George F. Harding

This article was written by parishioner Alan Heavens.

George F. Harding didn’t think much of Abraham Lincoln when the renowned Philadelphia patent attorney first met the future president in 1856.

In fact, as quoted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book Team of Rivals, Harding said Lincoln was “tall, rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle.”

Lincoln was treated as a very junior member of the team led by Harding and his law partner, Edwin M. Stanton, that successfully represented John Manny, who had been accused by Cyrus McCormick of infringing on patents for McCormick’s reaping machine.

Lincoln did not hold a grudge. When Lincoln was president, he offered Harding a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, but the lawyer turned him down.

Harding (1827-1902) was a vestryman and lifelong St. Peter’s parishioner, as was his father, Jesper Harding (1799-1865), the largest publisher of Bibles in the United States and a founder of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

He graduated from Central High School and the University of Pennsylvania.

A law student of another St. Peter’s parishioner, John Cadwalader, Harding was the foremost patent attorney of the 19th century. He was listed as counsel in more than 100 cases, and established legal precedents still in use.

He successfully defended Samuel F.B. Morse over the telegraph patent (1854), and secured an unprecedented reversal of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tilghman vs. Proctor (1880).

Harding was a bit of a showman. In the telegraph case, he set up a working model to demonstrate how it connected New York and Washington. In the McCormick-Manny case, Harding created a miniature of grain fields to demonstrate how the reaper worked.

In 1881, using Philadelphia architects and craftsmen, Harding built the Hotel Kaaterskill, in the Catskill Mountains near Hunter, N.Y., at a cost of $450,000. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1924.

Harding died at the home of his daughter in Manhattan on Nov. 17, 1902. His funeral was held at St. Peter’s on Nov. 20. He is buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. James the Less, Hunting Park.

 

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