Cumberland Times-News

James Rada - Looking Back

February 6, 2012

Looking Back: 1923

Footer’s formula for success began in English textile mills

Thomas Footer knew the formula for wealth. He was a chemist after all. You take one part of good and add to it eight parts of determination and one part belief in yourself.

It was a formula that had worked for him. He was born in England in March 1847. His father was a papermaker, but “he lost both parents in early childhood and began to earn his own living as a boy,” according to the Cumberland Evening Times.

The way he chose to earn his living was to work in the textile miles of England and Scotland where he learned about dyes. During this time, he didn’t neglect his studies, going to night school to learn more about the subjects related to his chosen profession. One of those courses was chemistry, which he studied in depth.

He married Elizabeth Booth in England in 1866 and three years later, they emigrated to America. According to the Cumberland Evening Times, Footer spent a “short time with Jobe woolen mills near Berkeley Springs before coming to Cumberland.” He opened his dye works business in a small workshop on North Liberty Street doing all of the work himself. As with many small businesses, it was hard to make ends meet in the early years, but Footer was a tireless worker and determined to make a better life for him and his family.

“In 40 years from the small workroom Mr. Footer saw his establishment go into a large plant covering a wide acreage, with nearly 1,000 skilled employees in its various departments,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

He used his knowledge of chemistry to create better dye formulas. He also invented several appliances and machines that had specific applications to his business. He maintained a lab in his plant where he studied fabrics, washing compounds, dyes and mixtures.

“As an employer of labor he was always known to be fair, reasonable and appreciative, and in the creation of the extensive plant that bears his name he designed in every way for the comfort and contentment of the workers,” according to the newspaper.

His reputation in business grew so that Footer Dye Works was known throughout the East with branch operations in many cities. The business also came to be worth several million dollars.

Even as his net worth increased, Footer did not flaunt his wealth publicly. However, he did travel widely for business, buying art and rare books from the places he traveled. In public, though, he was an unassuming man “with a strong aversion to notoriety.”

This aversion to notoriety didn’t stop him from serving his community, though. At different times, he served as the president of the Maryland Theater Co., on the executive committee of the Chamber of Commerce, director of Liberty Trust Co., junior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of the Masons of Maryland and exalted ruler of the Cumberland Lodge of the Benevolent Order of the Elks. He also served on the Cumberland City Council as a councilman, president of the Cumberland Board of Trade and he even ran for mayor.

As Footer aged, he stepped back from his business duties and eventually sold control of the company to a syndicate, but he remained the chairman of the board.

His health remained good until the final year of his life. Early in 1923, Footer traveled to Battle Creek, Mich., to undergo treatments at a sanitarium there. His health was reported as improving only days before his death.

Then on Aug. 21, 1923, he died, leaving behind his wife, three sons and two daughters.

Contact Jim Rada at or 410-698-3571.

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James Rada - Looking Back
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