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John Whitfield Bunn | Inducted by 1920

Financier of many railroads and associated companies, treasurer of the Illinois Board of Agriculture for 39 years and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.

1831-1920 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)

Impact & Accomplishments

John W. Bunn was treasurer of the Illinois Board of Agriculture for thirty-nine years and often used his personal wealth to cover debts and premiums for events such as the Illinois State Fair and the American Fat Cattle Show, an event for which he also served as treasurer.

Born in New Jersey, Bunn moved to Springfield, Illinois, to join the wholesale grocery business of his older brother, Jacob. Both men became significant friends of attorney Abraham Lincoln, and John was the treasurer of his 1860 presidential campaign.

Bunn’s wealth was amassed through various investments, including the railroad pocket watch manufacturing company, Illinois Watch, and the shoe manufacturing firm, Selz, Schwab & Company. He founded multiple railroads in Illinois as well and was treasurer of the University of Illinois.

John W. Bunn was a driving force behind several major events, including the United States Centennial, World’s Columbian Exposition, Illinois Centennial, and Abraham Lincoln Centennial and was active in the Saddle & Sirloin Club from its inception. His portrait is framed in a triptych with fellow Illinois agriculture leaders, Lafayette Funk and James Judy.

Did You Know?

In 1879, the Illinois Watch Company manufactured 33,285 watch movements. In 1880, the company manufactured 47,065 watch movements. By 1890 the company had established corporate offices in Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco. The company helped pioneer the logistical technology that served the enforcement of standard time for railroads throughout the world. At its apex of profitability, the Illinois Watch Company employed approximately 1,200 people.

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