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Butler, Joseph

Submitted by Tim Boyer

Joseph G. Butler Jr. was an American industrialist remembered primarily for establishing the Butler Museum of American Art in Youngstown.  He was born December 21, 1840 in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  His family owned and operated blast furnaces in Pennsylvania and relocated to Niles when he was a child.  One of his classmates was William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States who was assassinated in 1901.  Butler was instrumental in bringing the McKinley Birthplace Memorial to Niles. 

Butler became involved with the iron industry in his 30s.  In 1892, he and local industrialist Henry Wick organized the Ohio Steel Company, which built two Bessemer plants along the Mahoning River just northwest of Youngstown.  Four years later the company was sold to Pittsburgh-based National Steel Company.  The local plant became part of the Carnegie Steel Company, which in 1901 was sold to J. P. Morgan to form his U. S. Steel Corporation.  Butler was nationally known and served as a director of a number of corporations, as well as a director of the American Iron and Steel Institute. 

In 1919, Butler founded the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, near the campus of Youngstown State University.  This was the first museum dedicated to strictly American artwork.  Butler left most of his $1.5 million estate to the Institute.  Butler wanted the museum to be ‘Free to the people’, and it continues to be, charging no admission. 

Butler died December 20, 1927, the day before his 87th birthday.