P.W. Huntington: Adventurer, leader, banker

P.W. Huntington: Adventurer, leader, banker


“(We) often look abroad for that which may be found at home, and seek at a distance for that which is near; but I am sure we may find at home that which it is desirable for us, as business men and women, to possess.”

– P.W. Huntington, 1899

Short Story

P.W. Huntington: Adventurer, leader, banker

Above Image: Founder P.W. Huntington was committed to his family, community and bank.

Nearly 50 years before two bicycle mechanics piloted their “air machine” over the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Pelatiah Webster Huntington experienced air travel for himself. After writing a will — P.W. was adventurous, not stupid — he paid $10 to join a hot-air balloon pilot on a 25-mile test flight from Columbus to Newark, Ohio.

The passenger, the balloon and the pilot, who was visiting the United States from France, all reached Newark intact.1

Although the 1857 episode marked one of the earliest entries in the annals of local aviation history, it was hardly the only time P.W. Huntington, who signed on to a whaling ship when he was just 14, had displayed an appetite for adventure.

He looked and sounded like an adventurer. According to former Huntington CEO and bank historian Clair Fultz, when average men stood less than 5 feet 6 inches,2Huntington stood well over 6 feet tall, “with a big shock of hair, long sideburns, strong features…and an obvious sense of destiny … This (was) not a subtle or cautious man. His opinions (were) adamant and loud.”3

In time, P.W. Huntington began to fully channel his energies and passion into his businesses and ensure the vitality of the community he had helped build. People found it easy to follow his lead, in good times and bad.

During the Civil War, Huntington was a captain in the Home Guard formed to defend Columbus from possible Confederate attacks during “Morgan’s Raid.” (Afterward, Huntington joked that he didn’t know how the unit would have dealt with a real confrontation since none of his men owned a decent gun).4

When the Great Flood of 1884 devastated the Ohio River Valley, Ohio Gov. George Hoadly wrote, “Money, clothing, shelter, and food must be provided … An energetic committee, of which Mr. P.W. Huntington is the chairman, has been organized in Columbus (to) undertake the task of distribution. If the General Assembly should provide for the creation of a State Relief Committee, the appointments will be made immediately.”5 Shortly after, the Ohio General Assembly began a statewide relief effort, and Huntington joined the five-man committee and served as its secretary.6

Though the great adventure of his career was building P.W. Huntington & Co., “a private banking house,” into the Huntington National Bank which three of his sons would eventually lead, P.W. Huntington saw much value in leading a life rich in challenges and experiences and throwing himself entirely into every one.

This was evident in a 1907 address Huntington gave to the Ohio Bankers Association, an organization he had helped start 16 years before. In the speech, Huntington cited the example of a builder and banker from biblical times.

“Solomon knew well the importance of a proper apportionment of time, and diversity of occupation, as means of brightening the intellect. He was wise enough to sometimes turn away from the cares of State, and the worry of business … We may none of us … be as great as Solomon; but we learn from his life the importance to us, as earnest, busy men of affairs, of not allowing ourselves to work too much in one groove, and thus become, like the faded calico on the shelf of a country store, shopworn and unprofitable.”7