Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens


FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS UNDERWOOD. The world owes much to the plain, plodding worker who, uncomplainingly, does his whole duty as he sees it; but beyond his labors there is a sphere of activity wherein the workers are few and the products produced more rare--that of genius. Through the medium of this subtle, sublime, elusive thing, possessed of certain favored ones, all the great treasures of art, music, invention, literature and science have been given to the world. Those who know him best do not hesitate to pronounce Flavius Josephus Underwood, a venerable inventor and business man of Springfield, as a genius of high order, although it is doubtful if many who know him appreciate this fact to the fullest extent. His fertile brain has given humanity many helpful things, which will continue for all time to be a blessing to the race. For considerably more than a quarter of a century he has been one of our leading men of affairs, for many years a wagon manufacturer and later a contractor, but now in view of his advanced age, he having passed his eighty-fourth mile-post, he is living in retirement at his cozy home or North Grant street, although he is hale and hearty and in possession of his faculties, his lusty old age being due no doubt to the fact that he has led a busy, temperate and wholesome life.

Mr. Underwood is a scion of one of the oldest American families who lived in New England for many generations, where the first of the family landed from the Old World nearly four centuries ago, and from that remote period to the present time the various members of his descendants have played well their parts in pushing forward the wheels of the car of civilization in the western hemisphere.

Flavius J. Underwood was born in Hardwick, Caledonia county, Vermont, March 9, 1830. He was a son of Silas and Lucy Warner (Leslie) Underwood, the latter a granddaughter of Robert Leslie, an Irish peer, who immigrated to America in the early period of the country's history and located in New Hampshire. Silas Underwood was born at Westford Massachusetts, December 7, 1783; he devoted his life to agricultural pursuits, and his death occurred in March, 1869. He was a son of John Underwood, of Bradford, Vermont, who was born October 28, 1755, and was a son of Joseph Underwood, born on September 15, 1727, at Westford, Massachusetts; the latter was a son of Joseph Underwood, born on May 28, 1681, at Watertown, Massachusetts; he was a son of Joseph Underwood, who was born in 1650 at Watertown, Massachusetts, and was a son of Joseph Underwood, the emigrant, who crossed the Atlantic from England, his native country, and took up his residence at Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1637, later removing to Watertown. He was the founder of the Underwoods in America, now quite numerous, having dispersed to all states of the Union.

Flavius J. Underwood of this review, was the youngest of ten children; he grew to manhood in Vermont, assisting his father with the general work about the farm, and during the winter months he attended the district schools and an academy, and he began life for himself by teaching school in his native locality. Remaining in Vermont until he was twenty-two years of age he, following the advice of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, came west locating at Milton, Pike county Illinois, and operated a farm in that vicinity several years. In 1860 he went to Rock Island, that state, where he resided until 1871, having turned his attention to the manufacturing business, and became superintendent of Buford's Plow Works. Forty-three years ago he left Rock Island and came to Springfield, Missouri, where he has since resided, and where, with James M. Wilhoit, he started a wagon manufacturing plant, and made a success of this venture, operating the plant for many years with much success, there having been a great demand for their products owing to the high-grade workmanship and superior quality of their wagons. Our subject finally gave up the manufacturing business and turned his attention to contracting, which he followed with satisfactory results up to his retirement from active life a few years ago. But it has been as an inventor that Mr. Underwood has figured most conspicuously and for which he is deserving of the most credit. He has secured about twenty patents. While at Rock Island he built the first successful two-horse cultivator, which has revolutionized agricultural work, especially in the corn producing states. He enjoys the distinction of being the first person to advocate and demonstrate the circulation of steam for the purpose of heating buildings, which method is now so universally employed. Among his many inventions is a coal chute which he patented in 1904 and which is widely used. He believes his best invention is a machine for boring out hubs in which to insert boxes. His name is deserving of a high place among the successful inventors of his day and generation.

Mr. Underwood was married at Hardwick, Vermont, July 8, 1851, to Daphna Josephine Hortense Bridgman, who was born in that town and there grew to womanhood and was educated. She, too, is a representative of an excellent old family of New England. Our subject and wife have traversed the life-path which leads through sun and shadow, for nearly sixty-three years. Theirs have been an ideal domestic life, mutually helpful and pleasant, and now, in the December of their years they can look backward with no compunction for wasted hours or misdeeds and forward with the hope of the just. Their union was blessed by the birth of four children, but only one survives, Mrs. Ida M. Jenkins, who lives at Nobo, Greene county, Missouri; she has three children. Our subject and wife have seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The following children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Underwood: Genevieve Leslie, born on November 19, 1853, died November 9, 18654; Ida May, born in April, 1856, married Grovner A. Shinn, September 19, 1873, and three children were born to them, John B., Grover L., and Nellie U.; Inez Belle, born on October 18, 1860, married George B. Garlick, and to them two children were born, Harold U., and Ruth; Nellie Maud, born, January 6, 1864, married William Sheffield, and to them two children were born, Hortense and Cornelia.

Politically, Mr. Underwood has always been a loyal Democrat. He has served as a member of the city council. He was at one time candidate for the state legislature, and for many years he has taken an active part in political affairs. During campaigns he has frequently taken the stump in Greene and adjoining counties and won a reputation as a forceful speaker. Fraternally he belongs to the Masonic order, and is active as a member of St. John's commandery, and served as eminent commander several years ago. Mrs. Underwood is a member of the Order of Eastern Star of which she was formerly worthy matron when it was first organized.

This grand old couple are well known and highly esteemed by a very wide circle of friends in Springfield. (Mr. Underwood's death occurred on May 4, 1914, after the above sketch was written.)

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