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Biography: Hon. Thomas Mellon, Founder of Mellon Bank, Born County Tyrone, Northern Ireland 1813-1908

Courtesy of Monreagh Heritage Centre

Thomas Mellon.(1813-1908) was ranked as one of the wealthiest and most prominent industrialists in the United States at the time of his death in 1908. Thomas Mellon was a man who had a great business sense and developed his wealth through the banking and legal industries. He is best known for founding the Mellon Bank which is still one of the largest banking institutions in the United States of America outside of New York.

Thomas came from a Scottish family who settled in Ulster in the middle of the 17th century. Thomas himself was born in Castletown Parish, Omagh, Co. Tyrone  [sic - should read Castletown Townland, Cappagh Parish near Omagh] in 1813. He emigrated with his family at the age of five, they settled in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thomas was a keen reader and he was greatly influenced by the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

After he finished his education he became a lawyer and then a judge harnessing a successful legal career that spanned over many years. He invested his money shrewdly buying up a lot of real estate and the coal fields. In 1870, he went into the banking world by setting up his own bank. He did not forget who had inspired him to take risks and work hard in order to improve your financial situation as he honored Benjamin Franklin by putting a statue dedicated to Franklin above the door of the bank.

He passed his wealth on to his children and most notably Andrew and Richard Mellon, who took over the running of the bank after their father’s retirement in 1882. Also in 1882, Thomas Mellon returned to Ulster and revisited his birth place. It is said that he found his visit very fulfilling… “I need no guide; I am at home and prefer to be left alone with my thoughts. My heart is full.”

Thomas Mellon lived to the age of 95 and died at home in Pittsburgh in 1908.

It is worth noting that the house where he was born is now one of the key exhibits in the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Co. Tyrone. If you would like to explore this story further the Ulster American Folk Park have a number of resources available online to help you to do so.

Thomas Mellon
The Mellon Homestead in the Ulster American Folk Park

Transcribed from Cushing, Thomas, Dr. (1975) 'Hon. Thomas Mellon'. A Genealogical and Biographical History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. p. 219-220 & Submitted by Susan Thomas - susan[at]

HON. THOMAS MELLON. Thomas Mellon, one of the oldest and best-known citizens of Pittsburgh, was born Feb. 3, 1813, in the Parish of Cappigh [sic], County Tyrone, Ireland. His ancestors on the father's side were from Scotland, and on the mother's side they were Hollanders, farmers on both sides, who emigrated to the north of Ireland in the times of Cromwell and the Prince of Orange. They were noteworthy only for their thrift, industry and intelligence. Mr. Mellon's parents left Ireland and arrived in the United States in 1818, when he was but five years of age. and [sic] settled on a farm near Murrysville, Westmoreland county, Pa. He learned to read at his mother's knee, and to her affectionate care and wise counsels he attributes in great measure whatever success in life he has achieved. Until he reached the age of thirteen the only schooling he had was about four months each winter in the country school, as was the custom of that day in the rural districts. In his thirteenth year, however, his father allowed him a session at the Westmoreland county academy. Every county at that time had its academy, which then held the same relation to the common schools which the high-schools do now. The principal of the academy, Thomas Will, was a fine classical scholar, and instilled into his pupil higher aspirations than comported with the drudgery of the farm. And it was at the critical time when the important question –vitally important to every boy- pressed on him, the question of occupation for life. His father was decidedly in favor of farming. He considered it the occupation of all others most honorable and independent, as well as most useful, and prided himself on being able to give each of his children a farm when the time should come for starting them out for themselves. It was therefore painful to him to find his oldest son averse to his favorite theory. The son was loth to disappoint his father, however, and it was not until in the seventeenth year that a fixed determination was arrived at.

In 1832 he entered the Latin school of Rev. Jonathan Gill, in his own neighborhood, his father having removed to Allegheny county. Here he prepared himself for college, but his time was divided between farm-labor and Latin grammar, committing to memory the rules of syntax while following the plow. And to this promiscuous kind of rugged mental and muscular training, which he received from childhood till nearly twenty-five years of age, he attributes his uniform good health through life and vigor of body and mind now in his old age. In 1834 he entered the Western University of Pennsylvania, then in the imposing stone edifice on Fourth avenue which was destroyed by the great fire of 1845. The institution was in its prime, under the government of the celebrated scholar and educator, Robert Bruce, D. D. Here he soon found it so easy to keep up with his class that in order to gain time he entered as a law student in the office of Hon. Charles Shaler, the leading lawyer of the Pittsburgh bar at the time, and he was admitted to the practice of law shortly after he graduated from the college with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He graduated in September, 1837, and was admitted to the bar in December, 1838. His rise at the bar was rapid, and the character of his practice of the best and most lucrative sort. The best evidence of this was the staying qualities of his clients. When he went on the bench twenty years afterward nearly all those of the business-men of the city who had become his clients were still such.

In 1843 he was united in marriage with Miss Sarah J. Negley, the daughter of one of the early pioneers of the East End, and with her acquired an important addition to his increasing wealth; but the far more valuable fortune which she brought him were the sterling qualities of a good wife and mother. To [sic] union with her he attributes his great share of domestic happiness. The fruit of the marriage was eight children, four of whom are surviving, and among the most energetic and prosperous business-men of the city.

In 1859 Mr. Mellon's law practice had become so onerous as to threaten his health, and his friends advised him to accept the nomination for judge of the common pleas court No. 1 He was nominated and elected, and took his seat on the bench on the 29th of December of that year. He filled the position with great satisfaction to the bar and the public to the end of the judicial term of ten years, and was urged to become a candidate for re-election, but he considered that to continue in office for another term would be too great a sacrifice of his private interests. Possessed of considerable estate, acquired by care and industry and judicious investments while at the bar, and the estate derived by his wife, he could not give his property the care and attention which it demanded so long as he remained on the bench, and besides he had now two sons fresh from school and verging into manhood who were urgent for employment in some regular business, and he desired to be with them, "their Mentor and Telemachus and ever-faithful friend." So he declined a renomination, and left the bench Dec. 29, 1869. Upon his retirement, the bar treated him to a sumptuous banquet, an honor before that time not conferred on a retiring judge of the lower courts. He did not go back to the bar, though he occasionally joined in the trial of suits where his own or the interests of his particular friends were involved; and in 1870 he established the banking-house of T. Mellon & Sons, which is now one of the most substantial private banks of the city, and is under the management of his sons Andrew and Dick.

It is said of Judge Mellon, what can be said of few others, that throughout his long life he has never failed of success in any enterprise he ever seriously undertook. There are others who became suddenly possessed of greater wealth, but his fortune is the slow and steady growth of well-directed enterprise. In politics he was a republican, but never a zealous partisan, always voting for the candidates he deemed most deserving, and ever a vigorous opposer of bossism or ring-rule. In religion a Presbyterian, according to the faith of his fathers, but of rather more liberal views, holding the Bible in its present state to be incomplete; that the great first volume, the book of nature, is wanting and should be restored to its proper place in the estimation of the religious world; that nature was the first and always present and infallible revelation of God to man.

Notwithstanding his burdensome professional and private labors, he was at all times a great reader, and keeps abreast of the times in philosophy and literature of every substantial variety, and now, in his seventy seventh year, is believed to be as energetic and vigorous mentally and physically and as sound of judgment as at any former period of his life.