John R. Brownell
picture of John R. Brownell

JOHN ROSELLE BROWNELL, president of the Brownell company, one of the largest manufacturing concerns of Dayton, is a native of Fulton county, N. Y., where he was born on July 7, 1839. His parents were Frederick and Ann (Dolly) Brownell, both of whom were natives of the county already named. The father was a tanner and a currier by trade. He served as a soldier in the war of 1812, being stationed at Sackett's Harbor with Gen. Brown; six uncles of his wife also served in the war. In 1842 Frederick J. Brownell came to Ohio with his family and located at Lower Sandusky, near Fremont, and from there removed to Perrysburg, Wood county, and thence to Green Springs, Sandusky county, and finally to a farm three miles from Fremont, where he died in 1851. His widow died in 1882, in Dayton. John R. Brownell was the youngest of eleven children born to his parents. After the family came to Ohio he attended school during the winter time for several years. The first winter after his father's death he worked at Green Springs for his board, at the same time attending school. Further educational advantages were denied him, and from that time on he was thrown upon his own resources and compelled to make his way in life by his own efforts. During the year 1853 he served as a clerk in the store of W. T. & A. K. West at Sandusky City, and the following two years he spent on the steamer Northern Indiana, on Lake Erie. In the fall of 1856 became to Dayton and entered the employ of his brother, Elijah H. Brownell, at boilermaking, at which he continued until the fall of 1857, when he went to California. After working at his trade in San Francisco for a time he went to the gold mines and remained there until January, 1861, when he returned to Dayton. The following August he enlisted in the army, was sent to Saint Louis, and mustered into the Thirteenth Missouri regiment (which at Corinth was changed to the Twenty-second Ohio volunteer Regiment as a sergeant, and served as such until 1863, when he was commissioned second lieutenant of company K, of the above regiment, which company he commanded most of the time. He was mustered out as second lieutenant, having served all through the war of the Rebellion. Returning to Dayton, he became a member of the firm of Brownell & Company, manufacturers of machinery, boilers and general foundry work. This firm was originally composed of John R. Brownell, James H. Brownell, Elijah H. Brownell, George J. Roberts and Josiah Lee, and their place of business was at No. 437 East First street. May 8, 1865, Frederick J. Brownell was admitted to the firm, and on November 1, 1867, it was organized under the name of Brownell, Roberts & Company. In February, 1871, the Brownell & Kielmeier Manufacturing company was incorporated, with C. H. Kielmeier as president; John R. Brownell as vice-president and general superintendent, and James Anderson as secretary and treasurer. On account of the panic of 1873 the company made an assignment. At the sale John R. Brownell bought two-thirds and Martin Schneble one-third of the property, and continued the business until February, 1884, in which year Mr. Brownell bought out the interest of Mr. Schneble, and, under the name of Brownell & Co., ran the business by himself until January, 1888, when the Brownell company was incorporated, with Mr. Brownell as president and superintendent, D. H. Dryden, vice-president, and E. A. Vance, secretary and treasurer. The business remained at its original location until September 12, 1888, when a fire occurred, destroying buildings and machinery. The business was then moved to Findlay street, just north of First, where a portion of the boiler plant had been since 1883. The plant at the above location, as it stands today, consists of a two-story brick machine shop, 200 x 60 feet, with a three-story office building, 30 feet square; a foundry building, 200x60 feet, with an "L" 50 x 30 feet; a boiler shop, 200 x 50 feet, with two "Ls" 50 feet square; and a recent addition to the boiler shop of 70 x 227 feet. Mr. Brownell owns the principal stock (ninety per cent) at present. Officers: John. R. Brownell, president; Joseph Burns, vice-president; C. J. Brownell, secretary and treasurer, and Alice Hartnett, assistant secretary and treasurer. Mr. Brownell has been twice married; first, in June, 1866, to Melvira J., the daughter of Thomas Humphreys, of Urbana, Ohio. To the union one daughter, Anna, was born. The mother and daughter both died in the year 1872. In the fall of 1875 Mr. Brownell was married to Miss Harriet Alice Smith, the daughter of Abraham Smith, of Maryland. By this marriage he has the following children: Carrie J., Alice J., Mary J. and John R., Jr. In 1874 Mr. Brownell was elected a member of the board of commissioners of Montgomery county, serving three years; during the years 1881-82 he was a member of the Dayton city council. In 1882 he was elected to the Ohio. state senate, serving one term. He is a leading member of the G. A. R., Loyal Legion and Union Veteran League.

  • Conover, Frank. Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and of Montgomery County, Ohio. A.W. Bowen & Co., 1897.