William Henry Luther

Inducted: 2010
Born: 1844
Died: 1914

Luther, William H. (William Henry),1844-1914

William Henry Luther was born in Dover, New Hampshire on April 24, 1844. The Luther family moved to Providence four years later where young Henry attended public school with some additional instruction at a local private school. Luther and his brother became interested in the lapidary trade, and after learning the essentials of the industry in Attleboro, they established their business in 1864 on 79 Pine Street in Providence. Success was almost immediate. In 1877, after several moves to larger quarters, J.W. & W.H. Luther acquired a spacious building (still standing) on the corner of Oxford and Harriet Streets in South Providence.

The company gained an international reputation for the production of high-grade electroplated jewelry that included cuff links, brooches, rings, necklaces, and earrings. Luther’s brother withdrew from the firm in 1884 and shortly thereafter, William brought his son Frederick into the new firm now called William H. Luther & Son. By 1890, twenty-six years after its founding, the company was the largest manufacturer of electroplated jewelry in America. In 1900 the expanded company was said to have “one of the most up-to-date jewelry manufacturing establishments in the state of Rhode Island.”

In 1865, Henry married Mary Blanding of Norton, Massachusetts by whom he had one son. As a successful entrepreneur Luther was active in many political, fraternal, religious, and social organization.

Luther’s generosity was well known to the local citizenry, especially those in South Providence. He developed a strong interest in public safety and raised funds to support the purchase of a hook-and-ladder truck for his Southside neighborhood. Locals there expressed their appreciation by naming the ladder company–at the corner of Public and Ocean Streets–in his honor. Between 1895 and 1901 Luther served as a member of the first city Board of Fire Commissioners and then became Providence’s first police commissioner, receiving his appointment from Republican Governor William Gregory in 1901. In both capacities he distinguished himself for his leadership role, removing political influence from both departments and establishing professional standards of conduct.

In May 1913, Twelve years after being named chairman of the police commission board, Luther made an offer to resign to newly-elected Providence Mayor Joseph Gainer, but the Democratic mayor declined to accept his letter. By that time, however, Luther’s health was failing and on March 15, 1914 he died of pneumonia at the age of sixty-nine. Former mayor Henry Fletcher, paying tribute to his twenty-nine years of public service, called Luther “fearless and determined” in his public responsibilities, while Mayor Gainer praised Luther for being “a man who had the courage to do what he thought was right, even when such a course of action was not in accord with popular feeling.”

– Paul R. Campbell

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