Wheeler Nathaniel, manufacturer and legislator, was born at Watertown, Litchfield County, Connecticut, September 7, 1820, son of David and Sarah (De Forest) Wheeler and grandson of Deacon James and Mary (Clark) Wheeler. The founder of his branch of the family, Moses Wheeler, born in Kent, England, was in New Haven, Connecticut, as early as 1641 and probably was one of the founders of that town. He removed, in 1648, to Stratford, Connecticut, where he carried on his trade of ship-carpenter; also farmed and kept the ferry across the Housatonic; became an extensive landholder and died in 1698, aged 100 years. Sarah De Forest was descended from a Huguenot family of Avesnes, France, some of whose members fled to Leyden, Holland, to escape persecution. In 1636 Isaac, son of Jessen and Marie (Du Cloux) De Forest, emigrated from Leyden to New Amsterdam and there married Sarah Du Trieux, who bore him fourteen children. One of them, David, settled at Stratford. David Wheeler, father of Nathaniel, was a carriage manufacturer and the son, after receiving a common school education, learned the trade, first taking up the ornamental part of the work; but at the age of twenty one took charge of the whole establishment, to relieve his father, who had been carrying on a farm at the same time. He conducted the business successfully for about five years and then began the manufacture of metallic articles, especially buckles and slides, using hand labor at first, but gradually introducing machinery.
In 1848 he formed a partnership with Messrs. Warren & Woodruff, manufacturers of the same kind of articles and the firm erected a building for the business, of which Mr. Wheeler took entire charge. During a business trip to New York Mr. Wheeler saw the recently patented sewing machine of Allen Benjamin Wilson and contracting with the firm controlling the patent to build 500 of these machines, he engaged the services of Mr. Wilson as superintendent. The latter was admitted to the firm of Warren, Wheeler & Woodruff, which in 1851 was reorganized as Wheeler, Wilson & Company and in October, 1853, as the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company, with a capital of $ 160.000.
Mr. Wheeler was made general manager on the organization of the company and in 1855 was elected president, retaining his old office.
For lack of adequate facilities, the business having increased largely, the firm, in 1856, removed to Bridgeport, Connecticut, occupying the old Jerome Clock Co. building, to which additions were made from time to time, until now the works cover about eight acres. Nearly $ 500.000 have been expended upon experiments toward the perfecting of the machines and since 1850 more than 2.000.000 have been manufactured.
Mr. Wheeler took an important part in forming the combination, in 1856, of the principal sewing machine companies, the Singer and the Grover & Baker having begun business about the same time as the Wheeler & Wilson. Mr. Wilson represented his district in the state legislature and state senate of Connecticut and was one of the commissioners for the building of the state capitol at Hartford.
He was a director of the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad and of the City National Bank; an incorporator of the People's Bank; vice-president of the board of trade and of the board of education in 1885-86. He favored every project to benefit Bridgeport and in every way was an honor to the city. Mr. Wheeler was twice married; first, at Watertown, November 7, 1842, to Huldah Bradley, who bore him four children and died in 1857, leaving a son, Samuel, and a daughter, Ellen B., wife of Edward Harral; second, to Mary E. Crissey, who bore him four sons, two of whom, Archer and William Bishop, with their mother, survive.
Nathaniel Wheeler died at his residence on Golden Hill, Bridgeport, December 31, 1893.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography vol. IX