Founding Fathers: Robert H. Siskin

Siskin Steel and Supply Co.

The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.

The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.

By Meghan O’Dea

RH-Siskin---colorSiskin Steel is one of Chattanooga’s oldest and most iconic companies, though its founder wasn’t from here. The Siskin story actually begins in Lithuania, where Robert H. Siskin was born before emigrating to the United States in 1888 through Ellis Island.

Siskin started his new life in America as a peddler, and he backpacked all across Appalachia selling his wares. By 1900 he grew weary of the traveling life, so he and his business partner started the scrapyard in Chattanooga that would later become Siskin Steel.

When Robert Siskin passed away in 1926, his two sons Mose and Garrison took over the company and built it into one of the many driving forces behind Chattanooga’s reputation as the Dynamo of Dixie.

Yet much of the Siskin brothers’ later work wasn’t in steel, but in the mettle of men and women’s hearts. In the 1940s, Garrison was getting on a train when the platform fell and crushed his leg. In his pain he prayed to God, vowing that he would help those less fortunate if he was healed. The next morning his blood clot was gone.

When Garrison got home he told his brother about his vow, and together they decided that helping others would be one of their life missions. To that end, they founded Siskin Memorial Foundation in 1950, which spurred the development of both the Siskin Children’s Institute and Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation in Chattanooga. Today, these organizations carry on the brothers’ good work, forging a spirit of hope and service as strong as steel throughout the city.

“I think from their perspective, they were honoring God in doing what they felt was necessary to help the community,” says David Binder, Mose Siskin’s grandson, and the family’s fourth generation at Siskin Steel. “Thinking about my great-grandfather Robert, too, he saw a lot of people in need when he was traveling. That made an impression on him, and I think he passed his work ethic and the ethic that you must give back to the community down to his sons.”

 

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To Read About More of Chattanooga’s Founding Fathers, click the following links:

John Lupton

Robert H. Siskin

Thomas Maclellan

Leo & Ruby Lambert

Garnet & Frieda Carter

Jim Berry

Thomas Hooke McCallie and Descendants

Harry S. Probasco & Descendants

Rody Davenport & Sons

O.D. and Ruth McKee

William Emerson Brock & William Emerson Brock Jr.

Adolph Ochs

Zeboim Cartter Patten

 

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