Sanger Bright Steel was born on 14 January 1889 in Joliet, Illinois, the son of Sanger Steel (1863-1920) and Emma Oledine Demmond (1866-1949). After preparatory training at Racine College he attended Harvard College (class of 1911), where he was a leader of the Glee Club and a member of the Lampoon, Institute of 1770, Student Council and Signet Club. With his classmate Raymond George Williams (1887-1981), he wrote “Harvardiana,” a popular fight song. He married Marion Parsons Warren (1886-1924), the daughter of William Seymour Warren and Fannie R. Parsons, on 11 June 1914. In 1917 he took a position with the Wall Street bond firm of J.G. White & Co., and the family moved east, first to Stamford, Connecticut, then to Hartsdale and finally Scarsdale, New York. He and Marion had three children: William Warren Steel (1916-2017), Sanger Bright Steel (1919-1983), and Munro Hubbard Steel (1923-1979).
On 29 December 1924 Marion died of typhoid fever. In October 1925 Sanger boarded the RMS Mauretania for Europe, returning in June 1926. He then underwent surgery for the severe headaches that had afflicted him since his school days; the operation, performed by pioneering neurosurgeon Charles H. Frazier (1870-1936) of Philadelphia, brought immediate relief. Within a year, however, the headaches returned. This, or continued despondency over Marion’s death, might explain why, in the midst of a successful career on Wall Street, he died on 12 May 1927 as the result of a leap from the fifteenth floor of the Hotel McAlpin in New York. He was buried beside his wife in the churchyard of St. James the Less, Scarsdale, where, seven months earlier, Sanger and other family members had donated a pipe organ in Marion's memory; his children were raised in Chicago by his brother-in-law L.P. Warren (1885-1967).
A young Middle Westerner whose energy and versatility won a prominent place in Wall Street is Sanger Bright Steel, comparatively unknown in New York bond circles five years ago. In the short space of time since then he has established a bond business which has developed into an important cog in the bond distribution machinery of the district. At thirty-five he is one of the directing heads of J.G. White & Co.
Steel has the artistic temperament and is an excellent musician. As a boy he intended to enter one of the artistic professions. Financial reverses at home, however, compelled him to begin pulling his weight in the family boat at an early age. Part of his college expenses was paid from his own earnings.
Before he got his first insight into the bond business at nineteen while on vacation he had discovered many ways of earning a livelihood. At eleven he was painting Christmas cards which an art store in Chicago sold for him. In the next few years he earned small sums as a clerk, singing in choirs and keeping a card index system at a hospital. He asked for a job as usher without pay in the Chicago Auditorium to hear the operas and concerts.
During the summer vacation of 1909 he was offered his choice of two jobs, one as a runner for a bank at $7 a week and the other with an unlisted security house. He had just finished reading “The Pit” and the job in the office of the broker was alluring. He thought he was to be an office boy. When he took the job with the broker he learned, however, he was to be a salesman with a salary of $7 a week and commissions.
The broker gave him a stockholders list and told him to canvass it with the idea of trading the holders out of their stocks. Steel was unversed in the ways of brokers, but was coached to say that he could get more shares of any stock on the list at a price. The first man he called on was a holder of stock in a certain bank. Steel told him he could get more of the stock. It so happened the stockholder wanted a directorship in the bank and was looking for more stock. He was an interested customer. He told Steel to call the broker for a quotation. Steel innocently repeated the instructions he received over the phone that “we can buy it at $220 but quote the customer $225.”
“Look here,” said the customer. “You appear to be honest. I’ll make you my broker, but you must always tell me how much you pay for the stock and I will give you one point profit.” The man bought hundreds of shares of stock and Steel reaped a harvest in commissions.
Toward the end of his senior year at Harvard, Steel obtained the names of six bond houses in Boston and canvassed them for a job. Lee, Higginson & Co. offered him a place and assigned him to the Chicago office as a salesman. He stayed with Lee, Higginson & Co. several years and traveled throughout the Middle West, finally opening their Cincinnati office.
In 1915 he left Lee, Higginson & Co. and opened an office for Paine Webber & Co. in Boston. In two years the office was built into a large organization. J.G. White, head of the engineering firm bearing his name, was anxious to start an active bond house. Steel’s record was brought to his attention. White sent for Steel and offered him a vice-presidency in J.G. White & Co. That was in 1917. Before the new firm was started. The United States entered the war.
Steel had seen many a promising venture spoiled by an inauspicious start, so no attempt was made to open business until after the war. After two years of writing and planning, the fall of 1919 seemed the psychological moment and the bond house came into being at the beginning of the most active bond period in the history of the Street, extending through 1919, 1920 and 1921.
[New York Evening Post, Monday 26 January 1925]
Sanger Bright Steel, a Vice President of the investment firm of J.G. White & Co. of 27 Wall Street, committed suicide yesterday by jumping from a window on he fifteenth floor of the Hotel McAlpin. He was 37 years old.
Despondency was believed by Mr. Steel’s friends to be the cause of his act. Two years ago his wife died of typhoid fever, leaving three little sons in her husband’s care. Mr. Steel had never fully recovered from the shock of her death. He was of a nervous, temperamental disposition, given to making quick decisions, it was said, and occasionally he suffered intensely from headaches, which were the result of a football accident when he was a youth.
On Wednesday after the close of business Mr. Steel walked into the McAlpin and registered as “George P. Rich,” giving a Chicago address. Hotel employees could not remember having seen him yesterday morning. At 3:10 in the afternoon they heard a crash and found that Mr. Steel had plunged to the roof of a five-story extension at the rear of the hotel. Dr. Farrell of the New York Hospital found he had been killed instantly.
In a comparatively short business career of sixteen years, Mr. Steel had achieved considerable prominence in the investment banking world. He was born in Joliet, Ill. in 1889 and was educated in the grammar school of Racine College, Racine, Wis. In 1911 he was graduated from Harvard and joined the banking house of Lee, Higginson & Co., where he remained for four years in its Chicago and Cincinnati offices. In 1915 he became Chicago manager of Paine, Webber & Co. and two years later joined J. G. White & Co., where he served as a Vice President and director up to the time of his death.
At the downtown office of the investment house no one was willing to discuss Mr. Steel’s suicide. Business associates at the uptown branch, 342 Madison Avenue, said it was inconceivable that business troubles could have had anything to do with his action. They said they were not surprised to learn of his death, because Mr. Steel had been increasingly despondent and his impulsive nature might lead him to suicide. Once or twice, they said, he had talked of suicide, but only in what appeared to be a joking way.
Mr. Steel was an active club member and was especially interested in men’s glee club singing. He was a member of the University Glee Club and found keen pleasure in the choral rehearsing and in the concerts. He also sang as bass soloist at the Hitchcock Memorial Church in Scarsdale, where he had a country home.
He was a member of the Bond Club downtown and served one term as President. Among other clubs to which he belonged were the Harvard Club, the Midday Club, the Scarsdale Country Club and the County Tennis Club. His wife, who was Marion Parsons Warren of Chicago, died in 1925 [recte,1924.]
He is survived by his mother, Mrs. William Steel [recte Mrs. Sanger Steel], and his three children, William Warren Steel, 11 years old; Sanger B. Steel, Jr., 7, and Munro Hubbard Steel, 2, the last son having been named for G. Munro Hubbard of Pelham Manor, a business associate.
[ New York Times, Friday 13 May 1927]
SCARSDALE, N. Y., May 13. – Friends and relatives of Sanger Bright Steel, 37 years old, of 22 Wayside Lane, this village, who committed suicide yesterday afternoon at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City, were still unable today to account for Steel’s act, other than to lay it to despondency.
A letter was found in Steel’s room at the McAlpin was addressed to W. F. Williams of Chappaqua, a close friend and business associate. The letter, it was learned, told Mr. Williams where to look for his will and business papers necessary to the settlement of his estate. There was no mention of suicide. The letter was signed “Sanger.”
The funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock at the Church of St. James the Less, in Scarsdale. The rector of the church, the Rev. Alan Chalmers, and the Rev. George Hugh Smyth, pastor of the Hitchcock Memorial Presbyterian Church, will officiate.
Burial will be in the cemetery adjoining the church.
[ New York Times, Saturday 14 May 1927]
The funeral of Sanger Bright Steel, of Wayside lane, who died Thursday, May 12 in New York City, was held at four o’clock Saturday afternoon in the Church of St. James the Less. The rector of the church, the Rev. Alan R. Chalmers, and the Rev. George H. [Smyth, pastor of] Hitchcock Memorial Church, conducted the service. Interment was in the churchyard. The pall bearers were Harold Bennett, Caleb Tucker Briggs, Robert Christie, Robert Erskine, Edward Johnson, John Messer Lawrence, Harold Palmer, Henry Schwable and Jesse Waid, of Scarsdale; Monro Hubbard, of Pelham Manor; Douglas White, of New York, and Robert Whiting, of Chicago. The church was well filled for the services and the chancel was banked with the many flowers sent in Mr. Steel’s memory.
Sanger Bright Steel is survived by three children, William W., eleven years old; Sanger B., Jr., seven, and Munro Hubbard, three; his mother and a sister, Mrs. Albert Pickernell, of New York.
Mrs. Steel was born in Joliet, Ill., in 1889. He was graduated from Harvard in 1911. From 1911 to 1915 he was connected with Lee, Higginson & Co., in both Chicago and Cincinnati, and from 1915 to 1917 he was Chicago manager for Paine, Webber & Co. In 1917 he joined the investment house of J.G. White & Co., at 37 Wall street, where he was vice-president and director of the company at the time of his death. A few years ago he was president of the Bond Club of New York. He was also a director in several other corporations.
The Steel family moved to Scarsdale eight years ago last February, and lived first on Brite avenue, then on Walworth avenue and after Mrs. Steel’s death, two years ago, of typhoid fever, Mr. Steel and his sons came to the house on the corner of Wayside and Church lanes. Mr. Steel had for many years been a member of the choir of the Hitchcock Memorial Church, and was connected also with the Town Club and the Wayside Players. He was also a member of the Harvard Club of New York and of the Men’s University Glee Club.
Mr. Steel underwent a serious operation last June in the hope of relieving the very severe headaches to which he had been subject from the time he was an undergraduate at Harvard and which were caused, it was believed, by an old football injury. The operation was only partly successful and he was, at the time of his death, still undergoing treatment which it was hoped would relieve him permanently.
[The Scarsdale Inquirer, 20 May 1927]
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