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William Wallace was born in Summit County, Ohio, May 1, 1841 and at the age of 8 moved to Canton, Ohio, where he resided until he joined the Army. He served in the Fourth Ohio Infantry from April 1861 until June 21, 1864, and was promoted to Captain. He then entered the office of the governor of Ohio at Columbus and worked there until the fall of 1865 when he came to Omaha at age 24. He was bookkeeper for Hurford & Company, hardware dealers until July, 1866, when he became a bookkeeper at Omaha National Bank. In 1869 he was appointed assistant cashier, being advanced to cashier and later to vice president, remaining in that latter capacity to the end of his life. In 1889 he and other native Ohioans, F. P. Hanlon, Lewis Ley started the Omaha Tinware Manufacturing Company, a lucrative business which manufactured fruit, cracker, and cracker cans, and supplied Swift & Hammond, the Omaha Packing Company, and Silberhorn Packing Company of Sioux City with lithographed lard pails. They also furnished all cans required by the Consolidated Coffee Company. The company outgrew their location on Jones Street and moved to the former City Mills at 1207-1213 South 20th Street, employing 120 people.
Wallace was appointed to serve on the first Omaha Public Library board in 1877 and was vice president of the board from 1880 to 1882 and president from 1884-1896. During those early years of growth there were so many cards to be issued that he assisted the librarian, Jennie Allen with her work. It was during his tenure as president that the “Old Main” library, which still stands at the southeast corner of nineteenth and Harney Streets, designed by local architect Thomas Kimball, was built and opened July 4, 1894. His lantern slide collection, many images taken in Omaha, became part of the Omaha Public Library historic collections. Wallace was active in humane work, was prominent in Unity church, and with his wife, founders of the Omaha colony at Lake Okoboji, Iowa. His wife, Mary Grant Wallace, died September 14, 1905 and he died March 21, 1915 at their residence located at 2420 Harney Street. Both were buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. They were survived by their daughters, Janet and Mary and son, James.
Text written by Joanne Ferguson Cavanaugh, February 2007
William Wallace biography file, Omaha Public Library
Kalish, Philip A. The Early History of the Omaha Public Library: A Thesis presented to the Department of History, Municipal University of Omaha, March 1964, p. 28-29.
Lethem, John. Historical and Descriptive Review of Omaha: Her Leading Business Houses and Enterprising Men. Omaha: 1892, p. 194
“Mrs. Mary Wallce is Dead: Passes Away After a Short Illness.” Omaha World Herald, 15 September 1905.
“William Wallace Dead at Age of 74: Vice President of Omaha National Bank, Resident of Omaha Since 1866, Started Work in Bank as Bookkeeper in July, 1866.” Omaha World Herald, 22 March 1915.