A Biography of Levi Carter

Levi Carter (1830-1903) of Omaha, Nebraska

A wealthy industrialist worked hard, then died. His wife gave the City of Omaha a lot of money to commemorate his life, and today the name is all over East Omaha. This is a biography of Levi Carter.

Before Omaha

Levi Carter, Jr. (1830-1903) was born in New Hampshire to a lineage with a lot of men named Levi, and who were involved in founding the United States of America. Attending New Hampton Academy until 1850, young Levi learned carpentry from his father. After setting out to live in Illinois and Wisconsin, in 1857 Levi Carter moved to Nebraska City, where he started as a carpenter.

Career Phase One

Quickly accumulating savings because of the popularity of his trade, Carter got into western freighting, moving supplies throughout the pioneer western United States starting in the 1850s.

In the early 1860s, Carter partnered with another Easterner, General Isaac Coe (1816-1899), to launch a cattle company and a freight business in Nebraska City called Coe & Carter. They also joined together to buy cattle and establish ranches in western Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado through the Coe & Carter Cattle Company. One biography from this era said,

Mr. Carter was plain, unassuming, easy-going, a deep thinker, a soul of honor, cool and deliberate and hard to change when he made up his mind, but he could be reasoned with at all times.

– John Bratt, Tales of Yesterday (1921)

Moving their business from Nebraska City to Omaha in 1867, the firm of Coe & Carter continued operating until 1891. Their company was involved in logging the Pacific Northwest; stocking US Army forts in the Indian Territory; hauling telegraph poles on the Great Platte River Road, and much more throughout the western United States. Carter & Coe actually sold lumber for railroad ties to build the railroads, and when transportation technology shifted from wagon freights to railroads, they subcontracted several different railroad companies to haul their goods, too.

Career Phase Two

Carter White Lead Company, East Omaha, Nebraska
This is an 1890 image of the Carter White Lead Company plant in the East Omaha Factory District. Employing hundreds of workers, it closed permanently in 1936.

As he accumulated his wealth through shipping and stock, Levi Carter made moves to become wealthy, and then use that wealth to become an industrialist.

In the 1870s, Carter and Coe partnered with B. B. Crary to open a large haymaking operation in western Nebraska. As president of the Equitable Farm and Stock Improvement Company, he ran over 200,000 acres of land in Keith, McPherson, Deuel and Lincoln Counties, with herds of fine cattle and horses.

A group of Carter’s associates decided to establish a paint company in Omaha in 1878. Because of the American Smelting and Refining Company, or ASARCO, plant opening in downtown Omaha in the 1870s, Carter and this group of industrialists thought having a manufacturing company to use the product nearby would be a cost-effective and efficient way to make money.

At some point in the 1880s, Carter traded the western Nebraska lands for coal land and other property in Ohio. Carter also became heavily invested in the Nebraska Irrigation Company.

According to the two-page spread done in the Omaha World-Herald when he died, Levi Carter was a kind, down-to-earth person. He was well-regarded by a lot of people for his generosity and normalcy. After establishing his namesake company, Levi Carter rode the streetcar everyday down North 16th Street, then would take the Locust Street line to the Courtland Beach turn-off to walk the last mile every day to his plant at North 22nd Avenue and Avenue J in East Omaha. He was renowned for this type of down-to-earth activity.

It was 1872 when Levi Carter married General Isaac Coe’s niece from Chicago, whose name was Selina Coe Bliss (1850-1938). Selina’s parents were George Hyde Bliss (1820–1903) and Eunice Louisa Coe Bliss (1823 – 1854). Together, Levi and Selina had one child, a boy named Levi Coe Carter (1873–1875).

Levi Carter, 1908 Davenport Street, Omaha, Nebraska
This is 1908 Davenport Street, originally the home of former Omaha mayor James Boyd, who later became the governor of Nebraska; and then Levi and Selina Carter.

For at least 15 years, the Carters lived at 1908 Davenport Street. In 1894, Levi and Selina Carter moved into a home at North 19th and Chicago Streets.

The End of His Life

When he died in November 1903, Carter lived at the Paxton Hotel. He died of bronchitis, and his memorial services were held at the Paxton. Buried in a large family plot in the pioneer Prospect Hill Cemetery in North Omaha, Levi Carter joined his son and, in 1938, was joined by his wife. However, before she died she made sure there was a park named after him. Later, the neighboring village, boulevard, elementary school, and the lake were named after him, too.

Today, there are many places in and around Omaha commemorating Levi Carter. They include:

  • Levi Carter Park
  • Levi Carter Lake
  • Carter Lake, Iowa
  • Carter Boulevard
  • Carter Lake Shore Drive

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Carter White Lead Company, East Omaha, Nebraska
This is a composite image of several advertising images for the Carter White Lead Company, which had a factory in East Omaha from 1890 to 1907.

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