Biography of Joseph Warren Fordney

Joseph Warren Fordney, a highly esteemed resident of Saginaw County, was born in 1853 to John and Achsah Fordney in Indiana. Moving to Michigan in 1869, he worked in a logging camp from sixteen, later becoming an expert in timberland valuation and successful in business. Fordney engaged in civic duties, served as city council member in 1895, and was elected congressman in 1898 for the Eighth District, holding the position for eighteen years. Noted for his support of farmers and mechanics, his defense of the protective tariff, and his unsuccessful fight to maintain a sugar duty, he earned great respect. Married in 1873 to Cathern Harren, they raised nine of their thirteen children. Fordney’s commitment to civic improvement is memorialized by a park gifted to the city near their home.

Joseph Warren Fordney, one of the most popular and esteemed residents of Saginaw County, was born on a farm in Blackford County, Indiana, November 5, 1853. His parents were John and Achsah Fordney, natives of Pennsylvania, who came to the Hoosier State in pioneer days, later to Michigan, and settled in Saginaw County in June 1869. They lived to rear a family of ten children trained in practical affairs and inured to the hardy life of the farm. The mother died in 1870, and the father five years after.

Coming here when the call of the lumber harvest was heard throughout the West, young Joseph, then sixteen years of age, went into a logging camp and gave his youth and young manhood to a study of the woods, the pine land, and standing timber. His training in the camps was long, tedious, and tiring at times, but very thorough. Afterward, he followed logging operations for a time, then began to estimate the value of pine lands, and pursued the business of a “cruiser”, or land looker, for some years. Strict application to his work, careful buying, a watchful studying of conditions, and conservative business judgment made his business career a success. Today he ranks as one of the best-informed men of the country in this department of business affairs.

These active operations, however, did not prevent his taking an interest in civic and political affairs. At one time he was vice-president of the Saginaw Board of Trade, and in 1895 was elected a member of the city council. His activity in the municipal body and record of achievement brought to him in 1898 the Republican nomination for Congress, his election following. He has since been re-elected every two years and is now beginning his tenth term, or eighteenth consecutive year in Congress. He is the most popular and influential congressman the Eighth Congressional District has ever elected to office, though in the list of his predecessors have been several brainy, able, and honorable men, including Roswell G. Horr, Timothy E. Tarsney, Aaron T. Bliss, and others.

The very elements of Mr. Fordney’s life command respect and admiration; his genial, whole-souled nature, kindness of heart, and public spirit demand the homage of the people. He enjoys the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens, the trust and respect of his colleagues, and the friendship of the nation. As a member of the most important committee of the house, that on ways and means, he devoted himself unceasingly during the session of 1910 to securing an appropriation of $686,000 and $100,000 more two years later for the deepening and improving of the Saginaw River, a work which was completed in the summer of 1914, giving a uniform depth of eighteen feet of water to the Bay. Throughout his career in Congress, he has been particularly active in promoting those measures which will benefit the farmer and skilled mechanic, and improve their lot in life. At all times he has been a staunch defender of the protective tariff, and notably so in the congressional agitation of recent years for the repeal of the duty on sugar, in which he was the leader in the defense of the interests of the sugar-beet growers and the producers of beet sugar. Although not successful in preserving the tariff duty on sugar, against the powerful majority of a Democratic Congress, his great work in behalf of the agricultural interests of this State, as well as other beet growing States, has placed him on a high pinnacle of honor among men who believe in maintaining the highest interests of our country.

In 1873, Mr. Fordney was united in marriage with Miss Cathern Harren, who was born April 2, 1855, in Canada. Thirteen children have been born to them, of whom nine, Bregetta R., Josephine, Ernest W., Agnes C., Joseph J., Chester L., Mary C., Grace C., and Achsah Theodota, were reared to manhood and womanhood, the sons being engaged in lumbering, while three daughters have married, becoming the wives of Robert B. Tatham, Walter L. Stout, and Thomas M. Jackson. For many years, the family home has been at 1423 Gratiot Avenue, a most delightful location near the entrance to the beautiful park which was improved and presented to the city by Mr. Fordney, and which is a monument to his generosity and ideas of civic improvement.


Mills, James Cooke, History of Saginaw County, Michigan; historical, commercial, biographical, Saginaw, Michigan : Seemann & Peters, 1918.

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