My Great Grandfather, Lewis J. Minor, is proof that the American Dream is real. Just the son of an Irish immigrant from Tipperary, he turned his love and passion for chemistry into the L.J. Minor Corporation from just $6,000 capital and ended up selling this corporation to Nestle in 1983. Through thick and thin, ups and downs, my grandfather held onto his ancestry and never forgot where he came from, and these roots have been passed on through the generations and into my family. My sisters and I represent my Great Grandfather and his immigrant family from Ireland by practicing in the traditional art of Irish Step Dancing, and although we all identify as Americans, it is important that we know who we were before we were Americans. Each and every person’s roots define them and make up a part of them that can never be taken away, a part that makes being a citizen of this country special, because the country is diverse. Everyone’s from somewhere, and that “somewhere” tells a story for each and every citizen, a story that could never be traded for the world.
My story started in the late 1890s when my great-great-great uncle Timothy Hughes gave up his poor life as an Irish farmer and decided to make the journey across the pond, entering the United States of America through Boston, Massachusetts. After finding work in Boston (mostly in factory labor), Timothy decided that the bustling city life was not for him, and he pursued his new-born American Dream of owning and running his own business. He stayed in Boston for 2 years and earned enough money to finally move to the little town of Ishpeming, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, where he built from the ground his very own mercantile business. Although it doesn’t sound like much, this success story of an Irish immigrant shows the true beauty of the American Dream. Sure, a man who just hopped off a boat from Europe is not an American, but that matters not to the all inclusive “Dream” that so many of us have grown up learning about, that so many of us desire will come true for ourselves one day. For Timothy, who was really just an Irishman fearing discrimination and hostility from native-born Americans, the dream became owning an American business and contributing to the growth of the nation so deeply loved and acknowledged by all those who had heard endless stories about the amazing things that happened in this strange land, this strange land where the people make decisions, where the people have a voice that tells the government what to do, where the people are given a right to dream as big as they can and an opportunity to make that dream come true. No, my great-great-great uncle did not come from America, but that did not prevent him from living his American Dream, a phrase that will never only be applicable to those that were born in this country. The American Dream is a belief that anyone has the ability to achieve anything that they want while living in this country, and it is reached through the hard work and dedication made possible by the nation that we live in and all the statutes established under it that guarantee us our rights. If it weren’t for this ideology, my ancestors would have never found their way to Michigan, and I likely wouldn’t be here today, which is why it is so important to myself and to everyone else living in any place on Earth to always remember and be thankful for our roots.
Lewis J. Minor was born in 1914 in Harbor Beach, Michigan, to Kathleen Hill (who had just immigrated from Tipperary, Ireland) and Ernest Minor. A first generation American and the foundation of my family in America, he quickly learned just how far one could go in this country if enough work and dedication were put into everyday life. His favorite phrase to say, and he had quite a lot of them (not to mention all the limericks and jokes he inherited from his Irish mother), was one that has stuck with me my entire life, one that he lived by and that led to the beginning of his successful career as an entrepreneur. The phrase was simple: “any job, big or small, do it right or not at all.” Since the very beginning of his life, he had applied this saying to any profession or small wage work that he had done, beginning as an employee for a man who sold balloons on the street. At just 12 years old, Minor realized that he would profit more if he were to buy the materials himself and sell them to customers rather than having to forfeit some of the money he acquired from sales to his employer, and therefore he began selling his own balloons in order to gain the most revenue. After graduating high school, Minor decided to attend college at Michigan State, then known as “the Michigan State College”. On his transit to East Lansing, rather than taking a bus or a train, my great grandfather decided to hitchhike in order to save money for tuition and housing. Upon arrival, he moved into a 30 tenant house on Albert Avenue — a street that is 1.5 miles away from where I currently live. At college, he studied chemistry, and immediately after graduating began working on food formulas for many different companies, such as LaChoy Chinese Foods. During World War II, Minor created formulas for canning bouillon for the army — a key development for cheaply and easily feeding soldiers overseas. It was during this time that Minor had the revolutionary idea to start his own food manufacturing company in which the process of making stocks (broths that are used for seasoning soups and sauces in the restaurant business) was simplified in the form of Minor’s bases (highly concentrated versions of the stock that reduced cooking time by upwards of 16 hours). He rented out an 18x20 foot room that was inside a pickle and mustard plant and had only $6,000 invested by himself and two others into this business. From here, he began the process of turning his dream into the L.J. Minor Corporation. He quickly bought entire ownership of the company from the other 2 investors and began to use chefs as his salesforce after 2 years of slow business, a change which rapidly increased sales and profit by more properly putting his goods out on the market. In 1957, the formerly small food base company was officially patented as the L.J. Minor Corporation, and my great grandfather had fulfilled his American Dream. After selling the Corporation to Nestle in 1983, Minor donated $7 million to Michigan State University to be put towards always having a professional chef on staff at the University, paying homage to the college that started the dream that would become the legacy of himself, my family, and all the ancestors before him.
Lewis J. Minor started his very own business from an idea so revolutionary that everyone in the food industry will recognize his name. Sure, it’s sometimes fun to say your relative started a multimillion dollar industry from scratch, completely changing the way restaurants and other producers made food, but to me, he’ll always be my great grandpa before any of that. He’ll always be the man that went out of his way to come and watch my sisters and me perform our Irish Step Dancing at the East Lansing Folk Festival, he’ll always be the man that told me an innumerable amount of stories about his mother’s life in Ireland, he’ll always be the man that showed me just how important it is to remember my roots. I am an American, my sisters and parents and grandparents and great grandparents are all Americans, my great grandpa fulfilled his American Dream through hard work and dedication, but before that, before we were all Americans, we were Irish. We came from a small island in the Atlantic Ocean and traveled over 2,900 miles to this country full of dreamers, full of opportunities for these dreamers to make their desires become reality, and we’ve been here ever since, leaving our mark on our new country of America, yet never forgetting our origin, never letting go of our ancestors who worked so hard to prove that the American Dream existed, never letting go of our roots. I am proud to call myself Irish, but I am even more proud that being Irish is part of what calling myself an American, a true American, so special.
This is the story of my roots... what's yours?