John Craig was born in New York City in 1838. His parents, George and Catherine, had traveled to the United States from Scotland in the early 1800s. His father was a ship sawyer who later became identified with the lumber and coal industries of New York. John Craig followed in his father's footsteps and also worked in the shipping trade.
John was educated in the New York public school system. He later attended the College of the City of New York. John later reminisced about his early childhood. He remembered standing on the New York docks in 1851, at the age of twelve years old, as the schooner-rigged yacht "America" sailed away to win the international yacht race. After leaving school he served as an apprentice in the ship building industry.
John Craig was a member of the audience that heard Abraham Lincoln's speech at the Cooper Institute in New York in February 1860. The following November he voted for Lincoln. When the Civil War broke out he contributed to the cause by remodeling merchant craft into gunboats. He helped complete 23 of the vessels for wartime service. One of these boats, the "Winona," was built and delivered to the United States government within 63 days of the contract being signed. He also helped fit out mortar boats for the Porter expedition at Beaufort, North Carolina. John ended his work for the government in 1864.
In 1866 his work shifted to Lake Erie where he became a partner in the Michigan shipbuilding firm of Linn & Craig. The firm built merchant boats for service on Lake Erie. In 1882 Craig transferred to Trenton, Michigan, and continued in the boat business in a firm under his own name. This firm later became John Craig & Son.
While at Trenton Craig experienced problems with the federal contract labor law. He had imported carpenters from Montreal and Quebec. The Supreme Court judged against him and he was fined $43,000. He responded by asking Republicans in Michigan to file petitions for him. With their help he was able to escape with only the payment of costs.
Due to labor shortages in Trenton he transferred his operations to Toledo in 1889 and organized the Craig Shipbuilding Company. After building 107 Great Lakes vessels the firm was sold to the Toledo Shipbuilding Company in 1906. In 1907, the Craig Company established its headquarters at Long Beach, California, and between 1907 and 1913 built ten ocean-going boats for the Pacific coastal service. In 1913, John sold his company to the California Steamship Building Company.
John Craig was also President of the Toledo Steamship Company, Adams Transportation Company, and Monroe Transportation Company. He was director of First National Bank, vice-president of the Toledo Metal Wheel Company, a trustee of Flower Hospital, a member of the Toledo Club, the Toledo Yacht Club, and the Society of Naval Architects and Engineers of New York. He was also involved in the temperance movement as president of the United Dry Campaign of Lucas County.
Craig was also actively involved in politics and became one of the oldest members of the Republican Party. He was at one time a Republican candidate for mayor but factional "warfare" caused him to throw his support behind Golden Rule Jones. Jones was subsequently elected. In 1908, Craig accepted an invitation by the enemies of Walter F. Brown (Republican Leader) for nomination to compete in the Presidential elections. He accepted only on the condition that if his own candidacy failed his delegates would throw their support behind William Howard Taft.
During World War I, John Craig contributed to the war effort as a one dollar a year man. He worked as assistant to the director of the Wood Ship Department of the Naval Offices. He also called attention to the destruction of property in the war. He pointed out that the United States supplied only 40% of the worlds consumption of metal. He encouraged Toledo businessmen to plan more furnaces and mills so that Toledo might become the center of the metal industry. Later, in 1916, he was appointed by Judge John Killits as receiver for the Toledo Railways and Light Company.
John married Annie Losee of New York City in 1861 and the couple had six children (two died in infancy). His sons later followed their father and entered the shipbuilding trade. Captain John Craig, a revered Toledoan, died on 14 January 1934 at the ripe age of 95 years. He is buried in Woodlawn Historic Cemetery, Section 43, Lot 3.[Toledo Biography Scrapbook, Local History Collection, Toledo/Lucas County Public Library. Also see John M. Killits, ed., Toledo and Lucs County, Ohio, 1623-1923, Vol. 2 (Toledo: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923), pp. 92-97.]
John Craig's grave
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)