52 Ancestors II, Week 64: Edmund Greenlee

Edmund Greenlee

Edmund Greenlee was born 31 Mar 1811 in Crawford County, PA, about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh.  He was the youngest of 11.

Edmund (21) married Mary Wright Stebbins (23) on 10 Apr 1832.

Edmund and Mary had 8 children, including two infants who died.  Our ancestor, Mary, was their youngest.  They also had twin boys who wrote the Genealogy of the Greenlee Families. They dedicated it to their father, Edmund.

A short biography, written by his twin boys:  "Edmund Greenlee was the son of one of the earliest settlers of Crawford County. After his marriage he went directly to the log cabin which he had built in the woods on his newly purchased farm in the northeast corner of Summerhill Township, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, his land extending over into Spring Township. On this land, he resided for about 70 years.  The fireplace was then the only means of cooking, and the baking was done in a tin oven in front of the log fire.

Homestead of Edmund Greenlee and family

Mr. Greenlee chopped and felled the trees, his wife helping to roll them into piles to be burned at night. When they were well-settled an orchard was planted. One day while in the orchard Mrs. Greenlee looking through the fence spied a large buck deer on the other side of the fence chewing his cud. She stepped up quietly and reaching her arm between the rails, grabbed the buck by the horns and held him until Mr. Greenlee came with an ax and killed him. It was a source of much comment and a great feast for sometime.

Homestead of Edmund Greenlee and family in Summerhill, PA

When the farm was cleared and sowed to grass he purchased cows and started a dairy. The business increased and they soon had a dairy of from 40 to 50 cows, then considered a large number. Mrs. Greenlee helped in the work connected with the dairy and one season milked 17 cows night and morning in addition to her household duties and caring for the children. Mr. Greenlee besides milking, attended to the butter and cheese which he sold at the market places.

He was a man of considerable inventive genius and devised and manufactured machinery for making all of his own cheese boxes and butter kegs at the time he was conducting an extensive dairy business. He invented the first machine for milking cows, which consisted of a receiver with two air pumps and four stop-cocks, from which tubes ran to the cows teats, the milking being accomplished by the suction from the air pumps. It worked well until the milk was partly exhausted from the cows udder, when it would collapse and the milk stop. He was unable to remedy this and the machine consequently did not prove a success, although before he learned this difficulty, he was offered quite a large sum of money for the invention." (1)

“Among the labor-saving devices Edmund created was a line of wooden barrel making machines he patented when (his children) were young.” (2)

"In 1860, at the time that Drake first struck oil at Titusville, Mr. Greenlee adapted his machinery to the manufacture of oil barrels. We give one of his business cards (below):

Edmund's business card

In the later years of his life Mr. Greenlee endeavored to construct a machine which he called the Great American Combine for planting and harvesting most kinds of grain, including corn, digging potatoes, and doing different kinds of work. He built a model, but never completed it.

He was a man of very even temper, never allowing himself to become angry. It was one of his characteristics always to return good for evil. As an illustration of this trait the following incident is related:

A neighbor who lived on a farm adjoining that of Mr Greenlee, cut the brush and elders from his side of the road, carried them across the road and threw them into Mr. Greenlee's grass for a distance of 60 or 80 rods. This was just before haying time. When it was discovered Mrs. Greenlee's idea was to make him pay damages; but Mr. Greenlee said, "I will heap coals of fire on his head."  Two or three days afterward Mr. Greenlee had occasion to drive to the town of Conneautville, 7 miles distant. When passing the neighbor's house, he saw him standing in the yard and called out,
      "Good Morning John! I am going to town. Is there anything I can do for you?"  The neighbor asked him to get a point for his plow, and Mr. Greenlee agreed to do so. After reaching town it escaped his mind and he did not again think of the plow point until he was about halfway home. He turned around and went back after it, feeling that he could not afford to miss the opportunity of doing this man a kindness. As he came back he saw the neighbor, handed him the plow point and remarked, I came very near forgetting it and turned back when I was halfway home.
      "Edmund," said the man,  "I am very sorry you went back for that point. I don't know why you did it."
      "I probably would not of found much to do at home as it is Saturday afternoon," said Mr. Greenlee,  "and I told you I would get it for you."
 The man's conscious troubled him and he finally said,
      "Edmund, I served you a very mean trick a few days ago.  I cut the brush and elders from my side of the road and threw them over into your meadow. I will pick them all out."
And he did so taking much more time then was spent and putting them there. The two men were ever afterward firm friends; whereas, had Mr Greenlee acted differently they might have been enemies.

Edmund and his wife Mary surrounded by their six children

While his children were small Mr. Greenlee was very strict with them, although very kind.  Naturally the twin brothers Ralph and Robert were always into some mischief and their father frequently had to promise them punishment. However, he would never administer the punishment at the time of the offense – probably to avoid any display of temper – but would wait until he had leisure, or until a rainy day, when he would say, "Well boys I guess we might as well settle up now," the meaning of which they well knew. After spending some time in talking to them and giving them advice he would proceed to balance accounts, giving them punishment for each promise he had made them.

Edmund with 3 of his siblings.

Edmund Greenlee was a strong man physically and mentally. He was public-spirited and progressive, ever ready to assist and advance the cause of humanity, and was identified with many improvements. His industry knew no bounds. In politics, he was a Republican. He was one of the organizers of the Methodist Church in Summerhill Township, now known as the Smith Church, for which he gave the land and furnished a large part of the lumber and other materials for the building.

He died at the old homestead, now owned by his sons Ralph and Robert, and his body was taken to Chicago for interment by the side of his wife in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Edmund Greenlee was a kind husband and father and a good neighbor. He was emphatically a man of peace." (1)

Mary (68) died 9 Jul 1877 in Chicago when she was visiting her twin boys, and Edmund (87) died 4 Sept 1898 in Summerhill, PA.


  • (1) Greenlee Genealogy, by Ralph Stebbins Greenlee and Robert Lemuel Greenlee (Edmund’s and Mary’s  twin sons), self published in 1908 in Chicago.
  • (2) http://www.greenlee.com/about-us/historypage.html
  • US Federal Census: 1860, 1870, 1880


  1. Edmund sounds like a very righteous dude and his log rolling, buckhorn wrestling wife, a great farm hand. I would like to have seen some of these many inventions of his. Owning a dairy was a good thing when having so many kids. I wonder if the homestead, being in Pennsylvania, saw any of the civil war?


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