• info@howardcountymuseum.org

  • 1200 West Sycamore, Kokomo,
    Indiana 46901

  • (765) 452-4314

Howard County History

Conger: Forgotten man with a big impact on the region

(from Footprints, November 2015)
by H.T. Ellis
HCHS Publications Committee

I like to consider myself someone who “adopts” forgotten individuals from the past -- that’s what brought me to the Howard County Historical Society in the first place. There is something satisfying about keeping someone’s name alive, but it is certainly more than that – keeping their story and face alive is just as important. So, when I heard about A.L. Conger, I naturally became interested. Not many remember who A.L. Conger was.
Here at the HCHS, we like to focus on people of note from Howard County who contributed to the community we know today. However, A.L. Conger was not from Howard County. In fact, he was not from Indiana, nor did he ever seem to reside in the Kokomo area. What is his historical significance to us, then?

Great men do not often wander aimlessly into great situations; they are led. This was the case of Monroe Seiberling back in the Gas Boom, when he was drawn from Akron, Ohio to involve himself in two businesses in Kokomo and to build the notable, prized mansion of our county. His name is one of the most well-known in the city, and our written and oral accounts of the Seiberling family are numerous and well-covered. But, if he did not simply appear here on an entrepreneurial whim, how did he get here?

This is where Colonel Conger comes in. Arthur Lantham Conger found his way to Akron, Ohio, as did Seiberling. After a successful stint as a Union Army colonel in the Civil War, Conger returned to Akron and farmed, but found his ventures best suited to business and politics. In 1870, he became director of Whitman & Miles Manufacturing Company and later president of a similar company, as well as for the Akron Steam Forge Company. Conger had his finger in many pies; by 1895, he was an important investor and president of several companies between Ohio and Indiana. One such company was the Diamond Plate Glass Company, financially started by Conger in 1887. Conger, as its president, asked Monroe Seiberling, , to serve as the plant manager. The two had previously worked together on the Kokomo Strawboard factory. Diamond Plate Glass served the region well – employing approximately 750 men by 1893. Had it not been for Conger, Seiberling may not have come to Kokomo for such business endeavors, and his legacy might only belong to other cities. 

Conger’s grasp reached other central Indiana cities as well. He was considered a successful investor and financier throughout the Gas Belt communities, particularly in Elwood, Hartford City, and Muncie, where he served as president and personally became involved in numerous manufacturing companies, including Hartford City Glass Company. He maintained his presidency of the company there from its birth in 1890 until 1895, when he was voted out and replaced by another colonel from Akron named George T. Perkins. For reasons currently unclear, Conger had fallen into disfavor with the local citizens, and in dismay over losing his position, sold his company stock and left Hartford City behind. By this point, he had suffered greatly from the Panic of 1893, during which stock prices declined, 500 banks closed, and approximately 15,000 businesses across the country failed in a four-year span. Financially ruined and facing several lawsuits, the once-millionaire retreated from investing and soon became ill. He passed away in 1899 in Des Moines, Iowa, after a series of strokes. A dilapidating mausoleum houses his remains back in Akron.

As for the fate of Diamond Plate Glass, it was the major industry in town during the Gas Boom. Not immune to the effects of the Panic of 1893, it was merged with Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in 1895 and was subsequently closed, certainly a disappointment to both Conger and Seiberling. It was at this point that they, once savvy business partners, both moved on as many investors do – but the importance of their financial contributions to the city and the growth it brought for several years should not be understated.

Seiberling’s name remains in Kokomo; Conger’s was lost to time. For a short while, Phillips St. south of Park Rd. bore his name (it was changed around 1908). Just two blocks away was Seiberling St. (now S. Lindsay). Conger’s road is now defunct and filled in with earth, much like his legacy in Howard County. I hope I have done a bit to change that.