instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

An American Biography (social history told through the life of a Midwestern industrialist)

by Pat McNees (with a foreword by Robert Kanigel)

This engaging narrative of family life in the twentieth century is also the compelling story of an ordinary factory worker who took advantage of extraordinary times to become co-owner of an Ohio manufacturing firm. Warren Webster brings the same gruff but bemused equanimity to company crises, the birth of twins, his wife Mary’s crippling bouts of depression (which they weather together through nearly 70 years of marriage), and the joys and perils of old age. By putting a human face on corporate life and an honest face on domestic life, Pat McNees has created a story that, as one critic put it, will appeal to "anyone interested in the business of life, the life of a business, and life in these United States."
-- Reading Group Choices, 1995

"..A story that will resonate for any reader."
-- Robin Marantz Henig, author of The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel and Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution

"A self-starter and fiercely independent, Mr. Webster was a hard-working man who left high school at age 13 to go to work in a variety of factory jobs, always turning out twice the volume of any of his co-workers. He tired of menial labor, went to night school and began to learn how to run a company. The book captures the flavor of the booming 1920s, the economic desperation of the 1930s and the growing complexity of the corporate world from the 1940s to the present. It alternates descriptions of Webster’s business challenges with personal accounts of his family life, including his wife’s lifelong struggle with depression and the difficulties it imposed on his family. Through Webster’s eyes, one encounters many of the common management dilemmas likely to confront a wide range of businesses. His solutions, mistakes and insights are not only instructive, but inspirational.”
-- Anne Veigle, The Washington Times


Warren Webster was a businessman in Dayton when Dayton was the equivalent of today's Silicon Valley. The Wright brothers built their first airplane in a Dayton bicycle shop; Dayton’s state-of-the-art auto plants were vying for supremacy with Detroit’s; and factories all over town were churning out the tools, appliances, and equipment – machine tools, sewing machines, refrigerators, bicycles – that would transform American life.

In that place and at that time, Warren Webster was a high school dropout who made his way from the factory floor to co-ownership of an auto-lift company. He was the quintessentially American self-made man. He brought the same equanimity to company crises, the birth of twins, his wife Mary’s problems with bipolar disorder (which they weather together through nearly 70 years of marriage), and the joys and perils of old age – including the loss of his legs to diabetes.

“...a soulful account of one company’s life, one man’s family, and the myriad tiles that make up their mosaic. Besides illuminating a technological arena about which hardly anyone ever thinks, McNees has produced a lean, swift narrative of life in the American century, warts and all: the roar of the ’20s, the sag of the ’30s, the flowering of the arsenal of democracy, and the slow segue from post-WWII ebullience to the retracted realities of the 1990s. It is that rarest of literary commodities: a one-sitting read about business.”
-- Michael Dolan, Washington City Paper

An American Biography

Industrialist's Biography Spotlights Dayton (Roz Young, Dayton Daily News, 11-4-1995, as posted on Dayton History Books Online)