This article was last modified on March 17, 2018.

Who was Herbert Battles Tanner (1859-1933)?

Herbert Battles Tanner was born in Whitewater, Wisconsin on February 13th, 1859, the son of Ford Tanner and Mary Ann Battles.

Tanner’s ancestors came from the western part of England to Rhode Island, in this country, in 1650, and he belongs to the seventh generation of his early ancestor, William Tanner. His grandfather, Dr. Cuyler Tanner, was a surgeon in the army during the war of 1812 and his great-grandfather, Abel Tanner, served, in the Revolutionary army.

The Battles family were early settlers in Massachusetts, his grandfather. Dr. Jason Dyer Battles, of Boston, removed from there to Illinois in 1840, and practiced his profession at Griggsville.

In 1864 H. B. Tanner’s parents removed from Whitewater to Lafayette, Indiana, where the boy received his elementary education in the common schools. In 1872 the family left Lafayette and came to Chicago, where young Tanner continued his education in the public schools, and in a business college.

During the election campaign of 1868 he heard General Grant speak in a pasture across the tracks from the Wabash railroad.

After leaving school he spent some time as a clerk, and, in 1876, went to Philadelphia (1) to see the Centennial Exposition and (2) as agent of a Chicago firm in which his father was interested, a business that sold bakets.

In autumn 1876 his father moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, and, upon the advice of his grandfather, Dr. Battles, Herbert entered the Indiana Medical College, which was the medical department of Butler University, and graduated in the class of 1878. He did post-graduate work in the hospitals of New York and Philadelphia. Returning to Chicago, he practiced there for a time, but on July 27, 1880, he became a resident of Kaukauna and set up a practice there.

Dr. Tanner was married September, 1, 1881, to Mary Boyd, daughter of James M. and Maria M. (Lawe) Boyd; granddaughter of Col. George and Harriett (Johnson) Boyd; and great-granddaughter of Joshua Johnson, a pioneer of Maryland and first United States consul at London, England. Col. George Boyd was a brother-in-law of President John Quincy Adams, and a life-long government official, and was a bearer of dispatches to Ghent at the time of the treaty in 1814.

Tanner was elected a director on the school board of the north district in 1885; served three years as clerk of the school board of the south district during which time the Nicolet school building was erected.

Tanner was elected the first Republican mayor of the city of Kaukauna, April 3, 1894, and was re-elected for a second term in 1895.

Dr. Tanner (as mayor) joined with James K. Tillotson of Toledo, Ohio (with financing from Chicago) to form the Inter-Urban Street Railway Company in 1894. This resulted in a bit of scandal at City Hall. (KT 6-1-1894, 11-9-1894, 11-16-1894, 12-22-1894, 1-4-1895) In 1895, Tillotson managed to raise $1,000,000 from investors in Cleveland and Chicago to connect a car from Kaukauna to Oshkosh. It was expected to open January 1, 1896 and would have been one of the longest routes in the country at an impressive 26 miles. The cost (equal to more than $24 million in 2016 dollars) was seen as worthwhile, as it would allow employees to more easily get to their factory jobs throughout the Fox Valley. Automobiles were not yet very common.

After his time as mayor, Tanner was elected a member of the common council for a term of two years in 1898; was the prime mover in the establishment of the free public library, obtaining a grant of money from Andrew Carnegie and the donation of the land for a site from the officers of the Green Bay & Mississippi Canal Company that made possible the present beautiful building; was the first president of the library board serving in this capacity for a number of years.

During a meeting o the State Historical Society in Green Bay in September 1899, Tanner presented a paper on the history of Kaukauna. In it, he made the false claim that French explorer Jean Nicolet had visited Kaukauna in 1634. (KS 9-15-1899) Although Tanner and historian Publius Lawson made this claim, as well as arguing that Nicolet reached Lake Winnebago, it had no support in the record.

Dr. Tanner was one of the promoters who organized the Rio Tamasopo Sugar Company, owning a sugar refinery and large tracts of land in Mexico. This company was organized in 1903, and the Doctor was by 1911 serving his sixth term as president of this corporation having retired from the practice of his profession in 1905, and usually spent his winters on the company’s plantation in Mexico.

March 29, 1912: Mrs. H.B. Tanner and daughter Blanche Tanner arrived home from the sugar plantation in Tamasopo, Mexico. The country is in such a revolutionary turmoil that all Americans have been instructed to leave. Dr. Tanner and son Kenneth are still at the plantation running the sugar mill and hope to be able to stick out the balance of the season and harvest the sugar cane. They and their crews are all heavily armed and are on constant watch for indications of trouble.

Other achievements: He was a member of the American Medical association; the National Association of Railway Surgeons; the Wisconsin State Medical society, of which he was secretary of committee on laryngology in 1890, chairman of the committee on obstetrics in 1892, and materia medica in 1889, member of the committee on practice in 1893, and in 1895 secretary of the committee on obstetrics; served five terms as secretary and treasurer of the Fox River Valley society; member of the Medico-Legal society of New York; was city physician from 1886 to 1893. He served three years as secretary of the south side school board; was elected in 1894 the first Republican mayor of Kaukauna, and re-elected for a second term. He was a member of the pension examining board in 1890-93. In 1895 Gov. Upham appointed him state supervisor of inspectors of illuminating oils for a term of two years. He was reappointed to the same office by Gov. Scofield. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity, lodge, chapter and commandery, and of the Congregational church. He was treasurer of Kaukauna Lodge, Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The children of Dr. and Mrs. Tanner are: Kenneth Boyd Tanner, born July 20, 1883, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and now residing in Mexico; Blanche Lawe Tanner, born January 25, 1885, a graduate of Milwaukee Downer College in 1905, and in 1911, a student in Columbia University, New York City; Harold Ford Tanner, born November 24, 1887, a student in U. W 1907-08, married Zula Grey in 1909, and has one son, born December 6, 1910, named Herbert Battles Tanner, Jr., now living in Texas; Herbert Johnson Tanner, born March 17, 1894, now a student in Pennington Seminary, New Jersey.

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