From a humble clerk to transportation magnate

This is a uniquely American story, the story of Illinois native son William Brown McKinley.

Born in Petersburg on Sept. 5, 1856, McKinley was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Two years later, the family moved to Champaign where his father had been named pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. An exceptionally bright lad, McKinley was 14 years old when he was admitted to the Industrial University of Illinois (became University of Illinois in 1885).

After two years, a shortage of money forced McKinley to end his higher education. After a stint as a drug store clerk in Springfield, McKinley’s uncle, J.B. McKinley, hired the young man to work in his farm mortgage business. That was in 1875.

Nine years later, the Champaign & Urbana Water Co. was launched. That utility grabbed McKinley’s interest. In just five years, McKinley established the United Manufacturing Co., a water and light utility. Next, he took over Champaign & Urbana Water Co. &nbsp;&nbsp;<ahref=""><spanstyl... 13px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">To view more, please log in or subscribe to the digital edition.</span></a></p>