Federal Steel was one of more than a dozen U.S. steel companies that J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller merged in 1901 to form U.S. Steel, the nations first billion-dollar corporation.At the age of 54, Judge Gary moved from Wheaton to New York as the first president of U.S. Steel. A friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded the martyred William McKinley as U.S. President that same year, Gary was chosen for the U.S. Steel presidency because of his ability to direct the work of underlings who managed one of the most complex business ventures in North America. By 1903, U.S. Steel had established the model of the integrated steel behemoth, operating mills from Chicago all the way east to the Monongahela Valley; mining iron ore in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, and quarrying limestone in Michigan; processing coking coal in Pennsylvania; running railroads in Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania; and operating a huge fleet of ore boats on the Great Lakes. Roosevelt, who quickly made his reputation as a trustbuster, found accommodation with his friend. In 1904, Gary proposed cooperating with the federal government to avoid an antitrust action. Gary offered to open U.S. Steels books to the federal government; if the government found evidence that the company was acting in an anti-competitive manner, it would warn the company to change the way it was doing things. U.S. Steel would then have the chance to respond and address the governments objections. Roosevelt accepted the proposal and directed his antitrust wrath at John D. Rockefellers Standard Oil Co. empire instead.
In 1906 and 1907, Gary presided over the construction of a greenfield steel mill complex and community to house workers on the south shore of Lake Michigan just east of Chicago. The board of U.S. Steel named the Indiana community Gary in the chairmans honor. In 1908 and 1909, Gary hosted a series of dinners that brought together steel executives from across the industry and laid the groundwork for establishment of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Gary agreed to serve as the institutes first president.