James Hanley

Inducted: 2007
Born: 1841
Died: 1912

Hanley, James, 1841-1912

James Hanley was born in Roscommon, Ireland and came to America with his parents as a child in 1846 during the Great Famine migration. He rose from poverty to prominence as Rhode Island’s leading brewer.

Hanley’s first important step into the world of business came in January 1862, at the age of twenty, when he opened an inn and liquor store in downtown Providence. In 1876 he began his career as a brewer in partnership with fellow-Irishman John P. Cooney. Although this partnership lasted for only two years, Hanley’s career continued until his death. His major enterprise on Jackson Street became known as the James Hanley Brewing Company in 1891, but he also established the Providence Brewing Company and the Hanley-Hoye Company, a wholesale liquor dealership. In addition Hanley became a director of the National Exchange Bank and several other large financial corporations.

Hanley loved the sport of thoroughbred horseracing and became nationally prominent as the trainer and owner of fine and successful racehorses, one of which, a pacer named Prince Alert, held the world’s record for the half-mile. In his business, he used the best draught animals available and his prize teams of six, nine, and twelve horses won many national and international competitions bringing wide attention to his fine ale. Hanley’s teams (foreshadowing those of Budweiser’s August Busch) were known as the “World’s Best,” and Providence residents thrilled to the appearance of these handsome deep-chested animals in parades and other public celebrations. His most famous group was “the Big Nine,” a synchronized team of roan Belgian horses, ranging in height from 17 to 19 hands and in weight from 2,200 to 2,500 pounds. The entire entourage, weighing over ten tons, hauled a twenty-foot show wagon and was regarded as one of the world’s finest teams of draught horses.

At the time of his unexpected death, just prior to his seventy-first birthday, Hanley had acquired a reputation not only as a businessman and a horseman but as a civic leader and a benefactor of numerous charitable causes, especially those affiliated with the Catholic Church.

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